Several days ago I walked into Bingham, shaking off the cold and drowsiness still clinging to me after coming home from the library. As per usual, I pressed the button for the elevator and it began to clunk down slowly. To kill some time, I perused the posters lining the wall next to the elevator. They contained all the usual stuff: reminders for meetings, panels and events. Then, one particular poster caught my eye.
At first I noticed it because it featured a cute dog meme. It’s a meme you may have seen on Facebook — a Shiba Inu dog with phrases like “such amaze” and “very wow.” With the elevator still tottering down, I had time to take a closer look at the poster.
The poster had a picture of a man and a woman on a date, and another image of two males on a date. Next to the picture of the heterosexual couple the poster read: “Not wow, such straight.” Next to the homosexual couple it read: “Yes wow, good date”. It was advertising the LGBTQ Peer Liaison’s discussion on “Dating at Yale.”
The phrasing was, quite obviously, a joke. After all, it featured a dog meme. How seriously can anyone take a picture of a Shiba Inu saying “such straight”? Still, I couldn’t help but think something wasn’t quite right.
Words have power and carry a message. And jests, even if intentionally light-hearted, have the capacity to send the wrong message. The messaging of this poster seemed to cast heterosexuality in a negative light.
Homosexual individuals have certainly been victimized for their sexuality much more than straight people have. And yes, heterosexual individuals have done far worse than make dog memes disparaging the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ individuals have been denied rights and been made the victims of unforgettable treatment. But as the saying goes, when you fight “fire with fire, everyone gets burned.” A meme is certainly no more than a light singe, but negative words coming from the Peer Liaisons feel particularly wrong.
The Peer Liaison website states a Peer Liaison “empowers mentee[s] to be engaged, responsible, and proactive citizen[s] at Yale.” It seems to me that an engaged and responsible Yale student would emphasize the community’s inclusivity and connect with students from diverse backgrounds. With the dog poster, the Peer Liaisons seem to have forgotten the importance of inclusivity. They seem to build walls, not bridges.
Peer Liaisons can easily support the LGBTQ community without casting heterosexuality in a negative light. Because even when done in jest, such jokes can make people uncomfortable. They can broaden the distance between people of different sexual orientations rather than bring us together.
This isn’t to be mistaken as a criticism of the LGBTQ Peer Liaison program as a whole, nor the Office of LGBTQ Resources. These organizations work tirelessly to make students feel comfortable on campus and are an indispensable part of Yale’s community. But the dog poster seemed to be inconsistent with the general good will with which they operate.
With the phrase “such straight, not wow,” the Peer Liaisons seem to be creating an environment in which straight students are not welcome to join LGBTQ students in discussing dating. The organization is completely within its right to host a meeting that is only for LGBTQ students. But to use exclusive messaging seems counterproductive for its work. When LGBTQ and straight students join together to discuss dating and sexuality, the exchange that emerges is beneficial for all.
Everyone has their own intimate communities in which they feel most comfortable. Being part of a specific community — for me it varies from being an Asian-American, a Midwesterner or a break-dancer — can help a person feel at home, at ease and supported. But being able to emerge from these tight-knit communities to interact with students of diverse backgrounds is also crucial. By joining in discussion with representatives from cultural houses and organizations that I am not a part of, I can be attuned to the challenges that others are facing. This sort of inclusivity is key because it fosters an exchange that helps to create a better atmosphere on campus. It opens our minds to new points of view and things we can do to help our peers.
We can all do our part to make Yale a more tolerant, more understanding place, and we can do this through inclusivity. Yes wow. Very love.
Leo Kim is a freshman in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .