More than 100 students, faculty members and other Yale affiliates packed into Sudler Hall on Tuesday night for “The History of Hate,” the first of at least four panels planned by administrators to analyze hate from various academic perspectives.
For 90 minutes, the audience members listened as four University history professors explored the origins of hate speech and its implications for American society, drawing on their personal scholarship to analyze historical motivations and intellectual ideas behind intolerance.
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The panel, which comes a month after dining-hall workers discovered racially inflammatory graffiti spray-painted on a wall outside Pierson College and some students’ blackface Halloween costumes prompted an outcry on campus, is the first step in what the dean’s offices of Yale College and the Graduate School said will be a multifaceted response to the incidents.
“It is the obligation of institutions to better their societies,” panel member and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said. “When we do not address those problems [of intolerance] we are failing. And so it’s our obligation to ask these questions directly.”
The panelists included African American Studies professor Glenda Gilmore, A Whitney Griswold Professor of History Ben Kiernan and Calhoun College Master and African American Studies professor Jonathan Holloway. Gilmore, who studies hate speech and its effects on communities in the Jim Crow South, said hate speech reinforces a discriminatory power structure that can lead to violence from groups who have a sense of superiority over others.
“Words aren’t without consequences,” she said.
Opening his portion of the discussion by referencing the epitaph of an 18th-century slave who gained emancipation, Holloway said Americans tend to view the history of intolerance in America separately from idealized legends of America’s founding and its fundamental principles of freedom and equality.
“I tell this story [of the epitaph] to help students understand that the founding logic of this country is built upon denial — a denial of the existence of the history of who built the plantation houses in the South,” he said.
Kiernan, who has focused much of his work on the Cambodian genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime, said perpetrators of genocide depend on hate speech when justifying their actions. Such speech, while often highly intellectual, is generally delusional, he said.
“Hate speech is much worse again [than hate], because it extends hate to entire groups of people — even imaginary groups of people, people who shouldn’t be considered as a group,” Kiernan said. “Hate speech extends hate to a fantastical target group and leads to violence against entire groups which only exist coherently in the mind of hate-speech utterers.”
Butler spoke last, evaluating the role of religion in intolerance in American society. Religions have been manipulated throughout American history to justify oppression and discrimination against almost every demographic, he said.
Panelists and audience members who asked questions focused the discussion on racism and mostly shied away from other forms of discrimination. Maria Trumpler, director of undergraduate studies for the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Department, who advises the University on LGBT issues, said the inclusion of a specialist on LGBT issues could add to the depth of future discussions.
The next panel, set for late January, will examine the psychology of hate. That panel will be moderated by Yale College Dean Peter Salovey, a psychology professor. The Dean’s Office, under the supervision of Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry, plans to develop a new protocol that will formalize the University’s response to incidents of hate, Salovey said.
Gentry declined to offer details about the protocol in an interview with the News on Monday.