As the war in Iraq drew considerably nearer to a close over the past few days, war protests on campus, it seems, have come under open attack. One method of symbolic protest — hanging the American flag upside down out of one’s dorm room window — has sparked a series of particularly thuggish responses, according to recent complaints from a number of students. There have been reports of heinous acts of vandalism, physical threats and intimidation that might, at one point, have been considered inconceivable on this campus. It is almost beyond our comprehension that we are faced with writing this editorial.
Breaking an administrative silence that has been especially conspicuous this week, Dean Brodhead sent an e-mail to Yale College students this afternoon urging tolerance and civility. The sort of harassment these students have alleged is not only against the rules, he wrote, it violates “the right to the free expression of ideas and the duty of mutual respect” upon which this community is based. If all of the events that have been reported actually happened — and the prospect of that is at once terrifying and surreal — then the level of intolerance on campus has reached a dangerous high. This would not be the first time people have scrawled horrible messages on signs this year, but it would be the most disturbing and concentrated collection of such incidents in recent memory.
This type of expression is past political. It is an assault on much of what makes Yale what it is — different, in critical ways, from the rest of the world, where events like these are much more likely to be in the realm of the possible.
The reports themselves are upsetting, but it is particularly frustrating that none of us knows exactly what has happened or what is going on. The police are quiet. The administration is all but mum. So for the last 24 hours the campus has been engaged in frantic dining hall conversations fueled by e-mails, which detail the intrusions, assaults and violations students have alleged, speeding across organization lists. We are in a fog of forwards, and unless someone in an official capacity says something more than “be civil,” it will continue that way. What is immediately important is not the veracity of the — at the latest count — seven separate allegations. Students are scared, justifiably and regardless of the status of ongoing investigations. A straightforward acknowledgment of the claims that have been filed and information about what the University is planning to do to make students feel comfortable again would do a lot to help reassert order in a situation that badly needs it.
One month ago, we noted in this space the impressive civility of the campus’ ongoing debate about the war in Iraq. Sadly, the alleged behavior of an angry few seems capable of ending so much constructive dialogue. The United States’ involvement in Iraq is not yet over; intelligent discussion of our country’s foreign policy is as necessary as ever. We hope that in the coming weeks the anxiety that now grips the campus subsides, the details of what has happened finally emerge, and we are able to get back to the business of free expression and mutual respect.