During vigil, don’t jump to conclusions

Bigotry and racism on this campus should not be tolerated. But what should also not be tolerated is the groundless assumption that underlies tomorrow’s march, rally and vigil: that someone on campus sprayed the inane and hurtful graffiti that has divided our community.

Then again, the fact that many jump to the conclusion of Yale guilt in the first place is more disheartening than the jump itself: Tragically, Yale is increasingly tension-filled in large part due to the heated racial incidents that have occurred in recent weeks and years.

That an a cappella group will perform and top Yale administrators will speak today is evidence enough of the fact a substantial portion of our community demands a response.

But the Rally for Change promoted in a campus-wide e-mail last night seems more an empty gesture than a substantive opportunity for real dialogue.

There is another reason that today’s events are, in part, unsatisfying. Students are encouraged not only to attend a march and rally, but to come to Cross Campus at 10 p.m. for a — vigil?

Discrimination is wrong, but a vigil in this situation is inappropriate. Past vigils have been held for the Virginia Tech massacre and Sept. 11; this is not the same.

Tonight’s plan in response to recent racist and homophobic vandalism on campus is an overreaction at best and a dangerous precedent to set at worst.

Racial tension on campus cannot be alleviated with a day of protest organized from the top down. Only an attitude change initiated by all breeds of students confronting the problem in real dialogue, together, will lead to resolution.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    This opinion is confusing at best, misleading at worst. As one of the primary organizers of today’s rally, I assure you that we did not jump to the conclusion that someone on campus committed this crime. But we do know, as reported by the YDN itself, that some Yale students are suspected of responding to this crime with laughter and the repetition of racial slurs in front of Yale dining hall workers. I find that to be a disturbing response and I believe that it is valid to expect more from my fellow Yalies. Furthermore, I do believe that we have the right to protest the existence of bigotry on campus when a hate crime takes place on campus, whether done by a member of the Yale community or not. In addition, this rally is not a response to solely the recent incidents of hurtful bigotry found on campus graffiti but a history of offensive events, dating back to the attack on Kat Lo in 2003.

    Yes, I do sense a growing tension on campus but that is because I and many other students are made to feel unwelcome on our own campus by incidents such as Yale students dressing up in blackface; personal encounters with discrimination on campus at the hands of people who we know to be members of the Yale community – stories that rarely are reported because of the lack of a grievance board to report them to; and having our genuine feelings dismissed as oversensitivity to say the least. I assure you that the rally is not an empty gesture but a plea for our campus to notice the bigotry that exists on campus and stand in solidarity against it.

    Furthermore, I believe a vigil is wholly appropriate. It is important to allow students to have a safe place to give voice to their experiences with discrimination on campus and calling such a safe space inappropriate is troubling. The very purpose for the vigil, in fact, is to rebuild the sense of community that many of us feel that we have lost because of the isolation incidents of bigotry makes us feel. How can one take issue with that? Yes, I imagine that the vigil will be a somber affair. Confronting our own hurts, feelings that have left some of us feeling unwelcome on our own campus, and beginning to heal together can be a painful experience. But support of an attempt to build community, instead of criticism of these admirable efforts, seems warranted to me.

    Lastly, I completely agree that racial tension cannot be alleviated solely with a day of protest organized by the top down. We are not proposing that, nor are today’s activities even planned from the top-down to begin with. I would personally love to see Yale engage in proactive measures to widely advertise its racial grievance harassment board as well as the implementation of structure that allows for long-term intercultural dialogue, education, and respect on campus – both in our residential colleges and in our classrooms. Such actions I believe can help bring about the attitude change necessary to lead to real dialogue and, hopefully, a resolution.

    I am growing increasingly concerned, if not dismayed, by the recent YDN opinions that are inaccurate in portraying the intent of protesting students. The perpetuation of confusion that these opinions foster, I believe, bring us no closer to the peaceful and tolerant resolution I hope that we all aspire to.

    Signed,
    Funmi Showole
    Silliman 2008

  • Anonymous

    A vigil is necessary to provide a safe place for students to express themselves? Why is this expression not acceptable in a dorm common room, or a dining hall table, or the YDN, as generations of college students have always done?

    Showole shuns the idea that this protest suspects student involvement in the graffiti, but it quick to say that campus is suddenly filled with racists who aren't safe to discuss race issues around. Give me a break. This is hands-down one of the most tolerant places IN THE WORLD, and until there's evidence to the contrary we ought to assume that this graffiti came from outside the community, not turn a witch-hunt inwards.

  • Anonymous

    As one of the students who has been involved in organizing the rally and the vigil I would like to reiterate the fact that we are not assuming that the graffiti came from someone within the Yale community. We do, however, believe that without a response from the Yale community we are sending the wrong message to whoever did it. If we allow people to believe that we are okay with this type of injustice and that bigotry is tolerated on our campus incidents like this will become more prevalent. Furthermore, the rally and the vigil are in response to more than just the recent graffiti. They are also a response to the Halloween blackface (an offense that was undisputedly committed by members of the Yale community), racially insensitive journalism in Yale publications, acts of violence and intolerance against Katherine Lo in 2003, acts of vandalism at the Afro-American Cultural Center, and many other unspoken incidents.

    Part of the purpose of this vigil is to allow students to share their experiences of discrimination with the entire community (well at least those who take the time to attend). I agree that these discussions should also be had in the residential colleges, dining halls, and common rooms, but they should not be limited to these spaces.

  • Anonymous

    boogey boogey. beware of the vigil.

    how "dangerous!"

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if, in worrying about allowing others to think or not think things, we're making the problem worse, not better. We don't have the authority to "allow" anyone to think or feel anything, and it's an impossible task to regulate the thoughts, beliefs, and feelings of others. There are going to be those who believe whatever they like regardless of whatever message we send.

    The problem with worrying about "not allowing" others to think certain things is twofold: It forces us to take on a responsibility we can't fulfill; and it gives away our power to addrss what responsibilities we should have. I'm can't be responsible for what you think or feel, and you can't be responsible for what I think and feel. If you want to be a racist, that's your problem, not mine. If what you do bothers me, that's my problem, not yours. I'll certainly let you know what my feelings are in hopes that you are the kind of person who will take that into consideration when making your choices, but the only person who I can control is me, so your choice is your problem, not mine. At the same time, when we try to take responsibility for others choices when we don't have power over those choices, we make our feelings contingent on the choices of others. By saying "Your thoughts and feelings must change in order for me to feel okay," I give you the only power I have (the power to control myself). If my feelings really are my responsibility, my happiness should exist independent of your actions. Sure what you do may upset me, but if the hurt isn't healed, it's because I haven't done what I need to do to heal. My emotional health is not contingent on your actions, and I alone am responsible for overcoming any negative feelings I expernience, even if the occasion for those negative feelings is someone else's actions. This is not to say that I must be alone in dealing with it (I should certainly avail myself to the resources of my community), but if I don't overcome it, it is a failure of my responsibility and no one elses.

    Racists have an incredible ammount of power on campus. They can greatly influence the feelings and actions of hundreds on campus, if not more, with relatively little effort. If we want racists and bigots to have less power, let's stop taking responsibility for the beliefs of others, and stop giving others responsibility for our feelings. The better we can do that (we can never do it perfectly), the less power they will have, and the more effective our solutions will be.

  • Anonymous

    First, I'm not sure how the Katherine Lo incident fits in. I realize that there was some anti-Muslim stuff going on there, but that situation was upsetting more because it was perceived as violent and criminal, than because of any bigoted "speech" involved. Plus, it was 4 years ago, the people who were involved have all graduated, and the vast majority of the people at Yale now have absolutely no personal knowledge of what happened.

    This YDN article was stupid more than anything. There's nothing wrong with having a vigil. It's not dangerous. There's also nothing really harmful about "assuming" that someone on campus did it, as long as no one is personally targeted. Even if you think the vigil is silly or stupid, why is it harmful or disturbing to let others participate in it?

  • Anonymous

    My real problem with the responses I've seen to this sort of thing is that they're not really "meant" to get rid of racism. Rather than promoting understanding, it creates and atmosphere - dare I say Orwellian? - where no one is sure any longer what may be said or what may be thought. Rather than promoting understanding, it promotes hatred of bigotry, and these two goals are emphatically not the same. If you hate a racist for being racist, and say so, he doesn't become less of a racist; he just goes underground with it.
    And while I recognize the utterly poisonous nature of racism, it does give me pause that anyone anywhere would think to ban an idea, a word, a feeling simply because they find it morally repugnant. Racism makes my stomach turn, speech, action, and thought. But it's their right to think that way, and let the poison consume them from the inside out. By repressing their thoughts, we make their racism (sexism, homophobia, classism, just about any ism) stronger, not weaker. Until we can have a true dialogue, and experiential understanding, these talks will never be effective. This is a monologue from different voices, not a real discussion.

  • Anonymous

    you're all completely missing the point of this article -- the fact is, a VIGIL is inappropriate response to the unfortunate racist sentiments recently expressed on campus. as highlighted here, the last times yale held a vigil were for the VA tech massacre and 9/11. a few misguided, hateful kids on campus is a real shame, yes, but it's not a tragedy on the level of those other events (where hate manifested itself in horrific displays of blood and death). we SHOULD be responding, but as the YDN postulated, this is an overreaction, and yes, it does set a poor precedent.

  • Anonymous

    I don't believe there is a push to vilify Yale as a whole or to exacerbate already tense issues. Rather, there is a need to get to the truth. There are racists, homophobes, and bigots all over the world. Yale is no exception. The problem arises when people's personal ideologies and means of expression infringe upon the rights of others. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." Clearly, expressions of a violent, threatening or otherwise offensive nature should not be propagated against people. We should not ASSUME how a person might perceive what we say or do, and to a large degree self-policing would be most effective in these matters. Of course you can't self-police if you don't know the rules by which to abide, and people can't agree on pizza toppings much less decide what is or isn't acceptable speech or behavior.

    The problem comes in trying to practically address this. Arguing that public displays like the rally and vigil exacerbate the problem by driving hatemongers underground seems tantamount to saying one inadvertently promotes racism by acknowledging divisions of race. We won't solve anything through evasion of issues. At the same time, walking on eggshells in an attempt to avoid a social or political faux pas is taxing and unreasonable. The root of these conflicts lies in the ingrained patterns of thinking and living that have been absorbed by individuals through their life experiences, formal and informal education, and relationships. Unless those avenues are impacted, we will only be treating symptoms of hate, not their sources. Doing nothing/being complacent is not the answer, but neither is expenditure of energy without a sustainable, structured plan to deal with issues that detract from the feeling of community here.

    Finally, while the recent racist and homophobic graffiti incidents may have been sparks for the rally and vigil outcry, they are certainly not the only activities that have caused people to impugn just how safe or welcoming this community is. Do not for a moment delude yourself into thinking that the outcry taking place is a "Chicken Little" moment. Rather, it is a crystallization of subtle, but powerful, instances of community division, and the graffiti was a spark that brought the fire public.

  • Anonymous

    I guess my problem with this whole thing is that it begs the question: who gets to decide what counts as bigotry?

  • Anonymous

    I went to an exclusive prep school in Manhattan with a profound racial divide among students that corresponded almost exactly to the amazing disparity between rich and poor, or outer borough and Upper East/West Side. Despite being extremely rich, the student and parent bodies were generally liberal, and they LOVED to talk about racism. We had assemblies and meetings almost non-stop about how to combat it, and about how to celebrate diversity.

    Paradoxically, all these forced assemblies on racial tolerance and diversity and the unceasing emphasis on student cultural groups ultimately just made everything much more awkward. Rather than simply interacting and friends and fellow students, my alma mater engendered a non-stop undertone of racial difference in every conversation. Basically, we talked so much about racism that we ended up constantly reminding ourselves of our differences. The community that well-intentioned people sought to achieve only drifted further and further from our grasp.

    When I came to Yale, I found to my great relief and surprise that the school was both extremely diverse and seemingly colorblind. Sure, there were racially segregated student groups, but they were not nearly as predominant on campus as they had been at my old school. Instead, I lived with a black guy from South Carolina, a WASP from Texas, and a Chinese guy from Shanghai - and we got along great…and race was, for the first time in my life, a total non-issue. It was awesome. So, so much better than where I came from.

    Now, as a Yale senior, I'm dismayed by what I'm seeing. Obviously, any sort of racist or homophobic graffiti is deplorable. But, it does not need to, and should not, lead us back to an era of vigils, enforced political correctness, and constant discussion about racial difference. America is never going to get over its racial problems if all we do is talk about it! By overreacting to Rumpus and the Herald, by organizing events like the one tonight, and by constanly emphasizing our racial differences, the ethnic student groups on campus are doing a grave disservice to our community. I appreciate the desire to do something, but rather than protest with your (ethnicity X) student group, why not join an inclusive organization, like the YDN or a fraternity, and just live naturally and friends and neighbors?

    I fear that our good intentions will end up pushing us much further from the tolerant and open society we all seek. Please do not turn Yale into Collegiate.

    Matt Magliocco
    Silliman '08

  • Anonymous

    Im disgusted with this article. I do not think the purpose of the rally is to jump to any conclusions. As a freshman at Yale, I, along with other concerned students, organized the rally and vigil as a means of creating an environment that was inclusive to all students. In my two months at Yale, I have had to address more prejudice that one probably could not even fathom. Whether it has been myself or a peer, descrimination has took form in security guards who profile to students who hurl nasty slurs at other students solely because of their race.

    While I am a strong supporter of free speech, I am not a supporter of ignorance and to be frank, that's what the YDN seems to promote. Controversy+ lackluster, subpar (and biased) reporting= more discussion about the YDN. Yayy!

  • Anonymous

    amen to matt.

  • Anonymous

    Wait, but the rally and vigil was explicitly about solidariy and unity (I just returned from it and it was beautiful to hear students talk about the sense of community they felt at the vigil alongside students who were quite different from them), NOT racial difference. And I am reminded by race not simply by discussions (discussions that by the way encourage me to believe that we can overcome racism) but by racist graffiti on campus and offensive articles that seem to try to establish that racial difference does exist. By stories of African American students walking into college courtyards only to overhear another Yalie say with disdain "Why are there so many Black people here?" To have Black male friends questioned by Yale Security because they "don't look like Yale students." We are reminded by race not because of these conversations but because of the racism we experience at campus and we have the right to say that such discrimination ought to stop. If we should instead not have thse conversations at all, then how do you suggest we deal with experienced discrimination on campus - just ignore it? How is calling for an end to hatred on campus a disservice to our campus? And I joined an inclusive community called YALE when I marticulated (even though times like these often make me feel like an outsider). We "live naturally" by attending classes with a diverse group of students, living with a diverse group of students, and doing extracurricular activities with a diverse group of students. And most students of colour do participate in campus publications, frats, and beyond. But we are not here to be your multicultural experience and so we will continue to participate in the activities that we enjoy and they exist both within and outside of Yale cultural centers.

    - Funmi

  • Anonymous

    You, a freshman, claim to have addressed such massive amounts of prejudice and hate here that upperclassmen "probably could not even fathom" it? I'm sorry I just don't think, when all's said and done, that Yale's THAT bigoted of a place. I'm a senior here and I've never once heard students "hurl nasty slurs at other students" with hateful intention (poorly thought out comedic intention… that's another story). I'm certainly willing to bet that many Yale students have experienced far more racism/sexism/homophobia back home than you will ever find here. But if it's really THAT awful for you, I would advise you to transfer to a more tolerant university if you can actually find one.
    I think that we all tend to needlessly raise the stakes of this situation when we equate something that we find offensive with "hatefulness" on the part of the offender. Just as it's unfair for someone to tell us what we should be offended by, it's also unfair for us to assume that we understand the supposedly "hateful" intentions of those who offend us. There's a big difference between the people who hang a noose on a tree, or vandalize Yale buildings with racist/homophobic graffiti, and the students who put on blackface for Halloween. The first two examples are, without a doubt expressions of actual hatred or contempt (no other interpretation seems plausible). But, according to the recent YDN article by one of the students who used blackface, the intentions behind that act were not essentially malicious and the offenders were guilty mostly of failing to understand that their actions would be highly offensive and hurtful to other students. At present there's no reason to believe that the Pierson graffiti was written by a Yale student, and I would go so far as to say that there's very, very little hatred on this campus. There are many misunderstanding, however, and this is to be expected in an environment as amazingly diverse as Yale's. The best way to resolve these misunderstandings is to talk about them calmly and rationally with each other, rather than immediately resorting to histrionics about supposedly "racist hatred".

  • Anonymous

    Maybe there should be a YCC/Student-Organized Open Forum so that these ideas can be talked about in a rational and calm matter in public. Yale is a great institution but it has a lot of real issues that need multilateral discussions and there are few neutral events/opportunities for such discussions.

  • Anonymous

    The problem with events like these comes from the fact that they are prompted by uncontroversial claims, but use those claims to hide the aggressive promotion of controversial ones.

    Advocacy of tolerance and condemnation of last week's bigoted vandalism are entirely uncontroversial on this campus, and the popularity of this view strengthens these events by attracting support for the event from the public and the Yale administration.

    However, what really needs to be discussed are the controversial matters of race, from grey-area humor issues to matters of policy such as a curricular requirements and admissions policy. When decidedly one-sided views of these matters are bundled into an event dedicated to uncontroversial condemnation of clear-cut bigotry, it has a powerful chilling effect on dissent and discussion. They set up a situation in which opposing the policy demands of ethnic organizations becomes politically impossible, because the event itself becomes impossible to oppose without creating the implication of supporting bigoted vandalism.

  • Anonymous

    I cannot agree more that you empower racists when you allow them to define you and your emotions. Come on, let us abandon hanging unto the every word and writing of racists and move on to defining ourselves and our achievements in spite of. So what if you think I am less of a human being or less smart because I am black? That does not and will never make me what you say I am. There is undoubtedly a problem when there is unequal access to opportunity on racist grounds but where there is, let us each define ourselves and escape the debilitation of being at the mercy of others' thoughts and actions. Fight the authorities who oppress you (if you are oppressed) but do not give power to those who try to enslave you mentally. Move on!!!

  • Anonymous

    The PROBLEM is that EVERY time we move on, something else happens. I do not doubt my self worth but I also don't doubt my right to say that this is wrong and work towards change.