Debate tackles issue of racism in context of ‘Jena Six’ controversy

In light of the Jena Six controversy, several groups on campus convened Wednesday to debate the notion of racial inequality.

The Party of the Left, Black Student Alliance at Yale, the Yale NAACP chapter, the Yale Black Men’s Union, Sphere Magazine and Delta Sigma Theta co-hosted a debate — titled “Resolved: Racial inequality cannot be eliminated” — following a screening of a recent BBC documentary on the Jena Six.

The “Jena Six” are six black teenagers from Jena, La., who were arrested in December and initially charged with attempted murder in connection with the beating of a white student from the same high school. The case has provoked protests across the country.

The Yalies’ discussion focused on whether racism is an innate human quality or a social construct that can be erased with time. Students discussed issues of race in terms of political, economic and social inequalities.

The event opened with a speech in the affirmative by Alexander Martone ’10.

“I’m an open person, and I’d be lying to you if I said I’d never had a racist thought in my life, but I don’t act on it,” Martone said. “I usually side with the optimists, so I feel a little awkward, but who really cares as long as we approach asymptotes?”

YPU President April Lawson ’09 opened her speech by challenging the notion that the mention of racial categories only brings to mind physical characteristics. She argued that race is also associated with specific communities that have characteristics other than skin color.

“I don’t think we can erase color lines, and because of the cultures that spring from them, I don’t think we should,” Lawson said.

But Jeremy Hart ’10 maintained that it is still possible to combat racial inequalities.

“America is still a racist country in the sense that it teaches a difference between the races,” Hart said. “I have a problem with the word ‘can’t’ in the resolution. Saying that something can never be changed — I will not accept that.”

—Nicholle Manners

Student threatened, harassed in string of “disturbing” events

Yale police are currently investigating several threats made against a Branford College student, according to Branford Master Steven Smith.

In an e-mail sent Wednesday night to Branford freshmen, Smith noted several “disturbing incidents” reported by one student, including vandalism, anonymous messages and harassment. Smith and Branford Dean Daniel Tauss declined to comment beyond the substance of the e-mail, but warned freshmen to remain especially cautious and report any suspicious behavior in their entryways.

“I encourage you to keep … your entryway doors locked when you leave your suite and when you go to bed at night,” Smith said in the e-mail. “I do not wish to alarm anyone, but my highest priority, as always, is the safety and security of the students in this college.”

No more information was available regarding the specific nature of the threats or when the incidents occurred, and the YPD could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

—The Yale Daily News