The right way to respond: Did the “Colonizers and Colonized” protesters go too far?

The uproar over the Latin American Students Organization and Yale European Undergraduates mixer scheduled for Friday night was not the result of malicious intent in the international student community. The title was chosen with the intent to satirize the shared history of two regions and groups of friends who clearly fell on opposite ends of the phenomenon, not to cause offense. Once the organizers realized it was inappropriate, they apologized.

Concerns such as those expressed about “Colonizers and Colonized” in recent days deserve to be taken very seriously. Such concerns should be addressed, however, with the aim of furthering understanding and coming up with a workable solution. The hostile manner in which many of the complaints were articulated was both inappropriate to the situation and counterproductive to fostering constructive dialogue about cultural sensitivity and identity on campus. This controversy underlines the necessity for such dialogue.

Ironically, some of the people who took offense at the mixer’s title expressed their opinions in a blatantly offensive way. Racial and ethnic tensions on campus are clearly important topics that need to be addressed, but Facebook comments such as “I’m exercising some serious tact [be]cause [I]’m about to blast this fool,” “I think it’s time to go in on some people” or “Sometimes we have to [b]eat the [d]aylight into [p]eople” do little to create meaningful dialogue. Messages urging students to “break bottles” on the heads of the “ignorant” party organizers alienate groups rather than bring them together.

In addition, jumping to the conclusion that LASO and YEU intended to poke fun at the world’s oppressed peoples seems a little premature. For international students, it is not necessarily intuitive how topics will affront people; standards for political correctness differ greatly across the globe. Consider last week’s “Third World War” mixer, whose event picture included a nuclear blast, or the recent Cold War-themed party, neither of which generated much controversy. There is no innate, universal “common sense” that allows one to judge whether something will be considered offensive. Rather, it is a sensitivity one develops while immersed over time in a culture different from one’s own. Both international and American students can benefit from broadening each other’s perspectives in this respect. Constructive intercultural dialogue is vital.

Had the protestors sought a positive dialogue with the LASO and YEU boards, cultural misunderstandings would have been clarified, the name would have been changed and both sides would have learned from each other. By writing hostile posts on online forums, approaching the administration and urging disciplinary action, the opportunity for a constructive learning experience passed and gaps between the groups were widened.

International students are motivated to attend Yale in part by the prospect of improving their cultural understanding of the United States. At the same time, American students benefit from interacting with people from different national backgrounds. As a result, we all broaden our perspectives. But this ideal can only be reached if people initiate a respectful dialogue when a delicate issue arises, and remain open to different perspectives. In the future, let us use events like this one to learn and work together to achieve mutual understanding. After all, that’s what Yale is all about.

Laura González, a former LASO board member, and Lucia Mijares, a current LASO board member, are juniors in Trumbull and Pierson colleges, respectively. Gemma Bloemen, Ola Malm and Octavio Medina are former board members of YEU and seniors in Pierson, Timothy Dwight and Trumbull colleges, respectively.