To the Editor:
“It’s not going to affect you unless you’re going to move to China, marry a Chinese woman and have a bunch of little half-Chinese children,” the Yale Police officer told me, as I was shut in the squad car, stripped of my student ID and cell phone.
What was my offense? The night before President Hu Jintao’s visit, several friends and I made our way to Sprague Hall, to write a few messages on the ground. My friends and I knew the University planned to seal protesters inside Old Campus and push them out to the fringes of the motorcade route. We hoped to sound a note of opposition to Hu’s flag-waving claque. As we began to write “TEACH DEMOCRACY” and “FREE TIBET” in pastel chalks, a Yale Police officer began to shout at us and pushed us off the sidewalk. The administration decided that “No writing of any kind is going to happen around Sprague Hall tonight.” With several Yale Police cars rolling in by the second, we fell back to the street, and finally to the opposite sidewalk. As my friends and I were about to leave, I turned back to retrieve my box of chalk. An enraged officer demanded my ID, and I ended up in the back seat of his car.
Normally, students are allowed to chalk with impunity. In fair weather, chalk is a major form of communication on campus. Because of Hu’s visit, chalk was forbidden in any place that might have been effective. By forbidding chalk, the administration violated my right to free expression.
President Hu’s visit was among the best opportunities Yale activists have ever had to make a real and enormous impact on campus. Here is the president of the world’s most populous nation, a nation with growing economic and military power — a nation also widely deplored for its human rights abuses. Here is a president who never hears a word of criticism at home, who is making a rare trip outside his bubble, and who, with our help, might have finally heard the voice of his own conscience. Yale activists had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak out for human rights. The University silenced us.
The Chinese government has thrown AIDS activists and SARS whistleblowers in jail for challenging authority, thrown journalists and human rights activists into jail, and the Chinese government has jailed academics and intellectuals for expressing dissent. Here we find Yale, an institution that supposedly supports liberal education, silencing the dissent of its own students. This is exactly the wrong lesson Yale should be taking from China.
On Thursday night, my words were taken from me. The University failed to uphold free expression. This behavior is inexcusable at any time, but especially when dialogue is so critical. President Levin, talk to President Hu for me. Ask if he saw any of the protesters or heard their complaints. What students say, and the way they say it, is not your decision.
Ted Everhart ’09
April 23, 2006
The writer is the co-coordinator of Amnesty International at Yale.