As recent graduates and current students at Yale, we urge the University to seize the impending Title IX investigation as an opportunity to re-evaluate how it addresses all forms of prejudice on campus. Although the University has regulations on the books that theoretically address sexual harassment on campus, we must question how well these regulations prevent and punish assault. This disparity between policy and practice is not a problem confined to sexism at Yale. Rather, the administration’s tepid approach to racism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice continues to implicitly sanction all acts of intolerance on campus.
Just as the DKE chants last fall were the latest piece of a prolonged string of misogynistic events, minority communities at Yale have similarly suffered a long line of racist acts on campus in recent years. In 2003, several male students forcibly entered the dormitory room of anti-war activist Katherine Lo ’05 and left threatening messages about Muslim Americans. In 2006, the Rumpus published “Me Love You Long Time: Yale’s Case of Yellow Fever,” an article that compared Asian female anatomy to New Orleans levees (“they only stay tight for so long”); another article in the same issue made explicit references to the color of African American women’s genitalia. That same year, caricatured images depicting the Prophet Muhammad, sword in one hand and severed head in the other, were anonymously posted around campus. In 2008, anonymous vandals struck again, spray-painting the words “n—-r school” on the exterior walls of Pierson College.
Discrimination persists in more subtle forms at the University. For example, black students at Yale have reported “lockout horror stories,” in which fellow Yalies have coldly refused to let them into campus buildings (“Riley: Locked out? Black? Tough!” Dec. 14, 2007).
On numerous occasions, racism at Yale has provoked uproar among students, but the administration has been reluctant to speak or act. It has only been after much delay and student agitation that the University has issued lukewarm condemnations. In the past, the administration has placated student leaders with proposals of diversity programming, only to sweep these promises under the rug once the students graduate. Disturbingly, this cycle of student outrage and University indifference is the same cycle that the Title IX complainants argue occurs after incidents of misogyny at Yale.
The University’s passive stance on racism has left the onus on students to reform Yale. Threatened by the possibility of violence, hate speech or other forms of prejudice, students of color have no choice but to remain vigilant about race relations. Minority students come to Yale to immerse themselves in a vibrant academic community, but often find themselves forced to lead efforts against prejudice on campus in light of the University’s unwillingness.
Clearly, this configuration is problematic. Yale’s intrinsically transient student population faces a steep learning curve. Many freshmen who arrive at Yale assume, perhaps naively, that they need not worry about intolerance and hatred on campus. Over the course of their four years in college, students must not only familiarize themselves with the contours of prejudice at Yale, but then figure out for themselves strategies to subvert such discrimination. In contrast, University administrators, who remain at Yale for far longer periods of time are almost always better positioned to implement lasting solutions.
To its credit, the University has recently made some changes to address racism and other forms of prejudice on campus. We welcome, for example, the addition of Kirk Hooks, chair of the Intercultural Affairs Council, to the staff of the Yale College Dean’s Office. We likewise commend the creation of a peer-liaison support system for LGBTQ students and students of faith. Nevertheless, we share the Title IX complainants’ concerns that the University is only going through the motions. Students are well aware that racism, sexism and homophobia still lurk within our community.
We refuse to resign ourselves to the fatalistic notion that prejudice will always exist at Yale. But for Yale to live up to its values, its administration must be more proactive and speak more forcefully on these issues. Sadly, the misogyny that the Title IX complaint describes is only one of many intersecting threads of intolerance at Yale. We urge the administration to act boldly and grapple with all of the strands of bigotry that have long hindered campus unity.
Christopher Lapinig CC ’07 is a first-year student at the law school and a former editor for the Magazine. Suraiya Jetha MC ’06, Peter Lu BK ’11 and Christine Chen PC ’12 are former co-moderators of the Asian American Students Alliance. Altaf Saadi MC ’08 is a former president of the Muslim Students Association. Annette Wong is a 2006 graduate of Berkeley College.