December 23rd, 2009 | Uncategorized

Civil rights group blasts Yale for scrapped T-shirts

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization centered on civil liberties in American colleges and universities, has sent a letter to University President Richard Levin rebuking Yale administrators for asking the Freshman Class Council to reconsider its decision to sell Harvard-Yale T-shirts that some campus groups considered offensive.

The letter, written by Adam Kissel, the director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, was referring to an incident last month when the Freshman Class Council pulled production on T-shirts bearing the message “I think of all Harvard men as sissies,” a quote from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Leaders of the LGBT Co-op came forward to assert that the word “sissy” was an anti-gay slur, and administrators asked FCC representatives to rethink their decision. The FCC scrapped the design and came up with new T-shirts with a different slogan.

In his letter, sent last Friday, Kissel drew comparisons between the FCC T-shirt controversy and the Yale University Press’ summer decision to omit cartoons of the prophet Muhammed in Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen’s “The Cartoons that Shook the World.”

“In matters large and small, Yale has taken steps that erode the freedom it once championed, teaching its students that the authorities ultimately decide which expressions are acceptable or unacceptable,” Kissel said. “This seems the very opposite of a liberal education in a free society.”

FIRE also sent the letter to Dean of Freshman Affairs Raymond Ou, Dean of Yale College Mary Miller, the Freshman Class Council and the News. Monday, the letter appeared on the Huffington Post in a blog entry by Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Philadelphia-based organization. (Click here to watch video of Lukianoff speaking about his involvement with FIRE.)

Read FIRE’s full letter to Yale here. Check back soon for reactions from Yale administrators and student groups to the letter.

  • JP

    The article fails to mention that the so-called “civil rights group”, FIRE, is a right-wing outfit dedicated mostly to defending the comfort of sexists and racists on college campuses.

  • Pointer

    I would just like to point out that the prior article suggests that the FCC wasn’t just “asked” to reconsider the design, but rather that it was told to pull the design. That makes a big difference.

  • @JP

    So then the ACLU, which has defended the free-speech rights of neo-Nazis and the KKK, is also a “right-wing outfit”? Free speech applies to everyone.

    Or perhaps you adhere to the old maxim: “Free speech for me, but not for thee”

  • ’12

    Have to say, I’m with FIRE on this one.

  • Yale ’08

    Honestly, Yale deserves this. The t-shirt debacle was a slap in the face to all who claim to uphold the virtues and values of a liberal arts education. Cowing to the FCC was a perfect example of how PC BS constricts freedom of speech and plain good fun. It resulted in censorship pure and simple. The LGBT’s co-optation of the term ‘sissy’ was ridiculous, unwarranted, and a waste of political capital that could have been expended on more important issues plaguing the gay community.

  • @JP

    The ACLU was involved in a number of court cases defending the KKK and other extreme groups – does that make the ACLU a “right-wing outfit?” The fact of that matter is that if you want freedom of speech and individual rights, you don’t get to pick and choose who gets them.

  • grad student

    People who can’t take a joke are sissies

  • y12

    Go FIRE! Yale has two options these days: They can either admit that they wield a liberal-slanting double-standard when it comes to admissions and free speech, or they can walk the talk and take race of the application and allow freedom of speech regardless of where it comes from (to cite two examples).

    The latter would obviously be preferable, but failing that I’d accept a little honesty. We need to stop pretending that this institution stands for the things it claims to.

  • of all possible cases

    THIS is the one “FIRE” takes seriously?

    If somebody at Yale tried to block actual political speech — say, right-wing political speech, conservative T-shirt messages, etc — then I would be much more concerned. (As would the ACLU.)

    In this case, what Yale is doing is no different than if it tried to get students not to use T-shirts making Harvard out to be a nig*** or a bit** or whatever — speech that violates the rights of a lot of members of the Yale community, and speech that can be easily said a different way (believe me, there are so many ways to insult Harvard!) without significantly changing the message.

    The fact that THIS is the case “FIRE” chose to pursue indicates clearly that this is not a group that cares about free expression, even conservative free expression, but simply a group that wants to protest the idea that gays and lesbians deserve the same protections that we all accept for racial minorities, men and women, etc.

  • 2012

    couldn’t agree more.

  • pt939

    I’m with fire. To compare the word sissy with ni**** is just obnoxious.

  • noo

    fire defended ward churchill and linda mccariston…

    only at Yale could a group that objects to left-wing indoctrination automatically be considered right-wing

    just look at website

  • @

    FIRE is right. Yale cares more about liberal political correctness than anything else. The LGBT coop takes everything way too seriously — sometimes, I feel like it is run by people who are looking for an excuse to be outraged.

  • ’11

    FCC wasn’t censored… nobody made them change the t-shirt design. They changed it on their own when it came to their attention that it was potentially offensive.

    Like #9 said… there are so many easy ways to insult harvard. You can’t censor someone for using homophobic language if they weren’t intending it to begin with. They just didn’t realize that the design was offensive b.c sexist and anti-gay language is so naturalized. They didn’t *want* to send that message, so they changed the design.

    How is that censorship?!

  • FCC ’13

    @#14 said, “FCC wasn’t censored… nobody made them change the t-shirt design.”

    That is not correct. The YDN article was ambiguous, but Dean Mary Miller decided that the FCC could not print the t-shirts. Dean Miller did not give us the choice of printing the shirts in spite of the complaint.

  • an idea

    Well, I guess this is too late this year, but we should have all protested Yale by printing those t-shirts ourselves and wearing them at the game. Hell, I should have done that–I would have made a killing selling them. Would definitely been the most popular Game shirt as a reaction against Yale. Hmmmm, next year or I bet the reaction and memory will have worn off by then.

  • Hypocrisy

    Yale is full of politically-correct liberal students who can’t stand any speech that could possibly deride women or LGBTQ students. Everything is offensive to them. Now those same students are standing up for free speech and decrying the actions of the Yale administration? Pick a position – you can’t be offended by everything and then chide administrators for following your bidding.

  • Dram

    PC BS is tiresome. Coop appears to be looking for any reason at all to be outraged.

    Cf. The outrage over the ‘misogyny/homophobia’ of a “JE Sux and Swalloz” joke. That slogan musta been multi-tasking to hate women and gay people at the same time. Give me a break and cut the PC outrage.

  • Jordon Walker ’13

    Are you people stupid? Shirts designed by a registered university organization in no way have claims to individual rights. For FIRE to even insert itself in the matter is ridiculous as no one’s individual rights were violated in any manner whatsoever.

    People seem to be more incensed by the fact that homosexuals stood up and were not denigrated. Although to many in the Yale community sissy has no pejorative connotation, to some it does, and that particular population of Yale should not feel the university is sanctioning offensive speech.

    Also it is very annoying how people derisively refer to actions that seek not to harm or threaten a particular community as PC BS. It is not being PC is is being considerate.

  • Thomas Robinson

    I don’t want the FCC printing shirts that represent the Yale community unless they have the right to say what they mean.

  • And why, dear sirs, should the minority dictate the course of the majority over something that is inconsequential and nebulous in its offensiveness. I had never heard of “sissy” as an pejorative term (aside from it meaning wimp) before the unnecessary censoring by Mary Miller and half-contrived (or perhaps constructed) outrage by certain minorities. Perhaps instead of viewing the world solely through their own easily offended eyes, these minorities should recognize that other perspectives and mentalities exist, which, if they wanted to be truly intelligent people, they would consider fairly rather than attempting to suppress if such ideas are not perfectly aligned with their own.

    Regarding the PC BS, we are not referring to seeking to prevent harm, but when people are unnecessarily or inordinately conciliatory towards a certain minority, to the point where the attempts to not offend are patently risible. The stupidity propagated by Mary Miller over such a nebulous term as “sissy” qualifies easily into such a definition. If there is one thing I truly dislike about Yale, it is the prevailing tendency of those in power and those most vocal to support such laughable idiocy.

  • Veritas

    FIRE is right. Yale has been violating its own credo, with Aliza Shvarts, with the Gone With The Wind freshman screw last year, with the Yale Press’ cartoons, with (allegedly) telling the evangelical preacher to stay off University property, and now with this. So what if Yale gets bad press? Big deal. What makes Yale and its peer institutions great is the fact that they’re independent. Yale is not a public institution, and Yale is not a democracy; it is a place where the world’s greatest minds can think freely. The administration shouldn’t compromise that to maintain public favor.

  • FailBoat

    I’ve heard plenty of gay people use the term sissy, and none of them meant it as a sexual slur.

  • ’13

    “And why, dear sirs, should the minority dictate the course of the majority over something that is inconsequential and nebulous in its offensiveness.”

    Let me get this straight. You, the majority, are telling those of us in the minority what we should and should not be offended by? I’m sure, had we let the white majority dictate what words were offensive to blacks 40 years ago there would be a lot more racial slurs around.

    Are you really endorsing the view that the majority gets to dictate how the minority is treated? Seems to fly in the face of civil rights to me.

    Yale was the one paying for the shirts–through the FCC, which is not an independently-funded organization, if I’m correct–so they should get to decide whether or not they want an antigay slur printed on them. And had Yale allowed the shirts to be printed there would have been a lot more backlash. They just can’t win here.

  • Bemused Onlooker

    It would have been responsible journalism to have done some background research on F.I.R.E. before characterizing it as “an organization centered on civil liberties.” Almost as much a stretch of the facts as calling the Schutzstaffel (that’s Hitler’s SS, if you won’t do your own research) “a community action group.” Why on earth would you even give this bunch a podium, much less a respectable title?

  • ’98

    I’m surprised no one has heretofore cited the definitive Yale reference: “The ‘Sissy Boy Syndrome’ and the Development of Homosexuality” (Yale University Press, 1987)

  • Where is President Benno Schmidt when we need him?

    In April of 1986, Yale hosted its fifth annual Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days (GLAD) to increase the community’s awareness of the campus’ gay and lesbian population. Posters advertising GLAD’s various events were posted around campus. The week following, anonymous posters appeared as a parody of GLAD advertising the fictitious BAD—Bestiality Awareness Days—and its fictional schedule of activities. It was discovered that Wayne Dick, a sophomore, had created the posters.Once the culprit’s identity was known, Caroline Jackson, director of the Afro-American Cultural Center, filed a complaint charging hin with violating the university’s code of conduct, which banned “any act of harassment,intimidation, coercion or assault, or any other act of violence against any member of the community, including sexual, racial or ethnic harassment.” On May 2, 1986, Dick received a letter informing him of a hearing before the full Yale College Executive Committee. Dick was required to prepare a written statement for the hearing. He developed his defense around provisions contained in the “Woodward Report” used by Jackson and Santana to bring the initial charges. Dick wrote in his statement that, no matter how distasteful the committee found the poster, “it[was] still protected” by the Woodward Report. Unfortunately for Dick, the Committee chose not to reaffirm the school’s commitment to free expression. On May 13, the committee determined that Dick had violated the harassment regulations. He was placed on two years probation. Unwilling to simply accept his punishment, and in need of some clarification on what was acceptable speech at Yale, Wayne Dick wrote an appeal letter to Yale president, A. Bartlett Giamatti. The university’s president responded to Dick’s appeal by stating that the committee’s decision would stand. Wayne Dick’s situation looked rather bleak when Nat Hentoff, a free speech journalist, heard about it and decided to get involved. Hentoff talked with Guido Calabresi, Dean of the Yale School of Law, who was familiar with the story and felt the situation was “outrageous!” Hentoff began rallying the national media, and articles critical of the Yale decision appeared in The New York Times, The Village Voice, and The
    Washington Post. Then Giamatti left Yale to become president of Major League Baseball’s National League and was replaced by Benno Schmidt. President Schmidt, in his inaugural address, announced his stand on the topic of free expression whenhe stated: “There is no speech so horrendous in content that it does not in principle serve our purposes.” President Schmidtthen encouraged Wayne Dick to ask the Executive Committee for a new hearing, which Dick decided to do. In a press release, the Executive Committee announced that it had voted to reverse its earlier decision to discipline Wayne Dick, adding that the decision to overturn Dick’s conviction had nothing to do with the negative publicity the committee had received from the national media.

  • Juan Diaz

    The T-shirt was a very creative idea, and it’s sad to see that people took offense to it. Anyone can be a sissy, not just gay males, and most gay males are not sissies. Sissy implies a weakness of character. It also implies one is acting like a little girl, so if anyone should have been offended, it should have been the women at Yale. But the context is the key here, and in the context in which it was used, it was above all else incredibly creative. Everyone should be able to appreciate that, and this would have been a great T-shirt design for The Game.

  • ’11

    ok… somehow i have a hard time agreeing with the assertion that calling harvard sissies is ‘incredibly creative.’

    I do think you’re getting at something… that the shirt was sexist as well. Harvard men are feminine, and therefore we are better than they are. It’s insulting to women and it’s insulting to men who are not gender normative (which doesn’t necessarily imply gay… but this is wrapped up in a long history and anti-gay rhetoric of ‘gay men are sissies,’ which i hope does something to help you understand why this shirt is offensive).

  • Thank you

    ‘People seem to be more incensed by the fact that homosexuals stood up and were not denigrated.’

  • @ ’13

    “Let me get this straight. You, the majority, are telling those of us in the minority what we should and should not be offended by? I’m sure, had we let the white majority dictate what words were offensive to blacks 40 years ago there would be a lot more racial slurs around.”

    Are you seriously trying to compare words with substantial connection to slavery and used cogniant of such connotation to an debatably offensive term that is used by many (such as me) with no such intentions of denigrating any of the overly vocal minorities who seem to construe everything they dislike as an concerted attack? Seriously, get some perspective here.

    “Are you really endorsing the view that the majority gets to dictate how the minority is treated? Seems to fly in the face of civil rights to me.”

    You don’t compensate for one extreme by implementing the other. The majority shouldn’t oppress the minority, but it is equally pernicious to have the minority dictating the majority’s course of action. In this instance, considering all pertinent factors, I think the university leaned a tad too far towards the minority extreme.

    “Yale was the one paying for the shirts–through the FCC, which is not an independently-funded organization, if I’m correct–so they should get to decide whether or not they want an antigay slur printed on them. And had Yale allowed the shirts to be printed there would have been a lot more backlash. They just can’t win here.”

    It’s not an anti-gay slur to vast majority of normal students. With that said, I agree Yale couldn’t win here, because they’d either bend to the myopia and hypocrisy of political correctness, or be censured to oblivion by over-zealous minority groups. I’m just rather disappointed they viewed the first option as the lesser of the two negatives, because it is undeniably the weaker channel to take.

  • Juan Diaz

    I still do not understand why the T-shirt was offensive. The great gay icon, Bette Davis (a woman and a great feminist), often said that “old age was no place for sissies.” I do not know of a single woman or gay man–or anyone else for that matter–who found this statement offensive. The context is the key. This was Bette Davis at her best. The T-shirt was equally witty and creative. The implication was that Yale was better than Harvard–all done in good fun for those whose political correctness has not dulled their sense of wit and smart humor.

  • Yale ’08

    #27, thanks for the interesting historical excursion. But what Wayne Dick did was at least disrespectful and probably quite hate-filled, or could definitely be construed as such. To run a mock poster in competition with GLAD’s nascent awareness campaign could be interpreted as a act of aggression towards an emerging and vulnerable minority at Yale. To have tried to hide behind freedom of speech was repulsive and cowardly. Dick deserved what he got and was lucky it was not worse.

    On the other hand, this t-shirt debacle is a ridiculous example of PC policing run amuck. What right does the LGBT have to claim the word sissy for their own?! Freedom of Speech must have some intelligent purpose behind it. Blatant and hateful Denigration of gays is wrong. But claiming the word ‘sissy’ is offensive to gays and demanding a ban on a shirt is also wrong. Let’s learn to apply freedom of speech in equal measure with freedom of religion, protection against hatespeech, etc.

  • JR

    ‘The t-shirt was equally witty and creative.’

    while that may be true… it’s only true bc the t-shirt was neither witty nor creative. Whatever your take is on this debacle, at least we can come together as yalies to have higher standards for wit than ‘We’re better than you because you’re a bunch of sissies!’

  • Juan Diaz

    JR, no one at Yale said this. This was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a Princetonian. We are just agreeing with him on this point, and once again in good fun. If the T-shirt had just called Harvard men “sissies,” that would have been rather crass, but this is a quote from none other than an illustrious Princetonian. I don’t know, but it seems to me people have lost their sense of good fun. I don’t find it offensive at all, and I think Yale erred in calling out the PC police on this issue.

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