Have we forgotten what was published in the Rumpus and the Yale Record only last year? In the wake of the campus disturbance and the devotion of countless hours and energy, including the formation of the Campus Coalition for Unity (CCU), I am shocked that the Yale Daily News published its guest column on immigration this Tuesday.
In drafting this opinion, I initially began by listing some of the arguments against the position of the column — but thoughtless material does not merit our serious time and attention. And judging from the letters to the editor yesterday, I am glad that the column’s flaws are obvious. It is obvious that the column, not unlike other offensive diatribes, categorically conflates immigrants, racial minorities and economically disadvantaged people and proceeds to attack everyone; that racial bigotry often goes hand in hand with xenophobia; and that when we write about “immigrants, poor” — and non-white Americans — we are referring to real people, and also to many of our real classmates and communities at Yale. It’s too bad that the News has been reduced to having its readership point out the obvious.
If the column itself is obviously worthless, what is not obvious to me is why writers and editors have not taken more responsibility, why so many campus publications continue to defend publishing content like this as benign. The problem is not just that Tuesday’s guest column was stupid and that by publishing it, the News had wasted its space and our time. What is even more problematic is the amount of offensive material that continues to pass the editing desk without, it seems, the most basic discretion.
This is not an isolated incident. The latest guest column is only one in a series of instances in the past few years in which campus publications or student groups have insulted and alienated entire communities. It goes along with the racial and sexist jokes in the Rumpus and Yale Record and similar jokes that were published in Princeton’s college daily (which gained national notoriety in the New York Times last January). It also joins misogynist song lyrics and homophobic pranks. Each time an incident like this has occurred at Yale, we have agreed to be more careful about what we say and write. Is Tuesday’s column an example of being more careful or of having learned anything from previous mistakes?
Campus publications and journalists have the responsibility to present different points of view, but along with being unbiased, journalism has the responsibility to be vigilant against the bigotry and stereotypes that it reifies. We all know that words are powerful.
Even if the publication’s editors disagree with them, by publishing these remarks, they give a voice and medium to these kinds of ideas and facilitate their circulation among those who disagree, yes, but also among those who are all too eager to see bigotry reaffirmed.
In this country, to maintain free speech, even the most hurtful and ignorant speech is protected under the First Amendment. There is no legal justification for preventing offensive ideas from being written and disseminated; but if there is any truth in the saying, “we are what we read,” then, by the same token, the Yale Daily News, like any publication, is what it puts to print. Is this the character of the new Yale Daily News? I hope not. I hope we can agree that we do not want our campus paper to represent us in this way and that the News cannot honestly represent the student body by alienating such a large population of it.
News, especially opinion columns, can be and often are controversial, but controversy is not the principal purpose of the news. If opinion pieces are not thoughtful and intelligent, and do not add meaningful dialogue, then the news is nothing but a blog of intolerant drivel.
Our oldest college daily — and news media in general — should not be reduced to sound bites that perpetuate bigotry and insults in an uncreative effort to appeal, not to our faculties of reason, but to our emotions, like anger and disappointment. And publishing intolerance is not benign. Shouldn’t that be obvious?
Tina Wu is a senior in Calhoun College.