On Feb. 7, I published a column titled “Evil is banal.” In it, I discussed how we need to hold our peers accountable when they harass or assault others, specifically focusing on the actions of white men. This seemed like a fairly uncontroversial claim to me, one that I didn’t expect would result in a slew of violent death threats in the days that followed.
I don’t regret what I wrote, but I do want to take a moment to clarify some of the points that I made in the aforementioned column.
The column was written in a particular context. When I arrived at Yale in the fall of 2015, students in a group called Next Yale held protests in response to various incidents that had occurred on campus that fall: word spread that a fraternity refused to admit women of color into a party. A faculty member said that students were too sensitive to cultural appropriation. These things may seem benign in a vacuum, too insufficient to spark a series of protests. But, these events were merely catalysts for addressing a series of issues that disproportionately affected students of color. In those months, Next Yale made a list of demands, advocating for things such as increased funding in cultural centers and more resources for low-income students. Next Yale accomplished many (but not all) of the goals that it set out to achieve — even so, many students are still unfairly targeted because of their race. Last May, for instance, a black graduate student at Yale had the police called on her for innocently napping in a common room. This isn’t just at Yale, either; The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education frequently updates a list of racial incidents that occur on college campuses across the country. I am of the belief that we need to call these things out when we see them happening.
It’s time that we do something. We can’t talk about issues like sexual assault without talking about race. While white women report 80 percent of rapes, women of color are more likely to be assaulted. The simple fact is that rapists don’t walk around campus with large scarlet R’s emblazoned across their chests. We invite them to parties. We take classes with them. Some of my peers continue to take classes with philosophy professor Thomas Pogge, a man who was hired at Yale after being disciplined for sexual misconduct at Columbia and has since had multiple women at Yale come forth with sexual assault allegations against him. Daniel Tenreiro-Braschi ’19 is still a student here on campus, in spite of the fact that he openly harassed women and was suspended as a result. These kinds of people need social censure.
What’s more is that all injustices aren’t equal: When a black person is called a n***** it isn’t equivalent to a black person getting lynched; when a woman is called a pig, it isn’t as damaging as being raped. But my main argument remains the same — evil is banal. It is commonplace. People say and do harmful things everyday, as transgressors remain unpunished. Harassment isn’t as physically harmful as rape, but that doesn’t mean that we should condone it. We need to put an end to all of these things when we see them, because these minor offenses, these seemingly benign incidents, are still damaging. In fact, they may even be the first step to larger offenses that leave lasting impacts on people’s lives. We need to take action when we see these things happening, no matter how small.
This means that if I witness someone doing something wrong, I will document it in order to try and put an end to it. We should report these things, and isolate wrongdoers from our social circles. This isn’t about hoarding evidence or waiting for a white man to come out of his entryway in the middle of the night. I don’t want to sit around all day stalking white men, because, well, I have better things to do with my time. But, apparently, many people on the right don’t have anything better to do than type the words “c***” and “n*****” from behind a computer screen, and I think that’s sad. They’re the real stalkers.
It’s difficult to make a principled and nuanced argument in 800 words, but don’t worry. I’ll keep writing. And if you don’t want to believe me — an ignorant black woman who got into Yale on the basis of affirmative action — then believe the compelling reports, articles and books on the phenomena of racial and sexual harassment.
Because, let’s face it: Facts don’t care about your feelings.
Isis Davis-Marks is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.