Chen, Jetha, Lapinig, Lu, Saadi, Wong: Title IX’s resonances for race

As recent graduates and current students at Yale, we urge the University to seize the impending Title IX investigation as an opportunity to re-evaluate how it addresses all forms of prejudice on campus. Although the University has regulations on the books that theoretically address sexual harassment on campus, we must question how well these regulations prevent and punish assault. This disparity between policy and practice is not a problem confined to sexism at Yale. Rather, the administration’s tepid approach to racism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice continues to implicitly sanction all acts of intolerance on campus.

Just as the DKE chants last fall were the latest piece of a prolonged string of misogynistic events, minority communities at Yale have similarly suffered a long line of racist acts on campus in recent years. In 2003, several male students forcibly entered the dormitory room of anti-war activist Katherine Lo ’05 and left threatening messages about Muslim Americans. In 2006, the Rumpus published “Me Love You Long Time: Yale’s Case of Yellow Fever,” an article that compared Asian female anatomy to New Orleans levees (“they only stay tight for so long”); another article in the same issue made explicit references to the color of African American women’s genitalia. That same year, caricatured images depicting the Prophet Muhammad, sword in one hand and severed head in the other, were anonymously posted around campus. In 2008, anonymous vandals struck again, spray-painting the words “n—-r school” on the exterior walls of Pierson College.

Discrimination persists in more subtle forms at the University. For example, black students at Yale have reported “lockout horror stories,” in which fellow Yalies have coldly refused to let them into campus buildings (“Riley: Locked out? Black? Tough!” Dec. 14, 2007).

On numerous occasions, racism at Yale has provoked uproar among students, but the administration has been reluctant to speak or act. It has only been after much delay and student agitation that the University has issued lukewarm condemnations. In the past, the administration has placated student leaders with proposals of diversity programming, only to sweep these promises under the rug once the students graduate. Disturbingly, this cycle of student outrage and University indifference is the same cycle that the Title IX complainants argue occurs after incidents of misogyny at Yale.

The University’s passive stance on racism has left the onus on students to reform Yale. Threatened by the possibility of violence, hate speech or other forms of prejudice, students of color have no choice but to remain vigilant about race relations. Minority students come to Yale to immerse themselves in a vibrant academic community, but often find themselves forced to lead efforts against prejudice on campus in light of the University’s unwillingness.

Clearly, this configuration is problematic. Yale’s intrinsically transient student population faces a steep learning curve. Many freshmen who arrive at Yale assume, perhaps naively, that they need not worry about intolerance and hatred on campus. Over the course of their four years in college, students must not only familiarize themselves with the contours of prejudice at Yale, but then figure out for themselves strategies to subvert such discrimination. In contrast, University administrators, who remain at Yale for far longer periods of time are almost always better positioned to implement lasting solutions.

To its credit, the University has recently made some changes to address racism and other forms of prejudice on campus. We welcome, for example, the addition of Kirk Hooks, chair of the Intercultural Affairs Council, to the staff of the Yale College Dean’s Office. We likewise commend the creation of a peer-liaison support system for LGBTQ students and students of faith. Nevertheless, we share the Title IX complainants’ concerns that the University is only going through the motions. Students are well aware that racism, sexism and homophobia still lurk within our community.

We refuse to resign ourselves to the fatalistic notion that prejudice will always exist at Yale. But for Yale to live up to its values, its administration must be more proactive and speak more forcefully on these issues. Sadly, the misogyny that the Title IX complaint describes is only one of many intersecting threads of intolerance at Yale. We urge the administration to act boldly and grapple with all of the strands of bigotry that have long hindered campus unity.

Christopher Lapinig CC ’07 is a first-year student at the law school and a former editor for the Magazine. Suraiya Jetha MC ’06, Peter Lu BK ’11 and Christine Chen PC ’12 are former co-moderators of the Asian American Students Alliance. Altaf Saadi MC ’08 is a former president of the Muslim Students Association. Annette Wong is a 2006 graduate of Berkeley College.

Comments

  • Madas

    Authors: “Teacher! Teacher! Timmy said a mean thing! Punish him! Puuuuniiish him!”

    You guys realize that the way to combat unacceptable free speech is to treat those responsible like crap, right? There’s something to be said for social pressure. People are allowed to have offensive opinions and say offensive things. If you are seriously arguing otherwise, I hope you A.) realize you just tossed the first amendment and B.) realize most people’s definitions of “offensive” do not coincide.

    Also, for God’s sakes, you people are supposed to be leading the world soon. Grow a spine. What are you going to do when you’re in charge? Cower under a blanket? Or are you going to try to throw everyone you don’t agree with in jail”?

  • ethanjrt

    Do I need to point out that two of your six examples of racist incidents, culled from a time period spanning eight full years, are taken from the Rumpus? I’m not saying that there isn’t a problem – I honestly wouldn’t know – but I AM saying that you could have made your point better, if there is indeed a point to be made. After all, I would imagine that a lot of Yalies are fans of free speech. And/or Dane Cook.

  • attila

    Agree with both of these comments. People can say offensive stuff. That’s the 1st amendment, that’s a university.

    The way to deal with that is to make clear you disagree and that people who do that stuff do not have your admiration.

    Now, be honest: how many times have you listened to a comment you KNOW is offensive to some group, and just ignored it, instead of calling out the speaker? A lot, right? So if you want to know who is at fault for this stuff, start by looking in the mirror.

    The Deans have better things to do, like preventing actual assaults.

  • prescaahn

    Dear Attila,

    You say, “People can say offensive stuff. That’s the 1st amendment, that’s a university.” However, Yale is an educational institution, not a public park. Schools and universities take responsibility for far more than just the minimal physical safety of their students. Yale has a number of regulations that set a higher bar for its students’ behavior than state or federal laws do– and rightly so. The appropriate time for a school to invoke freedom of speech and expression is when an academic or artist puts out a controversial work– not when students direct verbal abuse and slurs at other students. If Yale isn’t prepared to intervene when one student verbally abuses another, how can it claim jurisdiction over actual felonies like theft and rape? Yale has to make a choice: stick up for its values in all matters pertaining to students, or admit that all such matters are for the law to handle. What Yale can’t do is have its cake and eat it too.

    Presca

  • attila

    Prescaahn,

    I obviously disagree with you.

    Perhaps there is a role for the university to police truly outrageous claims (use of the N-word, for example). But there are lots of things that X finds offensive and Y thinks is just a statement of opinion. And if you want the admin to get into that, you’re opening a door we want closed. In any case, if Rumpus writes something, it is almost certainly protected and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

    I’d much rather than save their time for actual assaults. And I think STUDENTS should do a lot more to demand respectful behavior from each other. You have a lot of power — peer pressure is a very powerful force. You might try talking to people about why Rumpus is so fond of racial/ist humor.

  • ohreally

    Goodness gracious–this is starting to sound like a Title IX bandwagon. The administration can only do so much in restricting free speech. Messages anonymously spray painted onto walls in the dead of night obviously prove it’s a message that a large majority are already against, hence the secrecy and delinquent act. It makes no sense for Yale to say…spend hundreds of thousands to up security around walls because of one offensive message that could easily and quickly be washed away in the morning following with an email that mentions the message in no way reflects Yale’s beliefs. Crying over such an ignorant act and taking it personally, in my opinion, demeans the average Yalie’s ability to handle real world instances (yeah people, racism is still in abundance and if you’re going to some spraypaint on a wall to heart, you’ve got a lot of harsh realities to deal with).
    Yale can’t change personal opinions, but it’s done MORE than enough to promote and nurture our cultural difference. Observe the mass of cultural houses, cultural events, cultural groups, etc, etc. All of these things spread awareness and a message of acceptance.
    And as far as the Rumpus goes–yeah, they have the right to free speech. However, they’re also known for being the campus’s joke newspaper full of rumors and gossip. If you’re really going to quote an on-campus publication for writing racist comments–at least quote one that students will take seriously.

  • comeagain

    I’m from Texas, I’m a registered Republican, I’m white, and straight.

    That might sound just plain-Jane, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who’re convinced that I’m a bigot from the most backwards place on this planet. Now that I’m a sophomore here, it really has been shown to me that Yale students really aren’t such wonderfully tolerant and open-minded people as I once thought. No, I didn’t grow up shoveling chicken crap; No, I don’t think black and gay people are evil; and No, I don’t think President Obama is a “moslem.” – all answers that I’ve had to use in order to defend my image. Why, then, am I told that I’m not experiencing prejudice? Why am I not jumping on the bullhorn to demand, nay, to subpoena my acceptance in this community? Who knows, but oftentimes it’s easy to forget to remove the log from one’s own eye.

  • anon

    There’s a difference between verbal abuse and offensive verbal expression, and neither the title ix complaint nor yale deals with the latter, nor should it. By conflating the two, you (and many of your peer writers) are obscuring the discussion which SHOULD be happening, which is about the former. Yale can’t stop it’s students from being bigots or misogynists, but it can stop those bigots and misogynists from abusing their peers. Is Yale doing it’s job there? I don’t know, I haven’t read a single article in the YDN (besides those written by the people who actually filed the title IX complaint) that actually addressed THAT issue. Writers of the YDN, do us all a favor, and rather than sensationalizing these issues, do a bit of journalism and report on what the issues really are. Or at least admit outright that you’re using the title IX complaint to talk about the problems that you choose not to personally address.