Two weeks after controversy erupted over the removal of an alleged hate sign from Durfee Hall, Yale administrators said the situation could have been handled better and that the community should use the incident as a learning experience.
Freshman counselors removed the sign, which read “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out,” after complaints about it. The freshmen responsible for the sign said the banner was not hate speech but was meant as a joke.
“The value of mutual respect came into collision with another value of equally great importance: the right to free expression,” Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead wrote in an e-mail. “For this reason, however sympathetic their motives were, it was not right for any student to take down the banner.”
The e-mail came in response to a petition from several Yale students calling on the University to protect free speech.
Morse College freshman counselor Joshua Berman ’02 talked to the freshmen counselors about what he told the freshmen involved, Berman said. A discussion among the counselors followed.
“There needs to be clearer criteria for the difference between hate speech that is threatening to students and protected free speech, so that counselors don’t have to make this call on their own, because it’s a very tough position to be in,” Berman said.
Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said the incident highlights the importance of communication.
“The whole point is that we must increase conversations and dialogue among students and people here,” she said. “The value of freedom of expression is of the utmost importance to the whole society, particularly in an academic environment. Education is a vital part of what happens here. When something is offensive to some, we have to communicate with each other.”
Pierson College freshman counselor Bradley Shy ’02 said the discussion emphasized communication.
“The only take-home message I got was to be sure to talk to college deans because, I think, in the past there has been a breakdown of communication,” Shy said.
Brodhead said freedom of expression is an important principle to uphold.
“When we allow the suppression of speech in cases when it is found objectionable, we implicitly authorize restrictions that could harm free expression on other occasions,” Brodhead said. “The right thing would have been to explain why the banner was objectionable and to leave its author to decide: in other words, to have made this an occasion for persuasion and education, not for censorship however well-intended.
“I have been informed that in subsequent events not reported in the Daily, these steps were in fact taken,” Brodhead added.
Morse Dean Rosemary Jones said rules could guide the handling of future incidents.
“I believe that there are guidelines on what can and cannot be put out of a dorm room and that may help in the future,” Jones said.
Trachtenberg said the Durfee banner incident is over.
“I spoke with the freshmen counselors,” Trachtenberg said. “We had a good, long and thorough discussion. We have to turn it into a positive experience for everyone. The policy has always been to allow people to express themselves.”