After the news of various alleged incidents targeted at minority and anti-war groups shook the Yale community less than two weeks ago, students and professors gathered Wednesday evening for an open discussion about hate crimes and anti-war backlash.
Some 40 students joined political science professor Donald Green and sociology professor Karl Mayer at the Asian-American Cultural Center for the discussion, which focused on race relations and war-driven tensions in America. Both professors said the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the American-led war in Iraq have triggered an increase in hate crimes in America. A coalition of student organizations, including the Asian-American Students Alliance and the Muslim Students Association, sponsored the discussion.
Green, who teaches “Racial Prejudice and Political Intolerance,” said people tend to stand behind their country and respond negatively to vocal opposition during times of war.
Green pointed to the March 27 incident when intruders allegedly broke into the Calhoun College suite of Katherine Lo ’05 and wrote a hateful note on her bedroom message board. Lo and others have said the alleged incident was prompted by an American flag Lo had draped upside-down from her bedroom window to protest the war in Iraq.
Green said the intruders were likely a group of New Haven residents who succumbed to peer pressure. Green said many serious hate crimes are “group activities” which lead offenders to earn the “respect” of friends.
“I think it’s one of those cases where the town got to see what the gown was up to and didn’t like it,” Green said. “They saw that flag hanging up and said to their buddies, ‘I’m not going to stand for that.'”
Green said the grammar and spelling errors in the reported message at Lo’s door and one hung on the door of the Afro-American Cultural Center later that week are evidence that city residents committed both acts.
Aatif Iqbal ’05, a Muslim student who attended the talk, said he has felt less safe on campus since the alleged incidents two weeks ago.
“I think the [Yale] administration needs to take a stronger stand, but I’m not that shocked because I’m just not that surprised — hate crimes are a continuum,” Iqbal said. “I think [the talk] was good because I haven’t gotten a sense of hate crimes in general and this gave it a lot more of an historical context.”
Mayer said it is important that society hears both anti-war and pro-war stances as “viable positions.” He said that since Sept. 11, 2001, there have been unnecessary public reactions to opposition to the country’s position.
“As a society, if you look at the American society, [there’s a] history of excess reactions to a fictitious or real outside enemy,” Mayer said. “What we have been experiencing here is the experience of a society going to war, bending together and becoming more hostile to somebody who does not support that effort.”
Mayer said there is an “absolutely astounding” propaganda machine in America that has guided public opinion in support of the war.
“Obviously it has a lot to do with how it’s being reported,” Mayer said. “But I’ve seen FOX News where a war opponent has been interviewed for 15 minutes, so there’s not all hope lost.”
Echoing Mayer, Green said the media is a money-making business, “pandering to what sells,” and when some 70 percent of viewers support the war, the cable news channels have no viable option but to support the war.