Cowards, come forward

Yale College would stand to benefit from the introduction of a new admissions criterion: courage.

Consider the incidents that have colored — in an ugly hue — recent campus life: anonymous vandalistic racist graffiti, anonymous vandalistic homophobic e-mails, anonymous vandalistic snow-made swastikas, anonymous anti-Muslim cartoons, anonymous harassing posts on AutoAdmit, and now, anonymous harassing posts on JuicyCampus.

While a First Amendment lawyer would rightly argue that even the most inane and revolting anonymous speech should be protected, the so-called “speech” in these cases is the philosophical equivalent of puke left on a college walkway in a drunken Saturday-night stupor. Sure, it emerges from the mouth — figuratively in some cases, literally in others — but it is not pretty and no one stays around to clean up the mess.

Don’t get us wrong. It was with raised eyebrows that we greeted Dean Salovey’s suggestion at a recent public forum that perhaps offensive signed speech and offensive anonymous speech should be held to different standards of official tolerability. But he affirmed in follow-up interviews that this notion, if inferred, must have stemmed from an initial “misinterpretation” of the 1975 Woodward Report. “In short,” he wrote in an e-mail, “we do not have speech codes at Yale whether or not the author can be identified.” Reassuringly, Salovey, like President Levin, appreciates the role of speech, whether signed or not, in a community that values confrontation with the uncomfortable.

And truth be told, the News’ own online forums permit anonymous discussion. The reason is that some students and professors would hesitate before thinking the “unthinkable,” discussing the “unmentionable” and challenging the “unchallengable,” as called for by Yale’s free-expression policy, if they could not hide behind a veil of inscrutability. No, not ideal — but better than the alternative. Unfettered discussion on campus public forums far beyond the News’ own is fundamental to free dialogue, and is often intellectually stimulating.

Yet as our community reflects on critical matters of race, religion, self-segregation, sexuality, gender and even speech itself, the intellectually stimulating has hardly come to frame the conversation. In fact, the brand of speech so eloquently protected in the Woodward Report — provocative but not destructive; if not signed, then at least constructive — seems as rare at Yale as the student who still uses his dorm landline.

The faceless few who have driven so much campus dialogue this past year, and continue to do so in forums like JuicyCampus, represent no one but themselves. They certainly do not reflect most Yale students, whether or not admissions officers have been factoring in applicant audacity all this time after all.

Cowards, come forward already. We can’t promise not to bite.


  • Alum

    Recent vandalism has been disgusting, there is no question. The vandal has also shown just how easy it is to send the Yale community into frenzied turmoil, and I imagine that provides the vandal with a sense of power as he sits back and laughs at the mayhem and forced "dialogue" on campus. The perp may be focused on arousing ire and frustration, rather than advancing some extreme agenda. All this makes me think "misguided local prankster" or "disgruntled former employee." But maybe it's just my narcissism wanting to believe these weren't the acts of a Yalie.

  • Alum

    I haven't been following these events very closely… So, has any of the vandalism/hate speech occurred within the residential colleges? Or within any area to which only Yalies/employees have access? It has been my impression that the vandalism has occurred in public access areas. If the latter is the case, I would be more inclined to believe with poster #1 that the vandals involved were not part of the Yale community.

  • Anonymous

    no matter who the vandals are, courage of this type is a worthy value. the participants in public dialogue should not be anonymous.

    sometimes anonymity is required, but that's usually in situations with overly oppressive police, totalitarian systems, etc.

    also, yale is overly image-conscious, both in terms of the administration and the students. but that's tangential.

  • Jenny

    Just for the information of #1 and #2, a swastika was drawn in the snow on old campus at night (when the gates are locked to non-Yalies) and, if we're including the "We Love Yale Sluts" sign in the discussion of hate speech - that was held up by Yalies in Zeta Psi, in front of the Yale Women's Center, intimidating a girl who worked there from entering. The rest of the graffiti was on drawn on the outside of Yale buildings.