Threats to free speech surprise campus



Over the course of a week, the campus discussion of war has seen a dramatic change in tone. And a series of allegations of violence aimed at anti-war protesters have left many Yalies in disbelief.

It began with Katherine Lo ’05, who said several men entered her suite and left a hateful anti-Muslim note in response to the American flag she had hung, stars down, outside her window. Since then, the mood on campus has grown increasingly tense, and discussions that once were peaceful have turned fearful, anxious and in some cases even hostile.

Administrative response to the alleged acts of intimidation came Thursday afternoon in the form of an e-mail from Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, who said that such incidents ran counter to Yale’s fundamental values.

“Harassment and intimidation have no place in a community such as ours,” Brodhead said in the e-mail. “In addition to being forbidden by the Undergraduate Regulations, they are contrary to the deepest values on which an academic community is founded: the right to the free expression of ideas and the duty of mutual respect.”

Raphael Soifer ’04 said he was the victim of such harassment Wednesday evening when a man spit on him as he was walking out of the Davenport dining hall. Soifer had just finished participating in a silent vigil mourning the loss of Iraqi civilians killed during the current conflict.

“I’m a little scared, and I’m a little disappointed that [such intimidation] is going on at Yale,” Soifer said. “It’s ironic but distressing that the people in support of the war are working to stifle expression of others in the United States.”

The protest consisted of three groups of people dressed in black who walked silently through the dining halls carrying signs inscribed with the number of civilian deaths in the war, Casey Miner ’05 said. She added that the protesters were met with sneers as people yelled, “War is good!” in response to the demonstration. Miner emphasized that he believed the goal of the peace activities was to be educational and said he felt the protesters were simply exercising their right to free speech.

“So much of what we have done this week is based around education,” Miner said. “I thought this was a celebration of freedom. I guess I was mistaken.”

On Thursday morning, students put up a display of 22 American flags on Cross Campus, with an upside-down flag in the middle, as a representation of what they said were 22 failed U.S. attempts of military intervention in the name of democracy. A confrontation occurred when Nathan Lawrie ’04 took down the upside-down flag, citing the protesters’ lack of a permit as his reason for doing so. Lawrie said his job requires him to remove illegal materials from Cross Campus and returned the flag upon being presented with a permit. While Lawrie said he was also motivated by personal beliefs, he emphasized that the action was not one of intimidation.

“Simply, the flag was hanging upside-down,” Lawrie said. “It’s very offensive to me when we have soldiers over there who are trying to protect our freedom — I felt that it was my duty to take some kind of action.”

Yevgeny Vilensky ’03 said that the flags on Cross Campus were not representative of reality and added that the protesters were not actually being truthful in their display.

“This is a really misleading display here,” Vilensky said. “Half of these things we didn’t even win militarily to get a chance to install democracy.”

On Wednesday evening, students said, a note was anonymously placed on the door of the Afro-American Cultural Center that read, “I hope you protesters and your children are killed in the next terrorist attack.”

Rashayla Brown ’04, a member of the Afro-American Cultural Center, said that the incident underscored broader issues of racism facing the Yale community.

“That specific incident is part of a whole line of incidents that have been going on on campus,” Brown said. “I think it’s indicative of the racial climate here for the past two years. It may be surprising to some people, but it’s not to me.”

In contrast to Brown’s assessment of the level of racism at Yale, Korean American Students at Yale President Eojin Lee ’05 said that he felt the incident was isolated and did not represent any broad sentiments of racism.

“I don’t believe that these personal feelings have been dormant for a long time,” Lee said. “I don’t think most Yalies are racist or anything of that sort.”

Brodhead said that while a dean does not send out an e-mail regarding every incident that occurs, he believes it is important to make a statement when one starts to see a series of episodes.

“Free expression is protected in an extensive way in this community,” he said. “But anonymous intimidating expression is a different thing.”

Lee said the administration’s response to the violent acts should have come more quickly and been more forceful.

“The administration should have taken a step sooner,” Lee said. “I just feel like the e-mail recently from Dean Brodhead tended to downplay the incident slightly. I wish the administration was a little more forceful. I felt that he described it in a tone that wasn’t quite what it was. The words he used to phrase ‘anonymous menacing messages’ doesn’t properly convey the seriousness.”

Some students said they feel these actions may shed light on a different set of issues on campus.

“I don’t think that most people on campus for the most part agree with what they did,” Catherine Pitt ’04 said. “But I think that there’s a certain amount of racism on campus. I don’t think their actions will change peoples views toward the war, but it will certainly change our views within the Yale community.”

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