Members of several campus activist organizations met in Dwight Hall on Friday to discuss a response to what they alleged was racist, sexist and homophobic content in the most recent issue of the Yale Record.
Students at the meeting expressed distaste over material in the humor magazine’s “Blue Book parody” that they believe inappropriately characterizes and typecasts blacks, Muslims, Latinos, gays and lesbians, and other minority groups, said Marissa Levendis ’07, a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee who attended the meeting. Record Editor-in-Chief David Litt ’08 maintained that the material was humor and did not constitute racism, but said he and other Record members were open to a dialogue on the matter.
Among the entries that students found offensive, Levendis said, was the description of a course titled “Practical Applications of Spanish for WASPs,” which claims to teach students “how to interact with gardeners, housekeepers, and other low-income workers” by learning “crucial phases such as ‘No, the outsides of the windows do have to be cleaned,’ and ‘Rosa, are you stealing change again?’”
Other passages included a course titled “Introductory Terrorist Arabic,” in which students learn “the skills needed to follow a simple bomb-making diagram [and] curse the Great Satan” as well as a description of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department that said “Many students will be surprised to learn that not all Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies majors are rabid, militant, feminazi man-hating lesbians. Quite the contrary: There are a few queers.”
Levendis said that regardless of the spirit in which the parody was written, she thinks the material is too distasteful to publish.
“They were written with the intent of poking fun at the stereotypes, but they actually poke fun at the people who are the subjects of the stereotypes,” she said. “What really got us about it was not really specifically what was published in the Record, but that it was published after what happened at the end of last year. … It’s an issue of why people still think it’s acceptable to publish this kind of stuff.”
Last spring, members of the Asian American Students Alliance sent a letter to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel regarding what they considered to be racist content in the Yale Herald and the Rumpus humor magazine. At issue were a Rumpus article titled “Me Love You Long Time,” which depicted Asian women as promiscuous and Asian men as emasculate, as well as an issue of the Herald that advertised the Asian American Film Festival with the caption “Where can you find the largest gatherings of Lees, Wangs, and Kims on campus this weekend? For once, the answer isn’t ‘at the library.’”
The Record published a similar parody of the course catalogue last year, although the content was slightly different, Litt said.
Litt said the magazine’s staff aims to publish articles that deal with important and controversial topics, but that it was not their intention to be funny at the expense of any minority group.
“We don’t think what we did was racist, but we welcome that discussion,” he said. “We’re certainly open to that discussion, and we’re also open to criticism. We’d like to talk about it.”
Litt said he was invited to attend the meeting on Friday but was unable to attend because he was out of town for Rosh Hoshana. He hopes to talk with some of those offended so he can understand their complaints and explain his point of view, he said.
“If people are upset, we want to talk to them and see what they have to say,” he said. “We’re all smart and reasonable people.”
Josh Williams ’08, a member of the Black Student Alliance at Yale who helped facilitate the meeting, said students there discussed four possible courses of action, including requesting that Yale organize a mandatory discussion on race relations during freshmen orientation, arranging journalism workshops for Yale publications, increasing communication among different cultural groups on campus, and compiling a list of past offensive articles from campus publications to send to the national media.
“More than hoping that Yale publications respect members of marginalized groups, I hope that these initiatives will fundamentally change the way Yalies deal with race on this campus,” Williams said in an e-mail. “Treating our differences with respect instead of ignorance is the only way to effect positive change on this matter.”
A follow-up meeting at which students will discuss the logistics of the four proposals is scheduled for Tuesday, Williams said.
Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway, who attended the meeting, said he found some of the content in the Record to be “disquieting.” But he said he thought the discussion that took place was a positive step.
“Even though the reason behind the meeting is disheartening, the actual conversation I found encouraging in the sense that even though emotions were raw and things like that, there was a level of dialogue happening there that was consistent with what I witnessed in the post-Rumpus discussion,” he said. “That makes me more optimistic than pessimistic about what is possible on campus.”
Holloway said he plans to share his thoughts about the discussion in an e-mail to Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg, as well as administrators who were present at the meeting, including Saveena Dhall, associate dean and director of the Asian-American Cultural Center, and Dean of Freshman Affairs George Levesque.