Over the past week, anonymous phone calls have been made to the News from people seeking to “teach us a lesson.” Threatening and hateful emails addressed to our managing board bear references to topics like “White Christian America” and the Jim Crow South. But all of this pales in comparison with the hatred that has been visited upon Isis Davis-Marks ’19, the News’ only black columnist. She has received a slew of belligerent messages from across the internet in response to a column she wrote last week titled “Evil is Banal.”
While some have met the column with open dialogue, messages with images of lynched black women, racialized and gendered slurs, as well as calls to inflict physical violence on Davis-Marks, have drowned out that discourse.
In her article, Davis-Marks argues that Yale students should call out their classmates for misconduct today, before they end up leading the Supreme Court, a Fortune 500 company or other powerful institutions many decades later. She writes that “everyone knows a white boy with shiny brown hair and a saccharine smile that conceals his great ambitions,” or, indeed, anyone at Yale for whom “we allow things to skate by” despite their morally questionable decisions.
“We merely smile at them and wave as we walk across our residential college courtyards and do nothing,” writes Davis- Marks. “Thirty years later, we kick ourselves when it’s too late. But I can’t do that anymore — I can’t let things slip by. I’m watching you, white boy.”
We do not endorse the content of Davis-Marks’ column, just as we do not endorse the viewpoint of any opinion column we publish. But we unequivocally endorse the right of Davis-Marks to share her thoughts in our newspaper without fear of violent retribution. We believe that elements of Davis-Marks’ column provided an important point of conversation for our campus community. Its subject matter deals with a topic of serious concern to many at Yale: the extent to which we should hold our classmates accountable for casual misconduct — misconduct that feels innocuous enough today, but, with time, takes on a darker significance. Beyond Davis-Marks, we endorse the right of all our columnists to publish their thoughts without fear of violent retribution. To abide by any other standard would be censorship by those who now level threats of terror and brutality.
A central aim of a newspaper’s opinion page should be to present ideas that generate discussion within a community, whether that community be a local town, a university or even a country. Discussion is the bedrock of any functioning democracy, of any free, functioning society. An opinion page, then, is vital to the well-being of a community because it allows the issues of the day to be dissected and discussed, considered and contemplated, assented to and refused.
It is healthy to challenge new ideas and arguments. But any threat to a writer’s well-being does nothing more than threaten, intimidate and ultimately silence a voice, all because someone in the crowd found it to be disagreeable. These attacks stifle discussion. They have no place in our society.
The impulse to quell an inconvenient voice is not an issue local to Yale, nor is it an issue unique to any community across the world — it is endemic to the practice of journalism and the exchange of ideas. Many viewpoints have fallen victim to suppression, insults and unfair caricatures. But it is our earnest priority to never let that happen at the News.
The News’ View represents the opinion of the majority of the members of the Yale Daily News Managing Board of 2020.