Robbie Short

The Yale Political Union held a debate Tuesday night on the topic of affirmative action, amidst ongoing campus discussions about race and the status of students of color on campus.

Amy Wax ’75, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose work addresses issues of social welfare law and policy, spoke against affirmative action on the grounds that it ultimately disadvantages the underrepresented minorities it was originally designed to help. Although YPU members and Yale administrators expected students to protest the debate, Wax’s speech proceeded uninterrupted before the crowd of roughly 200 students. The debate came several days after student activists rallied outside a free speech conference held by the William F. Buckley Jr. Program in protest of a speaker’s joke about the genocide of Native Americans.

Students said they had heard that before the debate began, Afro-American Cultural Center Director Risë Nelson had asked students to boycott the debate, rather than protest it, in order to avoid fueling criticisms that student activists are infringing upon others’ free speech.

Still, before Wax delivered her speech, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway spoke before the YPU, asking members to respect freedom of expression at Yale.

“By preventing anyone from bringing ideas into the light of day, we deny a fundamental freedom,” Holloway said, going on to remind students of the University’s policies regarding disruption and appropriate demonstration at University-sponsored events like YPU debates. Five Yale police officers stood at the back of the hall for the duration of the event.

The chairs of two of the YPU’s left-leaning parties also spoke before Wax’s speech, stating that they wished the debate had been postponed out of sensitivity to students who felt shaken by the past week’s protests and discussions about race. The YPU’s guest speakers for the fall semester were invited last spring; Wax was not invited in response to ongoing campus conversations about race at Yale.

Emaline Kelso ’17, the chair of the Liberal Party, spoke first, saying that the YPU governing body, by permitting the debate to proceed as planned, “refuses to be sensitive to the needs of its constituents, members and friends.”

Layla Treuhaft-Ali ’17, the chair of the Party of the Left, said her party did not approve of the way the YPU handled the debate, and it did not represent what her party wanted from the Union. Her party wishes to participate in debates that contribute to constructive campus conversations at appropriate times and not debates that are held just for the sake of debating, she said.

“This week we heard from students of color that they felt excluded from institutions and discourse at Yale,” Treuhaft-Ali told the crowd. “The Party of the Left cannot condone a Union that willfully ignores what’s happening outside its walls and prides itself on being unresponsive to its community.”

Still, Treuhaft-Ali said she had no intention of preventing Wax from speaking.


The debate proceeded as planned. During her speech, Wax cited several statistics about the academic performance of underrepresented minorities like African-Americans who are accepted to colleges and universities as part of affirmative action. She criticized affirmative action as an ineffective method for promoting equality and called it detrimental to the institutions and people who are touched by it.

Wax argued that discrepancies between racial groups should be amended during early childhood, not when students are applying to college. Too many resources are being put toward affirmative action in a “diversity machine” that seeks diversity for its own sake, and not enough energy is going into improving the quality of early education, Wax argued.

“What does [affirmative action] do for blacks in America today? My answer is pretty much nothing,” she said.

During Wax’s speech, about a dozen members of the YPU, including the two who had asked to postpone the debate and members of the political left, rose and walked to the back of the room, where they turned their backs on Wax and raised their fists in the air. Several students cried during her speech.

Typically, during YPU debates, after the guest speaker has finished, students deliver speeches for and against the guest’s argument. But students from several parties — including some who agreed with Wax’s arguments — instead used their time to further criticize the YPU for not respecting the voices of students who might find it difficult to participate in the debate due to its subject matter.

Brittany Smith ’18, a black member of the Conservative Party, said she mostly agreed with Wax’s arguments that affirmative action tends to reinforce negative stereotypes and create new ones. With socioeconomic diversity also comes academic divergences, she said — and for one, she personally feels academically unprepared to be at Yale.

Still, she said, the debate came at an “inopportune time due to the general campus climate.”

Aia Sarycheva ’16, a member of the Independent Party and former president of the YPU, said that although the YPU demonstrated its commitment to open discourse, last night it was not listening to all voices on campus.

“Our peers are testifying about the experiences they have had and the exclusion those experiences have cultivated. In those experiences are the speeches that have not been given… It is because of this that I stand here in protest,” she said. “We need your help in figuring how to find that commonality [of discourse] again.”

Wax’s speeches at other colleges have sparked protests and opposition. When she spoke at Middlebury College in 2013, students filled the room where the talk was held, with many displaying signs that called her “racist,” according to the school’s campus newspaper.

Correction, Nov. 12: A previous version of this article truncated and misrepresented a statement from Aia Sarycheva ’16. 

  • Tim Steele

    “The chairs of two of the YPU’s left-leaning parties also spoke before
    Wax’s speech, stating that they wished the debate had been postponed out
    of sensitivity to students who felt shaken by the past week’s protests
    and discussions about race.”

    Sensitivity to students who felt shaken by the past week’s protests? Are these college students at Yale or 10 year-olds? So Yale should suspend a function with views some might find controversial or dare I say objectionable because it’s a “sensitive” time on campus? These students need to grow up and stop expecting others to appease and coddle them.

    • disqus_fvLIBK8ktD

      Indeed, you’d think it would be the perfect time to keep talking about these issues.

  • disqus_fvLIBK8ktD

    So which way did the resolution go?

  • Hypersapien

    “I think affirmative action is a bad thing”

    “You’re a racist because you disapprove of something that helps PoCs”

    “I think it’s bad because it *doesn’t* help black people, and in fact hurts them”

    “You’re still a racist”

    • deniselb

      “Racism is whatever I say it is”.

  • mogden

    The anti-intellectual attitudes of the student speakers are disturbing. A university debate just for the sake of debating is not something to complain about; it is something to require of educated people.

  • HBS2014

    How appropriate that one of the photographed students is wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a hammer and sickle. It’s as though they’re trying to turn Yale into a Soviet Party Congress. These immature little children are a serious embarrassment to us alumni.

    As a racial, religious, and ideological minority when I was on campus, I faced plenty of what these whiners call “microaggressions.” But you respond by educating the prejudiced and ignorant–not by becoming prejudiced and ignorant yourself.

    • Juan Diaz

      Truer and wiser words have never been spoken. I did the same when I was at Yale. It works like a charm and fulfills the reason why one attends Yale in the first place–to learn and to contribute to the discussion in a constructive way. These students are an embarassment to all Yale alumni.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Race based admissions is now before SCOTUS in Fisher II. Yale’s position is: Yale seeking Social Justice in admissions or anything else should not be limited by the American constitution because empowering Social Justice is more important than anything else.

    SCOTUS may require equal treatment, nonetheless.

    • CentralJerseyMom

      You understand that they’ve gotten way beyond “social justice” in their arguments now, right? You can no longer discriminate by race in an attempt to remedy past discrimination by race. But you can discriminate by race in an attempt to create a “diverse” atmosphere which serves to enhance the intellectual life of all students. In other words “sorry Asian students, there are just too damn many of you qualifying for admissions.” However, even there you can only do it if you don’t quantify it in a way that can be subpoenaed. It has to be all shady and nuanced as in “black tuba player with GPA of 3.1. Asian violinist with GPA of 4.0. Hmm…we already have a lot of violinists.”

  • Bob

    “Several students cried during her speech.”

    Crying during a debate? Really? Yale has become a daycare.

  • prasad

    “Several students cried during her speech.”

    Let that sink in. They cried because someone made arguments opposing affirmative action during a debate on that subject. These are college students?

    • RoomTemp Ghost

      Do you think that they are actually getting that traumatized, or that they are just play acting to try to further their own cause by making it seem that the idea of being against AA is so horrible that it actually hurts people?
      As disingenuous and despicable as the latter is, I kind of hope it is the case. I don’t want to live in an America where Yale students actually break down and cry when they hear arguments that run counter to their beliefs. Yale supposedly should represent the height of reasoned intellectual pursuit. If this stuff is truly going down at Yale, imagine what it must be like everywhere else?!

      • chizwoz

        I think it’s somewhere in between and they actually do convince themselves they’re being hurt by these opinions. These people live in echo chambers and block out nearly everything they disagree with. It’s very easy to make yourself that weak with the right conditioning.

        • RoomTemp Ghost

          Yeah, I reckon you’re right. It just breaks my heart to see it going on at Yale. These are supposed to be the next leaders of America. If the next Putin calls the next Obama “incompetent,” will he/she start crying and need to use the Whitehouse safe space to pet a puppy?

  • jamesgd

    look at the divisiveness universities across the usa are currently enduring as a result of multiculturalism. black activism, feminism, muslim activism, etc. campuses across the country are torn. people of different races, ethnicities, sexes, religions, etc. tend to have distinct biases and ideas which necessarily introduce their student bodies to discordance. and this is precisely why affirmative action is good for learning: because clearly diversity in demographics leads to diversity of opinion, and disagreement/heterogeneity (i.e., new ideas, challenging views, etc.).

  • Alan Martin

    there is no HATE on earth like liberal hate. there is no more a despicable, cowardly hatemonger than one that HIDES behind so called “social justice”.

    perpetrators and hatemongers HIDING behind that veneer of victimization.

  • Iuppiter

    This site is heavily filtered and they want freedom of speech. All of I have to say to that is: lol.

  • galtonian

    Professor Wax implied that ethnoracial group differences in academic ability stem from inequalities in exposure to early childhood environments. Thus Ms. Wax did not even venture to express the truly right-wing viewpoint on this topic which is the Hereditarian view that ethnoracial group academic ability differences are mostly due to genetically based ethnoracial group differences in IQ. This viewpoint of genetically based racial group differences in cognitive ability is at the core of the HBD (Human BioDiversity) viewpoint which is promoted by Alternative Right internet journalists such as Steve Sailer and Jared Taylor [Yale BA in Philosophy ’73] and by famous psychologists and social scientists such as Hans Eysenck, Arthur Jensen, J.P. Rushton, Richard Lynn, Linda Gottfredson, Richard Herrnstein, Charles Murray, and Jason Richwine.

  • finger in

    it’ gonna be race war that brings this country down–

    • Cid Campeador

      That all depends on who wins.

  • Mengles

    “Typically, during YPU debates, after the guest speaker has finished, students deliver speeches for and against the guest’s argument. But students from several parties — including some who agreed with Wax’s arguments — instead used their time to further criticize the YPU for not respecting the voices of students who might find it difficult to participate in the debate…”

    Why am I not surprised…

  • dzmlsience

    This news article paints the race pimps at Yale as such a pathetic lot that I am surprised the YDN has not been hauled before some kind of campus tribunal for insensitivity. Reporting the truth is no defense in such venues.

  • Mortado

    This is beyond pathetic. Crying because someone presented facts you don’t like? I can’t wait until reality hits these kids hard.

  • marcedward

    “Several students cried during her speech.”

    No wonder George W Bush was so successful at Yale, clearly not a very demanding school.

  • Wilkins Micawber

    “Several students cried during her speech.”

    No wonder John Kerry was so successful at Yale, clearly not a very demanding school.

  • Carl Sagan

    One reason the Constitution is a daring and courageous document is that it allows for continuing change, even of the form of government itself, if the people so wish. Because no one is wise enough to foresee which ideas may answer urgent societal needs – even if they’re counterintuitive and have been troubling in the past – this document tries to guarantee the fullest and freest expression of views. There is, of course, a price. Most of us are for freedom of expression when there’s a danger that our own views will be suppressed. We’re not all that upset, though, when views we despise encounter a little censorship here and there. But within certain narrowly circumscribed limits – Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous example was causing panic by falsely crying ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre – great liberties are permitted in America:

    • Gun collectors are free to use portraits of the Chief Justice, the Speaker of the House, or the Director of the FBI for target practice; outraged civic-minded citizens are free to burn in effigy the President of the United States.
    • Even if they mock Judaeo-Christian-Islamic values, even if they ridicule everything most of us hold dear, devil-worshippers (if there are any) are entitled to practice their religion, so long as they break no constitutionally valid law.
    • A purported scientific article or popular book asserting the ‘superiority’ of one race over another may not be censored by the government, no matter how pernicious it is; the cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.
    • Individuals may, if they wish, praise the lives and politics of such undisputed mass murderers as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong. Even detestable opinions have a right to be heard.
    • Individuals or groups are free to argue that a Jewish or Masonic conspiracy is taking over the world, or that the Federal government is in league with the Devil.

    The system founded by Jefferson, Madison and their colleagues offers means of expression to those who do not understand its origins and wish to replace it by something very different. For example, Tom Clark, Attorney General and therefore chief law enforcement officer of the United States, in 1948 offered this suggestion: ‘Those who do not believe in the ideology of the United States shall not be allowed to stay in the United States.’ But if there is one key and characteristic US ideology, it is that there are no mandatory and no forbidden ideologies.

    The expression of such views is protected, and properly so, under the Bill of Rights, even if those protected would abolish the Bill of Rights if they got the chance. The protection for the rest of us is to use that same Bill of Rights to get across to every citizen the indispensability of the Bill of Rights.

    In his celebrated little book, On Liberty, the English philosopher John Stuart Mill argued that silencing an opinion is ‘a peculiar evil’. If the opinion is right, we are robbed of the ‘opportunity of exchanging error for truth’; and if it’s wrong, we are deprived of a deeper understanding of the truth in ‘its collision with error’. If we know only our own side of the argument, we hardly know even that; it becomes stale, soon learned only by rote, untested, a pallid and lifeless truth.
    Mill also wrote, ‘If society lets any considerable number of its members grow up as mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame.’ Jefferson made the same point even more strongly: ‘If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.’ In a letter to Madison, he continued the thought: ‘A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither.’

    When permitted to listen to alternative opinions and engage in substantive debate, people have been known to change their minds. It can happen. For example, Hugo Black, in his youth, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan; he later became a Supreme Court justice and was one of the leaders in the historic Supreme Court decisions, partly based on the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, that affirmed the civil rights of all Americans: it was said that when he was a young man, he dressed up in white robes and scared black folks; when he got older, he dressed up in black robes and scared white folks.

    Now it’s no good to have such rights if they’re not used – a right of free speech when no one contradicts the government, freedom of the press when no one is willing to ask the tough questions, a right of assembly when there are no protests, universal suffrage when less than half the electorate votes, separation of church and state when the wall of separation is not regularly repaired. Through disuse they can become no more than votive objects, patriotic lip-service. Rights and freedoms: use ’em or lose ’em.

    Due to the foresight of the framers of the Bill of Rights – and even more so to all those who, at considerable personal risk, insisted on exercising those rights – it’s hard now to bottle up free speech. School library committees, the immigration service, the police, the FBI or the ambitious politician looking to score cheap votes, may attempt it from time to time, but sooner or later the cork pops. The Constitution is, after all, the law of the land, public officials are sworn to uphold it, and activists and the courts episodically hold their feet to the fire.

    However, through lowered educational standards, declining intellectual competence, diminished zest for substantive debate, and social sanctions against scepticism, our liberties can be slowly eroded and our rights subverted. The founders understood this well: ‘The time for fixing every essential right on a legal basis is while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united,’ said Thomas Jefferson. “From the conclusion of this [Revolutionary] war we shall be going downhill. It will not then be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights. The shackles, therefore, which shall not be knocked off at the conclusion of this war will remain on us long, will be made heavier and heavier, ’til our rights shall revive or expire in a convulsion.”

    Education on the value of free speech and the other freedoms reserved by the Bill of Rights, about what happens when you
    don’t have them, and about how to exercise and protect them, should be an essential prerequisite for being an American citizen – or the citizen of any nation, the more so to the degree that such rights remain unprotected. If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit.

  • chizwoz

    There was no joke ABOUT the genocide of native americans. Please at least describe it accurately. The joke was about mass oversensitivity and used the example of genocide. Genocide was incidental to the joke though. He could’ve swapped it with any heinous crime to make the same point.

  • RoomTemp Ghost

    The photos don’t load for me, anyone else having this issue?

  • wanderingwanderor

    Life isn’t rainbow and sunshine, especially in the real world. When you’re having a bad day as a doctor, singer, mom, athlete, lawyer, police officer, etc you learn to control your emotion and still do the job. Discussing Affirmative Action is more relevant/critical now than ever before, but these students find the timing too insensitive? I thought college is meant to prepare you for the real world? Not coddle you with downtime over emotion…imagine doing that at work, at ANY job! “sorry,I can’t even…because I’m feeling sad and hurt now, let’s try again some other time” This is getting more and more pathetic, but I’m guessing these students live in a bubble with reinforcing group-think that compound their wound-licking behavior, and hiss at any conflicting ideas as opposed to challenging it head-on. Yes it’s hard to discuss certain ideas but that’s precisely the purpose of higher education, to effectively deal with the internal turmoil and still perform brilliantly on the outside world. Now they just come across as both emotionally AND intellectually weak. Is this the by-product of “diversity”? Incapable of dealing with adverse diversity of opinion? Oh now, let’s see if this opinion is approved by the Yale Daily News….