Courtesy of Kyung Mi Lee
After backlash from the Yale community, the Divinity School student who tore down posters supporting survivors of sexual misconduct this past weekend has issued an apology, citing his own appreciation for free expression.
On Sunday afternoon, Jack Palkovic DIV ’20 was spotted removing posters in support of women who have come forward with sexual assault allegations against several men, including Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90, from a bulletin board near the Women’s Table. After meeting with Yale Divinity School Dean Gregory Sterling on Monday, Palkovic issued an apology in an email to the Divinity School community, according to an email obtained by the News.
“As a member of the Yale community, I believe strongly in the right of free expression,” Palkovic wrote. “I apologize for taking down the sign in support of Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers.”
Palkovic explained that his actions were not meant to silence free expression, but rather to act as opposition to what he sees as a “monolithic perspective.”
In the email, Palkovic also denounced white nationalism and all movements and ideologies that deny “equal dignity of every person, especially the dignity of those with whom we disagree.” In his apology on Monday, Palkovic invited members of the Yale community who were upset by his actions to email him.
Palkovic did not directly respond to a request for comment for this story. But in a letter to the editor in chief of the News, he expressed his displeasure that the article painted him as a white supremacist based on websites he called “dishonest, left wing domestic terrorist organizations.”
In the middle of the tumult following the 2016 election, Palkovic was a member of the undergraduate student group — the Berkeley College Republicans. He drew media attention in February when he was assaulted while wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat during a protest against right-wing pundit Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California, Berkeley.
Palkovic issued his apology following the release of a letter signed by members of the Divinity School community, including leaders on Yale Divinity School’s student government. The letter, which had garnered 33 signatures as of Monday night, rejected Palkovic’s actions and expressed solidarity with survivors of sexual assault.
“This overt disregard for the humanity and vulnerability of survivors will not be tolerated or supported,” the letter read. “As members of the YDS community, we reject this act of violent misogyny and erasure.”
In a statement to the Divinity School community, Sterling wrote that the right to free expression is “central to our identity as a University.”
“I hope that this event will challenge all of us to reflect on freedom of expression and the need to treat one another with respect,” Sterling said. “This has proved more and more difficult in our country. May we illustrate how to discuss and debate differences, not silence them.”
He added that many in the Yale community are concerned that the voices of survivors have been silenced for too long and that their voices should be heard “fully and freely.”
A representative from Yale Divinity School declined to comment beyond Sterling’s statement.
In response to statements from Palkovic and Sterling, the Yale Divinity Student Government Executive Board told the News that the group prioritizes “centering the voices of disenfranchised groups,” including sexual assault survivors. The board added that Palkovic’s actions remained troubling.
“In the statements issued by the Yale Divinity School administration and Jack Palkovic Div ’20 in response to the events of this weekend, the primary concern appeared to be freedom of expression,” the statement read. “However, based on our conversations over the past 24 hours, we are clear that what many students found troubling was not a stifling of freedom of expression, but how our classmate’s actions perpetuate a climate of disregard for the experiences of survivors of sexual abuse, and mistrust of their testimonies.”
For Divinity School students interviewed by the News, including Alicen Roberts DIV ‘20, Palkovic’s apology was not enough.
“In his apology, he … apologized to clarify his intention,” Roberts said. “He did not speak on the effect of the act, and that begs more response. I believe it warrants more of a response from both Jack and the Divinity School.”
Roberts added that there was more room for moral discussion on Palkovic’s actions among the community at the Divinity School.
Gabi Limón ’20, who posted a video of her eight minute–long conversation with Palkovic on Sunday, said she appreciated that his fellow Divinity School students realized his actions were not “in the spirit of” free speech.
“In the video I said that quieting the voices of others is not in the spirit of the first amendment,” Limón said. “It is not the freedom of expression.”
But Anna Blech ’19 said there were larger systemic issues facing victims of sexual misconduct at Yale — including light punishments for those found responsible and the retention of professors accused of the crime.
“I think that I’m personally less concerned about sexual assault survivors at Yale being silenced by one man and more concerned about sexual assault survivors at Yale being silenced by the Yale administration,” Blech said.
Yale received 154 complaints of sexual misconduct between Jan. 1 and June 30.
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