In light of a string of incidents of hate-speech on campus, students, faculty and community members convened last night for the fourth time to hash out the intricacies of hate — this time from a political perspective.
The panel discussion was moderated by Yale College Dean Peter Salovey, who said while the University embraces free speech, anonymous acts — like the racist and homophobic graffiti spray-painted on campus walls in November — cannot be condoned at a place like Yale.
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“The acts that we have seen recently are not protected — they are anonymous,” Salovey said. “We allow free speech, but you have to stand by what you say.”
The panel — preceded by similar events on the history, psychology and sociology of hate, the first of which took place last December — featured political science professors Ange-Marie Hancock and Khalilah Brown-Dean as well as Charles Small, director of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, who explored both the general as well as Yale-specific implications of hate speech and action.
Much of the discussion centered on how cliques of people perceive outsiders who do not belong to their group.
“The politics of hate is preceded by the politics of disgust,” Hancock said.
Citing her book “The Politics of Disgust,” Hancock described for the audience examples of disdainful, dehumanizing treatment — including everything from depicting welfare recipients as animals to commenting off-hand that the panhandler on the street corner needs to get a job.
“Although the way we conceptualize ‘the other’ has changed over time, the consequences have remained somewhat the same,” Brown-Dean said. “We see that fear, resentment and resistance to change are still powerful forces.”
In attempts to bring some light to the notion of otherness, Small referred to philosophers Emmanuel Levinas and Martin Buber. Humanity requires that people acknowledge their similarities, he said.
“We are all created in the image of God,” Small said. “This relationship is integral to society. What Martin Buber called replacing the I-it relationship with the I-thou relationship.”
Students interviewed after the panel said they appreciate the administration’s effort to respond to the incidents of hate speech on campus — which, in addition to last semester’s graffiti, also included a widely circulated photograph of Zeta Psi-affiliated students holding a “We Love Yale Sluts” sign in front of the Yale Women’s Center as well as, most recently, a swastika fashioned from snow on a tree on Old Campus. But many students said they wished the panels had come before, rather than after, the string of controversies.
“While this panel is a good idea and the professors on the panel were phenomenal, I think they need to do a lot more undergraduate outreach — to do something in a creative manner to reach out to students,” Yaron Schwartz ’11 said.
But Jack O’Connor ’09 said the community’s response to recent incidents has given perpetrators more credence than they deserve.
“I think the student response to acts and things like a swastika written in snow is very personal,” O’Connor said. “But Yalies have an obligation to recognize messages that are below them. The responses we give them almost dignify them in a way they don’t deserve.”
Nicole Wright GRD ’10 said she appreciated the academic tone of the panel discussions.
“I feel that it’s really important to see how we can craft responses to recent acts on campus that engage with these acts in an academic way and not a knee-jerk way,” Wright said. “We should use these incidents as an opportunity to inform students and to transform these acts into opportunities.”
Graduate School Dean Jon Butler has also served as a moderator of some of the panel discussions.