Miller: Speaking out for community values

We’ve started the year with a fresh assault on our community values: there’s an e-mail that has been in circulation entitled Scouting Report, and it rates some women in the Class of 2013 based on characteristics I will not dignify with repetition here — nor is it my goal to discuss the e-mail. Any such document that categorizes one group in order to prey upon it is anathema to our life as a community.

But what do I mean, community values? Let me first turn to the language that the University uses to define threats, intimidation and harassment — and which considers the nuanced difference with acts of incivility that may not rise to this level. (It’s useful to read through the section on General Conduct and Discipline in the Undergraduate Regulations at http://www.yale.edu/yalecollege/publications/uregs/index.html.) Here insulting and offensive language may closely neighbor the direct threat — which indeed calls for action. On the other hand, insulting language may also be protected speech within Yale’s guidelines to free speech — guidelines which acknowledge that speech can be provocative, disturbing and hurtful. (For a review of Yale’s policies on speech, please see the Woodward Report, located at http://www.yale.edu/yale300/collectiblesandpublications/specialdocuments/Freedom_Expression/freedom1975.pdf.)

Yet simply because one is permitted to use vulgar, vile and deplorable language does not mean that the community must condone it or worse, seem to go along with it. What we seek in free speech is speech that seeks to push the boundaries of thought, not the boundaries of decency and civility. I especially hope that no one sees these boundaries of decency and civility as the best test of the freedom of speech at Yale. Since the circulation of this e-mail came to the attention of members of my office and others at Yale, many individuals have spoken out against it. Let me join those who do so, and in the strongest terms.

Once again — if we return to incidents of the recent past at Yale, with hateful slogans chalked on building exteriors, signs made in snow or initiations into one group at the cost of ridiculing another — this moment needs to be one that brings out the best in Yale students and that brings up the conversations that need to be held. “Oh, get over it,” one might hear in a dining hall. But I would urge you to ask questions, and to probe the nature of resentment that can underpin hateful or predatory statements. What these statements share is a perceived anonymity, in most cases, by their makers or actors: the e-mail, like chalk on a wall, seems to have no author. Would you say these same things to someone you know, a family member, a classmate, a teammate, a lab partner? Is there something to be learned here that will move us past the slurs casually thrown out at a party or on the walls of Facebook? The cloak of silence may set loose our darkest demons: to combat that silence, speak out, speak with one another and speak up. You can make a difference.

Mary Miller is the dean of Yale College.

Comments

  • Yale2011

    I am frankly baffled by your response, Dean Miller. Of course hate speech shouldn’t be tolerated, and of course this instance is an assault on the community values that Yale claims to uphold. But as you point out, this is just one example of the numerous recent acts of hate perpetrated on this campus that the Dean’s office perpetuates by taking no concrete action to prevent. The women mentioned in the email are targets. There safety has been threatened in their very first week at Yale. Instead of protecting their right to a safe academic and social environment you have stood on the laurels of university regulations, confirming the fears of many of your students have – that Yale is more of a corporation than a community for learning. You appear to be a part of an administration more concerned with saving itself from legal battles and ensuring donations than protecting the safety of it’s students. I beg you to disprove my concerns.

  • ROFLCOPTER

    imposition of community values leads to cultural hegemony. how dare she.

  • An alum

    Ah Mary! Repeatedly we suffer the targeting of independent university women at Yale. Didn’t graduate academic departments here circulate photographs of women applicants for the PhD among (male) faculty for ranking on attractiveness as a condition of admittance? Pre-dating Facebook by decades, or more? Female students have been habitually victimized at Yale, the community value is to go along with it–just add a little more free speech mumbo jumbo.

  • GeeWhiz

    These comments illustrate the problem of trying to pacify the crazies.

    Miller makes little secret of her disdain for departments with too few women, no matter what the reason. You think this would buy her some credibility with the crazies.

    But here she is pilloried by #1, who cannot see the difference between disgusting and offensive behavior on the one hand, and assault on the other; and #3, who so loves her grievances, no matter how ancient, that she will apparently never let them go.

  • Anonymous

    GeeWhiz-

    And what exactly is the diagnosis given to women who are tired of having a blind eye turned to violations of their rights? For example, slaves who wanted to be free in the antebellum south were said to have the disease “dysaesthesia Aethiopis.” Does what we have have a name yet?

    Calling those who speak out against injustice “crazy” is a tired argument. All it shows is that you in some way benefit from the status quo and want to keep things the way they are, no matter whom it hurts.

    Mary Miller, you fall into the above category too, though you were at least had the sense to try and hide it. However, you failed to address the section of the Undergraduate Regulations that discusses harassment. Until you do, no one is going to be satisfied with your answer.

  • ROFLCOPTER

    I fail to see how commenting on the attractiveness of one’s fellow students constitutes “hate speech”.

  • GeeWhiz

    #5: I have nothing to gain from the status quo. Don’t assume that anyone who differs from you in viewpoint is a white, straight, male.

    And because I do not like the status quo, I reject (1) treating coarse and offensive behavior as the equivalent of the real oppression women do face and (2)those who pretend that nothing has changed, because it situates their grievances at the center of an irrelevant moral universe.

    The administration thought they could buy off a lot of complaint by appointing a female dean. It didn’t work. It never does. Miller cannot possibly satisfy the crazies and keep her job. And if she does not satisfy the crazies then she is, the eyes of the crazies, “selling out.”

    Many of us at Yale — gays, Jews, Catholics, blacks, poor people, and yes, women — would have been excluded or abused in former times. Some people still are. Let’s focus on them.

    And yes, “crazy” is the appropriate term for people who equate, for example, offensive email to 300+ years of African-American bondage.

  • Anonymous

    GeeWhiz- Don’t be disingenuous. You don’t have to be white, straight or male to benefit from the status quo (though it always helps to have at least two of those things going for you), nor did I suggest that you were any of those things. Benefiting from the status quo isn’t anything to be ashamed of per se. It’s whether or not that stops you from speaking out against injustice that counts. (“First they came…”)

    It is disingenuous not to acknowledge that acts like this MUST be addressed if we want to eradicate the “real” oppression of such violent, misogynistic acts as rape and domestic violence. These things don’t live in a vacuum separate from the “Scouting Report;” they exist on a continuum of behaviors that all arise from the belief that exerting sexual or other physical dominance over women somehow makes one more of a man, and require the belief that women are somehow less human in order to be perpetrated. Many have convincingly argued that the e-mail constitutes sexual harassment. What Dean Miller has failed to do is either affirm those arguments or to present reasons for holding an opposing opinion. This article merely attempts to simultaneously placate (by calling the e-mail anathema) and obfuscate (by rambling about freedom of expression), and it does neither very well.

    It is also disingenuous to suggest that I equated slavery with the e-mail. I compared your motives in calling those who want the Dean’s Office to this seriously “crazies” to the motives of those who claimed that a slave’s desire for freedom was the result of a mental disease. Calling people crazy is a way of making it sound like their words, thoughts and feelings don’t matter. It’s a rhetorical trick that makes you sound superior without your having to make a real argument. It’s a brand of ad hominem attack. It’s weak. I would hope that a Yale student (if that is indeed what you are or were) could do better than that.

    And doing better is really what all this is about, isn’t it? Yes, we should help those who are excluded and abused. We can do that, and do this too. Sexual harassment policy is important and clarifying it will make Yale a better place. Many of the people who graduate here will go on to be leaders in politics, medicine, business, academia and countless other fields. If they can learn here to hold themselves to higher standards of behavior and treatment of others, and carry that code of conduct into their life’s work, won’t that do something to make the world better? To argue that events like these are insignificant requires ignoring a great deal of nuance and complexity, which is closed-minded and…wait for it…wait for it…yes, you guessed it: disingenuous.

  • GeeWhiz

    Let’s take a brief trip off the Yale campus to the land known as “reality.”

    If you had given me a choice between what those first-year students have had to suffer, and what I actually had to do at that age, I would have signed up for their lives without second thought. What I want for everyone, especially women, is for that to be an irrelevant choice. And you can’t make that happen if you use up all your energy and the attention span of those interested pretending that stupid, offensive, childish, and demeaning talk is the equivalent of, for example, admitting women on the basis of their looks, or some of the other disgusting practices of the past.

    You might ask give some thought to Miller’s position. The only effective punishment of these idiots would be public naming and shaming. It would also be morally appropriate. But it is probably illegal, and would certainly cost the university a lot in lawsuits. So maybe she is making a wise decision… worrying about the real stuff that affects women’s lives at Yale.

  • 2008

    I thought this article was a great attempt to transcend the “crazies” vs. “straight white males” bickering and suggest steps to take to actually improve the campus community, rather than gratifying any one side while alienating the other.

    The words “target” and “predatory” have been used a lot in discussion of the “Scouting Report,” but this suggests that the list was made with the intention of making the women on the list feel a certain way or react in a certain way. In reality, it sounds like the author(s) of the list gave no thought at all to how the people they were talking about would feel or react; while this is a problem in and of itself, couldn’t it have been prevented by means suggested by Dean Miller? If the authors had ever talked to a feminist, for example, in a serious discussion or debate, mightn’t they have considered the effect their e-mail would have on other people?

    But these discussions rarely happen – one side simply scolds, the other side labels them as “crazy,” and the two sides move further apart, each thinking they have a monopoly on the “correct” community values, while having less and less respect for anyone who thinks differently. I think it’s insightful of Dean Miller to try to bridge this gap and foster an understanding of more shared community values.