November 11th, 2012 | Cross Campus

Forum: Yale-Harvard game shirts

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Photo by Caroline Tan.

This year’s Freshman Class Council Yale-Harvard game shirt will go on sale this week, but not without its share of controversy. Read perspectives in the News’ Forum:

Kathryn Crandall, Guest Columnist | Freshman in Saybrook
It’s a well-known fact among all Yale students. It’s printed on T-shirts, sweatshirts and even boxer shorts: “Harvard sucks.”
Why do they suck? Who cares? That’s not the point. The point is they — the cold, calculating androids of Harvard University — are our rivals, academically and athletically. That in and of itself is reason enough. And so, it is our duty as Yalies to crack jokes, pull pranks and print witty T-shirts at their expense.
But for the second year in a row, the Freshman Class Council’s original T-shirt design was rejected. The original shirt poked fun at Harvard’s recent, and embarrassing, cheating scandal, altering Harvard’s crest to read “CH-EA-TAS” instead of the traditional “VE-RI-TAS.” This design was rejected by some combination of the Harvard and Yale licensing offices.
With this rejection, the licensing offices of Yale and Harvard are contaminating the purity of a beautiful rivalry. The point of a rivalry is to keep your rival on his toes with constant banter, relentlessly displaying how you are better than him in every way shape and form. That is the fun and the beauty of it all.
And without a rival, there are no challenges. If we didn’t have Harvard, whose name would we boo? Whose football fans would we trick? Who would motivate us to put our heads together and create droll and slightly offensive T-shirts every year?
As much as I hate to admit it, we need Harvard. We need their rivalry to keep us sharp. And Harvard needs us. They need us to print that shirt. They need us to show them that cheaters never win. And they need us to be a constant reminder that they need to do better.
Besides, it isn’t our fault they give us so much material to work with.
Nathaniel Zelinsky, Staff Columnist | Senior in Davenport College
Yale’s licensing office (acting on behalf of its Cambridge counterpart) recently told the Freshman Class Council they can’t sell a Harvard-Yale T-shirt. Why? FCC’s shirt called Harvard “cheaters,” a reference to the scandal that rocked the Crimson campus early this year.
Is this a suppression of free speech? Is the legitimacy of academia under attack? Is it a slippery slide from a banned T-shirt to McCarthyism?
As you can probably tell from my tone, I don’t think so. Yale and Harvard licensing are well within their rights to prevent FCC from printing this shirt.
I am a free speech advocate (or “nut” depending on whom you ask). And I was deeply troubled in 2009, when Dean Mary Miller prevented the then-Freshman Class Council from making a similar The Game T-shirt that called Harvard men “sissies.” Apparently the term is homophobic and violated Yale’s community standards. Many saw Miller’s actions, correctly, as censorship. She abandoned Yale’s stated policy that any speech, no matter how offensive, deserves protection (see the Woodward Report of 1975, Yale’s ur text on free speech).
So what’s the difference between 2009 and 2012? Why is “sissies” shirt protected but a “cheaters” shirt is not?
In 2009, Yale College decided it was in the censorship business. A select few in Woodbridge Hall and Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona imposed arbitrary “norms” — and the logic wasn’t limited to T-shirts. Taken to the extreme, “norms” could extend to every aspect of Yale life. We could be told what guest speakers are within the community’s norms, what plays are okay and what activities go beyond the pale.
In contrast, in 2012, a corporate licensing office makes a more narrowly tailored claim: This, particular article of clothing cheapens our brand. There is no “norm” based argument that claims to govern all of collegiate life. The potential repercussions are far less worrisome.
This isn’t an issue of free speech at all — it’s an issue of a corporation controlling its merchandise.

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