A handful of students spent Wednesday night slicing long strips of black fabric in an Old Campus common room. Around them lay posters with clippings from campus publications highlighting what they have called examples of racial discrimination and stereotyping.
The students were preparing for today’s “Day of Silence” — a demonstration organized by concerned students in association with the Asian American Students Association. Throughout the day, participants will dress in black, wear black cloth gags and maintain silence in protest of recent articles in Rumpus and the Yale Herald that they say reflect “racial insensitivity toward Asian Americans and other minority groups,” according to the group’s statement, which participants will hand out as a substitute for speaking.
Christina Li ’06, co-author of the Day of Silence statement, said racial tension and discrimination are ongoing problems on campus, and the comments in the Herald and the Rumpus are representative of these larger issues.
“You can’t let stereotyping get internalized and become routine,” she said. “The recent Rumpus apology is not the end of the debate. … Once people take offense to the articles, it’s their right to speak out about it.”
Though a number of University administrators — including President Richard Levin, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel, and Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg — have recently spoken out against the articles, officials said they do not plan to take any punitive action against the publications.
“Supporting freedom of expression doesn’t mean we can’t condemn some opinions as being insensitive and offensive,” Levin said. “Offensive speech is protected at Yale. That doesn’t mean that if you say something that is deeply offensive to other people, you should be.”
The demonstration will end tonight in time for an AASA-sponsored forum titled “Ethnic Jokes: Comedy or Tragedy?” The forum will include representatives from the Herald and the Rumpus and is set to take place in the Dwight Hall common room at 8:15 p.m.
AASA co-moderator Priya Prasad ’08 said the goal of the forum is not to elicit an apology from the Herald and Rumpus, but to talk about why statements like those in question are not acceptable.
“I think one of the biggest things that we want to come out of that is a general dialogue … getting editors to understand that these stereotypes are offensive and getting people on campus to recognize that these are issues that deeply affect us as well,” Prasad said.
Rumpus Editor in Chief Lacey Gattis ’07 said the articles in question — which addressed Asian fetishes, or “Yellow Fever,” and interracial dating – were not meant to offend or belittle Asian students but to satirize those on campus who adhere to racial stereotypes.
“The Rumpus understands that people are offended,” Gattis said, “but the reaction to the articles was the exact opposite of what we intended.”
Similarly, Herald Editor in Chief Tamara Micner ’07 said none of the paper’s content was meant to be discriminatory, but she believes students have a right to speak out if they are offended.
Prasad said comments in the Jan. 20 Herald calendar section not only used racial stereotypes but also misrepresented the subject of a film being screened by AASA. The calendar said: “Where can you find the largest gatherings of Lees, Wangs and Kims on campus this weekend? For once, the answer isn’t at the library.”
“The whole problem is that the author of that calendar used stereotypes to belittle the efforts of the Asian American Cultural Center,” she said. “It’s not something that just happens to Asian Americans. It happens across the spectrum.”
As evidence that racial stereotyping in campus publications is not limited to Asian Americans, Prasad also cited a recent caption on the Herald’s intramurals page that ran under a photograph of a black student trying to steal the ball from a white student and compared the attempted steal to a mugging.
Phillip Clopton ’08, the black student in the photograph, said the caption was racist and that the Herald should be more careful in the future about how it depicts minorities, though he said he did not believe the statement was made with malicious intent.
“I believe there’s a time and a place for everything,” Clopton said. “Just because something is funny when said between friends does not mean that it should be put into print. [The Herald] should be careful to not let their own senses of humor get the better of them.”
But Micner said the race of the water polo players was not a factor in writing the caption.
“The reason we ran that caption is because if you look at the photo it looks like one kid is attacking another kid,” she said. “It certainly wasn’t meant to be an offensive caption.”
While many students said the were offended by the articles and advertisements under fire, some said they think the protesters are drawing unnecessary attention to the comments.
AASA member Kathy Tran ’09 said that while the protest is justified, it is making discrimination against Asians on campus seem like a bigger problem than it actually is.
“I do think that the Asians are overreacting a little bit,” she said. “I think people here are really accepting.”
Stan Chiueh ’08 said that while he thinks the article in the Rumpus was in poor taste, there are more important issues that the Asian American community at Yale could be addressing.
“Ninety percent of what the Rumpus writes is derogatory to someone, [and] most everything they say should be taken with a grain of salt,” he said. “I just don’t feel like that is something that I should have to gag myself for.”
While some students said they do not feel racial tension regarding Asians on campus, others said comments like those in the Rumpus and Herald have a personal effect on them.
Jennifer Suhr ’07 said the propagation of stereotypes can lead to uncomfortable and potentially threatening situations for Asian Americans.
“Things like Asian fetishes, … people treat them lightly but they are real,” she said. “It emphasizes the power differentials between people.”