Intimidating exactly the wrong people

Almost every Yale student condemns the recent hateful and at times violent actions committed over the last week. While it might be tempting to overlook these incidents and treat them as the actions of a few radical individuals, I am glad we have not. It is sobering to discover that intimidation and even politically motivated violence can occur on an open-minded campus. At the same time, I am frustrated at some of the actions taken during the past week by the group calling themselves the Concerned Students at Yale.

I agree that Dean Brodhead’s initial e-mail last Thursday was flawed. It was not strong enough in condemning the perpetrators of these acts, nor did it ensure investigations of these acts. However, CSY gave the administration little time to correct this flaw before launching an offensive. All but one of the seven incidents occurred less than two days before the Concerned Students listed their demands. Forty-eight hours is simply not enough time for a bureaucratic administration to formulate a cogent policy. Any communication between the Concerned Students and the administration must have lasted less than a day before CSY issued a series of demands last Friday morning. This does not seem to represent a real attempt by CSY to work with the administration.

Whatever tactics it took to start a dialogue, the end result has been positive. Since last Friday, the administration has begun police investigations into all seven of these incidents, vowed to keep students informed, and has held forums to discuss these issues, all within three days of these events.

Yet in their most recent e-mail, CSY still claims there is “the absence of a strong statement of commitment on [the administration's] part.” What exactly was in CSY’s demands that was not met by President Levin?

One of the demands is that the University must criminally prosecute all parties involved in each of the incidents. CSY continues to say that those found guilty of intimidation should be expelled. Such a stipulation assumes the guilt of those involved without a proper investigation of the actions. It could turn out that prosecution is necessary in many of these cases, but possibly not in all. For example, the spitting incident in the Davenport dining hall may not have been serious enough to warrant prosecution. Calling for the automatic expulsion of involved students is even more rash. The stealing of an upside-down flag hung by Julia Gonzales was a violation of her freedom of expression, but it doesn’t warrant expulsion from Yale.

Another demand by CSY would establish a new, student-dominated committee that would make binding recommendations to the Yale administration. Among the issues addressed by this committee would be the “racial composition of the Yale faculty and student body.” Even the YCC, an elected body of Yale students, doesn’t have such authority. They couldn’t make binding recommendations to the Yale administration about soap dispensers, yet CSY wants the administration to allow a mainly student committee decide how many Asian students are in the Class of 2008.

Quite aside from being unrealistic, this demand brings into question the underlying goals of CSY. The racial composition of the faculty and student body has very little to do with these horrible incidents. These acts were committed against people of all ethnicities, and some of them may well have been committed by people who are not “husky white males.” Changing the racial composition of Yale is unrelated to stopping intimidation on campus. I don’t doubt that CSY is deeply and justly worried about the seven incidents, but using these incidents to further unrelated goals is dishonest and ultimately undermines the organization’s position.

The freedom to express different points of view has been challenged by the reprehensible acts committed last week, affecting students of many different ethnicities and religious backgrounds. In that light, it is especially disappointing that CSY has been so closed to input from others. They are dominated by the Muslim Students Association and those affiliated with it. It is natural that some groups would feel more threatened by these actions than others, but CSY wrote their demands without even alerting the vast majority of the student body. They ended their demands by saying “we remain in solidarity,” as if everyone in their organization shares the exact same views. Where does that leave someone like me, who feels outraged by the actions of some of my fellow students, but who doesn’t agree with CSY’s demands? Whether intentionally or not, they have espoused a with-us-or-against-us attitude that has divided the student body.

Most distressing of all is the intimidation issued by the MSA members toward fellow Muslims who disagree with the actions of CSY. One of my close Muslim friends has told me she has felt intimidated by e-mails she’s received trying to convince her to become involved. As members of a group that demands expulsion for intimidation based on religious affiliation, this is hypocritical. At a time when Muslim students most need the support of others, the MSA has alienated even some of its own.

The central fact that CSY seems to forget is that the administration is on our side. It wants a campus open to all beliefs as much as we do. Can’t we at least give them a chance to show it?

Stephen Fair is a junior in Ezra Stiles College.