Levin regrets T-shirt flap

In response to the complaint of a free-speech advocacy group, University President Richard Levin said he regrets the controversy surrounding the Freshman Class Council’s axed T-shirt design for the Harvard-Yale Game.

In a Dec. 18 letter to Levin, Adam Kissel of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said Yale College Dean Mary Miller acted inappropriately by ruling “unacceptable” an FCC T-shirt design that offended some members of the gay community. In Jan. 14 a letter to Kissel, provided to the News by FIRE, Levin said the members of FCC reached a decision to change the design on their own, but added that Miller had expressed concerns, which FCC members now say they interpreted as an order.

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“As best as I can determine, it would have been possible, and not unreasonable, for some members of the Council to interpret Dean Miller’s counsel as a directive,” Levin wrote. “This we regret.”

When the Freshman Class Council selected a T-shirt that used an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote to describe Harvard students as “sissies,” members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Co-operative objected, saying the word was a homophobic slur. Dean of Freshman Affairs Raymond Ou informed Miller of the controversy, and she immediately deemed the design “unacceptable,” Ou said in November. Miller and Ou could not be reached for further comment Monday night.

FCC President Brandon Levin ’13 said he and the rest of the Council never spoke with Miller directly about the issue but that they received an e-mail from Ou detailing her concerns.

“We were under the impression that it was a directive,” Brandon Levin said.

In a letter sent to Richard Levin last month, Kissel, the director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, accused the University of censoring the FCC.

“The world and the Yale community ought to be able to count on Yale College deans to respect freedom of expression enough to hold in abeyance any urge to censor,” Kissel wrote.

In his response to the group, Richard Levin said no school official should stifle students’ speech. Still, he said it was appropriate for Miller to advise FCC representatives about the impact of their choices, while maintaining the independence of the council’s ultimate decision. He added in an interview that different people involved in the decision about the T-shirts seemed to have different interpretations of what was said, and that some had clearly construed Miller’s suggestion as a command.

Earlier this month, Miller said that because the FCC is a University-funded group, its sponsorship of the T-shirt would have been inappropriate.

“Yale College did not endorse this T-shirt by facilitating its printing by an official organization within the college,” Miller said. “Nevertheless, the T-shirt certainly could have been made by another group and disseminated freely for the football game.”

Brandon Levin said he and the rest of the FCC executive board had moved to address the issue before hearing from the deans, and were in a meeting with the LGBT Co-op board when they received Ou’s e-mail. He said FCC never intended to upset anyone in the Yale community, and entered the meeting with the LGBT Co-op determined to reach a conclusion that was acceptable to everyone — even if that meant not printing the shirts.

Comments

  • 00

    great response from levin. fits the culture of the yale i remember and lays some concerns to rest

  • Easily Intimidated?

    What is the lesson? Modern students are too deferential to power? Too easily given to following orders? T’aint the Yale of William Sloane Coffin’s day. BTW, nice job of separating the Levins.

    PK
    M.Div.’80

  • Old Blue

    Pllleassse!
    Her Deanness finds a tee shirt “unacceptable!”
    Me thinks she doth protest too much, and should apologize to the FCC for rendering her opinions in such a heavy handed way. Too bad Levin has to waste his time apologizing for her.

  • First Amendment

    C’mon Old Blue:
    Levin “waste his time” apologizing? Free speech is the aorta of the University.
    PK
    M.Div’80

  • Kim

    Levin failed to exercise similar restraint when he compared pro-life proponents to terrorists last year. Where was the apology in relation to that?

  • Old Blue ’73

    It would be nice to see the text of Dean Ou’s email to the FCC to judge whether it really is as open to interpretation as Levin says it is. But I agree with #2 above, the bulk of very bright ugrads these days are rules-followers to a fault, by and large.

  • Oh full of scorpions is my mind.

    #6:

    And the reason today’s ugrads are “rules followers” by and large? The Draft-free world they grew up in. Unfairness is just a “fringe issue” these days. Nothing worth upsetting the apple cart about. The biggest unfairness they’ve experienced is the Supreme Court cheating Gore out of the presidency:

    Nothing that really hits home—like being carted off to Viet Nam and turned into a modern day Macbeth: “Oh full of scorpions is my mind . . .”. (Shakespeare’s description of PTSD 400 years before the illness was diagnosed.)

  • Blood will have blood.

    PS to # 6:
    Shakespeare’s other premonitory definition of PTSD (by 400 years) in Macbeth reads thus:

    “Blood will have blood.”

    PK
    M.Div. ’80

  • Egalitarian

    One thing that seems to be missing from this discussion is that these shirts are insulting to a much broader group than just the LGBT community. It is insulting to women because it implies that feminine behavior is undesirable or inferior. It is insulting to men who do not conform to or agree with the alpha male stereotype, for obvious reasons. It has no place in a community that claims to be diverse and tolerant.

    As far as the appropriateness of the University’s actions, it depends on whether the University is paying for shirts. If so, then it certainly has the right to refuse to pay for them if they carry a hateful message. Otherwise, it would be appropriate for the administration to criticize the message but not to censor it. (It’s calling responding to speech you don’t like with more speech.)

    I agree with #5 that it was improper for Levin to compare the pro-life with terrorism, although it was still certainly protected free speech.

  • @#5 Kim

    I hadn’t heard about that. Can you post more info?

  • Borrowed robes?

    I disagree with # 9. “Sissy” does not imply “female”, it implies non-agressive. A male is supposed to be agressive i.e. use his muscles to subdue others (the biological determinism model) and a female is supposed to be nurturing, using the soft tissue appeal of the mammary ensemble not to subdue but to enrich and expand others, specifically offspring (also the biological determinism model.)

    What is offensive is NOT the donning or doffing of the biological robes, but the SWAPPING of biological robes: Why do you dress me in soft tissue when nature intends me to wear tissue tough and hard?

    What is happening as we become more cerebral and less biological (more emancipated from gender identity and less imprisoned by it) is an increasing anxiety about renouncing our biology: Why do you dress me in borrowed robes—or tee-shirts?

    PK

  • really?

    Are we so thin-skinned that we can’t deal with a shirt referring to ‘sissies’?

    Grow up. Honestly.

  • @Egalitarian

    You kinda missed the boat on this one, pal. “Sissy,” as traditionally defined and used in Fitzgerald’s context, means “cowardly,” not womanly. That you are connecting the two seems to be evidence of your own underlying prejudices, no matter how “egalitarian” you profess to be.

    But this debate has been conducted and won already. It’s not a “hateful message,” alpha males have feelings too, and you should find something more meaningful to be upset about. Thank you and goodnight.

  • dave gibboni

    Threaten. Demand withdrawal. Express regret. Nice formula, but it still achieves the same end. No t-shirt.

    Such cowardice. Either have the courage of conviction to forbid the t-shirt, or allow free speech to flourish. Pick one.

  • Old Blue ’73

    To #9 Egalitarian:

    Briefly, barf.

    At more length, ditto to #11 and #13.

  • Kim
  • Egalitarian

    To #11: Really? So, it’s appropriate to go around imposing one’s way on other people by physical force as long it’s a male who’s doing it? What a wonderful way to needlessly perpetuate violence!

    To #13: The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “sissy” as “An effeminate person; a coward,” thereby associating the undesirable trait of cowardice with femininity. It’s simply wrong to say that this is a reflection of my prejudices and not those of society.

  • Semantic Battlefields

    # 17

    I din’t say it wsa approrpriate. I said it is the sad history of biological determinism: The fate of those with muscles has been to overwhelm others with power. The fate of those with milk-makers and a baby-maker has been to produce children and feed others.

    It is only in the recent “liberation epoch” that we have been able to disentangle identity from gender. However, the resulting anxiety manifests
    itself on the semantic battlefields of “sissy” and “butch” and “marriage” etc.

    PK

  • too much hoopla

    and some things are just a joke.

  • Yale ’08

    For comparison’s sake, click on the below to see the latest row at Notre Dame. I think any rational person can see that this is a good example of what constitutes true anti-gay material. Next to this, we look like a bunch of oversensitive babies. The link provides fodder for better spent political and organizational capital on behalf of the LGBT community.

    http://collegemediamatters.com/2010/01/19/notre-dame-observer-faces-outrage-over-anti-gay-comic/

  • LakeHMM

    They freaked out about the freshman screw theme last year, so it’s only fair that they be sensitive about this, too. This makes more sense than that, anyway. Think about it: it’s implying that it’s a bad thing to be an effeminate male because they’re using it as an insult. Not to mention that it’s just really poorly constructed comedy.

  • Veritas

    To those discussing abortion, please get your terms right: I know many people who are both fiercely “pro-life” and “pro-choice” in that they detest abortion but respect it, as the courts have established it, as a private decision. The distinguishing trait of the people that Levin referenced per Kim (#5) was not that they were pro-life but that they were anti-choice.

    To everyone: please grow a thicker skin and stop playing the victim. You were not born with the right to not be offended, as such a right would infringe upon freedom of speech, which has long been held as the more important of the two. Instead of trying to stifle the speech of others, exercise your own right to free speech and try to win people over with reason.