Eighteen years ago, Yale was a different place. Advertisements and flyers broadcasting the events of the University’s hundreds of undergraduate organizations covered every available surface on campus, said Cyril May FES ’89, Program Coordinator for Yale Recycling.
The post office became so carpeted with posters that the Yale Fire Marshal reported “the place could have gone up in a few minutes if a fire had started,” May recalled. The postal service demanded that the University take control of the situation, he said. The Yale College Council partnered with Yale Facilities in devising a solution — and the “flyer police” was born.
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The Yale poster monitors, colloquially known as the flyer police, are two to three undergraduate students employed by the Yale Recycling Office who oversee the “postering” or advertising by flyers on kiosks in Old Campus and Cross Campus.
But their presence went largely unnoticed by Yalies until recently. A crackdown on banners starting last fall renewed enforcement of the Undergraduate Regulations already in place, which restrict the number, size, content and location of posters and prohibit students from using banners, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry said.
While the enforcement of the banner ban was met with much dismay, students continue to use flyers for advertising. But many undergraduate groups said the flyer regulations are difficult to follow given the competition to advertise among the 249 registered organizations on campus.
In an interview on Monday, May said the administration implemented the banner ban because of aesthetic concerns. “Yale takes a lot of pride in its appearance,” he said. But aside from beautification issues, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Edgar Letriz said the Undergraduate Regulations give students an equal opportunity to advertise their activities.
A QUESTION OF RIGHTS
While students are rarely hostile toward the poster monitors — who often go unnoticed by Yalies rushing to class — members of the group are aware of the risks that come along with their job.
Rino Landa ’10, a former poster monitor, said that upon applying for the position, he was asked not for his qualifications, but rather, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“We know that people don’t like that we’re taking down their posters,” he said.
He said he remembered a man once approached him and raised concerns over freedom of speech. “We should put up our flyers wherever we want,” Landa recalled the man saying. But Landa said the issue was defacement of public property, not freedom of speech.
Laura Zaragoza ’10, a current member of the flyer police, agreed that freedom of speech is not the issue. She said students get frustrated for much simpler reasons.
“They get annoyed because we’re taking down their flyers and they want people to see them,” she said. “I don’t think it’s because of a freedom of speech violation.”
In fact, May suggested that the job of the flyer police encourages freedom of speech and equality of advertising. Before the flyer police, he said, student organizations suffered from the “staple gun mentality,” he said, by which “the group with the most zealous volunteers and the greatest poster budget would cover the campus and stamp out the other posters.”
“The poster monitoring program that we have is extremely beneficial to everyone’s right to poster freely,” he insisted. “Our current program allows everyone to poster equally.”
Student organizations cited technical and practical issues with the regulations rather than their potential impingement of rights. The regulations, many students said, are unrealistic given the large number of groups vying for students’ attention.
“From my understanding, it’s kind of enforced at random,” said George Singer ’10, president of the Yale Political Union. “If I put up 1,000 posters there’s a chance they’ll all be taken down by tomorrow.”
Some business managers who advertise for student organizations said they often feel pressure from within their group to break the University guidelines.
Benjamin Shaffer ’09 said his fraternity, Sigma Chi, received an e-mail message from the Office of Student Affairs a few months ago threatening fines should the fraternity continue to place posters off the poster boards.
George Bodgen ’11, director of campus relations for the YPU, also said he gets nervous about violating some regulation when he is putting up posters. “It’s time-consuming and frustrating, especially when you put up 45 posters at once,” he said.
Bodgen added that he had to do a lot of research to find information about the regulations, which he said are not readily available.
“I took time to find out every single rule for postering,” said. “I feel like I’ve been really conscientious about this, but I’ve also been criticized for not putting up enough posters.”
A SOLUTION FOR ALL
Still, the flyer police maintain that the posters are simply taken down if they fail to comply with the Undergraduate Regulations for Student Activities and Extracurricular Activities. Poster monitors said the regulations limiting one poster per board and poster size to eight and a half by 11 inches are most often violated.
Letriz added that the Office of Student Affairs takes an objective approach in selecting which posters to take down.
“We don’t get involved in passing judgment on a particular poster,” he said. “Our job is to make sure it follows University guidelines, which everyone has to adhere to regardless of the nature of their organization or their beliefs.”
A possible solution will soon arrive in the form of new LCD screens on campus. Although he declined to provide further details or an estimate of when they would be installed, Letriz said the screens should arrive by the end of the month.
The screens will provide a service that the kiosks in Cross Campus and Old Campus cannot, Letriz said. “You can be more creative with them because they are virtual and categorized for the individual user,” he said. “Students can have a global sense of what’s going on that the poster board does not allow.”