The very premise of Halloween is to shock, to compete for the most outlandish and extreme costuming. It is perhaps no wonder, then, that on college campuses the potential to go too far is often realized.
Campuses, Yale’s certainly included, are places of great personal and interpersonal expression, and rightly so. As far as we can tell, this expression usually remains within the bounds of taste and, even, dare we say it, political correctness. Why, therefore, must certain occasions — maybe, say, fraternity initiations, and especially Halloween — be exempted from this unwritten rule of mutual, natural respect?
It is important to note that this rule is indeed unwritten. There are no heavy-handed attempts from the administration, as far as we can note, to ever prevent or limit the expression of individuals or groups as they go about their daily business. Conformity to certain basic standards arises on campus because people have those basic standards. And so, again, we must note it is only the actions of a select few individuals or a very small collective group that create issues of controversy.
The administration’s hands are inevitably tied as soon as this happens. React harshly, and students decry it as a buzz-kill collective of arch-liberal neo-communists who crave nothing but uniformity and convention. React in a way that belies even the slightest notion of tolerance, and it is an anachronistic, privilege-enforcing oligarchy that still mumbles darkly into its cut-crystal whisky tumbler about the state of modern society. Being forced into this reactionary position is ultimately detrimental to the health of the administration, and therefore to the health of the campus and its inclusive spirit.
With the establishment of the Intercultural Affairs Council this year, the administration is trying to take conscious steps to demonstrate itself as proactive as well as reactive, which it must always be. Rather than merely being on perpetual standby with sandbags and buckets of water, the administration is actively and aggressively seeking to warn the community of the potential for outbreaks of fire. Although it is always important to look to the administration for strong, coherent leadership, it’s also important to remember what college is, and why you are here. Part of achieving adulthood lies in questioning your own actions before you take them, rather than waiting for others to be offended and call you out.
Make no mistake — we fully expect the administration will still be active and reactive in the event of outrages, whether intentional or borne of ignorance. Yet it is perhaps time for the student body to start to take the onus upon itself. If you are offended by something you perceive, at any time of the year, but especially at a festival of bad taste such as Halloween, seek within yourself the strength to deal with this. Call for outside sanction, by all means, but also look within yourself for the strength to question your peers.
It is particularly encouraging that the administration is giving increasing support to diversity and intercultural committees on a residential college level, a level where the vast majority of students have a strong sense of collective identity that transcends any other lines. Student-directed initiatives are infinitely more potent than their administration-imposed alternatives, and it can only be hoped that there will be more of them.
This should by no means be interpreted as any form of surrender by Yale’s administration, or an advocacy thereof on our part. Any and all acts of intolerance, to reiterate, will surely be dealt with in a manner the administration considers proportional and appropriate. If nothing else, this should serve as a notice that you are quite likely to disagree with whatever the administration does.
It is rare that a campus so diverse, so politicized and so thoroughly intellectually engaged as Yale’s can have a uniform response to any situation. And we doubt that anyone on campus would be willing to sacrifice those aspects of campus in order to achieve a calmer and more peaceful four years. Any reaction will be criticized as too harsh by some and too lenient by others, so the easiest solution is simply to not give the administration any misdeed to discipline. Have a fun, safe and happy Halloween.
Ryan Caro and Ian Convey are sophomores in Ezra Stiles College and student members of the Intercultural Affairs Council.