In defense of the Yale College Students for Democracy

To the Editor:

I was disappointed to read professor James Sleeper’s perhaps unintentional mischaracterization of Yale College Students for Democracy in the Yale Daily News (“Recalling Yale in ’68: Let’s have that civility again,” 4/14). We were formed as a group dedicated to civility, and we continue to uphold that standard in all of our group-sanctioned activities. He bases his criticism on an article in FrontPage magazine written by two members as individuals, not as official spokesmen of our group. Though their article merits defense, I write to defend the perception of YCSD. We are a group comprised of many active, dedicated students, and as a group committed to free speech and its protection from physical intimidation, we certainly would not censor the expressions of our members.

However, I was most disappointed that our ethos and campus activities seemed to escape his analysis. A great place to start is the YCSD Web site, www.yale.edu/ycsd, where anyone can view our mission statement, press releases, speeches, and other literature. In its capacity as an undergraduate organization, YCSD has sponsored lectures by former CIA Director James Woolsey and Iraqi exile Zainab Al-suwaij, a Support the Troops Rally, and discussions of pertinent issues both over e-mail and meals. In fact, both YCSD and Yale Coalition for Peace have recently initiated a healthy dialogue, which includes e-mail exchanges over our respective e-mail lists. Furthermore, we are also co-sponsoring a debate between professors John Lewis Gaddis and Rashid Khalidi this Thursday.

I hope that Professor Sleeper will take the opportunity to learn more about the organization and join us, as many other academics have done, in promoting civil self-expression and debate on campus while we support the right of all peoples around the globe to live in freedom.

Matthew Louchheim ’04

April 14, 2003

The writer is president of the Yale College Students for Democracy.



Jim Sleeper Replies:

In 1965, Kingman Brewster Jr. told my class, “To a remarkable extent this place has detected and rejected the very few who have worn the colors of high purpose falsely. This is done not by administrative edict or official regulation [but] by a pervasive ethic of student and faculty loyalty and responsibility and mutual regard which lies deep in our origins and traditions.”

Writing to support that ethic, I drew a distinction not between right and left but between those who use violence or intimidation (which do require “edicts”) and those who do what Brewster cautioned against: They claim to champion dialogue while serving narrower, often unacknowledged ideological or tribal agendas against perceived enemies whose reputations and words they often distort, sometimes smoothly, sometimes hideously. Campus Stalinists refined this to a high art years ago, deftly invoking liberal pieties and principles to justify one-dimensional politics; so now do some conservative networker-warriors.

A strong Yale will detect and reject them, quietly but firmly placing the burden on progressive and conservative activists to clean their houses. They’ll have to, if the rest of us are brave enough to make it clear that we’re not buying what’s pernicious or nonsensical in their claims and that we won’t be intimidated or guilt-tripped into pretending otherwise.

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