Audrey Steinkamp

Five Yale students staged a protest outside of Global Affairs professor Emma Sky’s classroom on Tuesday afternoon after University administrators forbade them from entering and distributing a pamphlet criticizing the professor.

“Open your eyes, open your ears, you are being taught by those you should fear,” chanted the protestors, disrupting Sky’s 110-minute Global Affairs class titled Middle East Politics. Protestors — Zulfiqar Mannan ’20, Casey Odesser ’20, Hazal Özgür ’20, Nika Zarazvand ’20 and Francesca Maviglia MPH ’20 — said they initially intended to enter Sky’s seminar and distribute pamphlets calling their professor a war criminal.

But a Yale Police Department officer and Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarríbar prevented students from entering the classroom. Tuesday’s protest — the first demonstration in a campaign entitled “Do You Trust Your Educator?” — is part of a larger project called Paradise Sought. According to Jackson’s website, Sky served as an advisor to the Commanding General of US Forces in Iraq and Commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. She also served as Governorate Coordinator of the Iraqi city Kirkuk for the Coalition Provisional Authority. The pamphlet the group brought to Tuesday’s protest alleged that Sky was a “pawn” in “imperialism and technocracy.”

“My classroom is a safe forum for students with different views and backgrounds to debate vigorously the politics of the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy,” Sky wrote in an email to the News. “The world is complex and there is no single narrative. We all learn from each other and tolerance is a key value. It is a classroom that values freedom of speech and rigorous debate and that is why so many students compete each year for one of the 18 slots.”

During the protest, members of the group chanted, sang, stomped and yelled through the classroom’s windows as they tried to get Sky’s attention. They were asked multiple times by the Yale Police officer and Lizarríbar to lower their voices.

Lizarríbar explained that while it was their right to protest, it was not their right to enter the class, as instructors have the purview of deciding who can and cannot enter their classroom.

“Yale is committed to free expression and there are guidelines that establish the community’s expectations on how that is exercised,” Lizarríbar wrote in an email to the News. “The Undergraduate Regulations specify that students may be subject to disciplinary action if they participate in ‘any effort to prevent or disrupt a class.’ For example, students may hand out pamphlets outside the classroom, but they may not disrupt the class itself or create safety issues.”

The safety issues Lizarríbar mentioned included fire hazards created by the protesters. As the class was ending, the group laid on the ground in front of both the classroom doors and the stairwell in an attempt to distribute their pamphlets.

In an interview after the protest, Odesser told the News that they thought the University’s response to the protest foreclosed discussion about Sky’s previous involvement in Iraq.

“I am incredibly disappointed with the way that the University rejected our proposal to honestly, earnestly and creatively engage with [the students in the class],” Odesser said. “I’m appalled and horrified at how no one will talk to us engage with us and instead perceive us as a threat.”

According to Mannan, who is a staff writer for the News, the project was largely inspired by “the revolutionary aspect” of Paradise Lost and draws inspiration from the Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and Shaikh Sarmad.

While Mannan and Odesser received a Creative and Performing Arts Award from Morse College for their project, the college is now “re-evaluating if they are still able” to fund the project, Mannan said. The reason for the college’s reevaluation remains unclear. The Morse Head of College Office could not be reached for comment on Tuesday evening.

Odesser said that the project was not meant to be disruptive. They explained that the group had originally planned to “perform a slinky, sexy catwalk” into the classroom and silently place a pamphlet on each of the students’ desks. They said they believed that many students in Sky’s class have “not confronted the levels of hypocrisy and violence — like white feminism — that is propagated by her class.”

They added that they were “sad [but] not surprised that” only one student — who was not a member of Sky’s seminar — asked the group for a pamphlet. No students from the seminar took a pamphlet from the protesters on their way out of the classroom.

“We want to show an alternative world here … through our art and our protest,” Odesser said. “You don’t really know the consequences of what you’re studying when you get here. And if I had known what this place represented in the world I would have gone through my time here very differently.”

Sky currently serves as director of Yale’s Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellows Program.

Audrey Steinkamp | audrey.steinkamp@yale.edu

Correction, Nov. 6: The article has been updated to accurately reflect Odesser’s pronouns and their comments regarding Sky’s involvement in Iraq.

  • Jonathan David Kovac

    Natural outcome when spoiled students get bored and have zero understanding of politics and history

  • Jeanne Devine

    How does white feminism equate with “hypocrisy and violence”? Sincerely asking for an answer.

  • Nancy Morris

    Too often, activism distracts from the central activities of college life — studying, mentoring, practicing, writing, talking, and teaching. The problem is that activism implicitly prioritizes one mode of experience — the political — over others that are essential to liberal learning. Activism offers a powerful sense of solidarity with our like-minded comrades, but it also sharply divides us from those who do not share our views. It is a hindrance to friendship. By focusing on politics as a series of battles, activism makes our conversation eristic: We “debate” rather than converse. In all these ways activist politics tends to eclipse friendship and conversation.

    In short, political activism stands in tension with the traditional idea of liberal learning as a process in which students are not merely affirmed in their views but called upon to question them and to wrestle with and understand opposing views. Whereas liberal arts students are (or should be) engaged in a common pursuit of knowledge, activists think they already know what justice requires.

    – Against Campus Activism | RealClearPolicy

    https://www[dot]realclearpolicy[dot]com/articles/2019/08/02/against_campus_activism_111250.html

  • mkb1929

    Thanks to the protesters. Yale has generally supported U.S. emperial aims by members of its faculty and those whom it honors with its honorary degrees. (Think of George W. Bush).