On March 4th in 1985, six Yale undergraduates disrupted Central Intelligence Agency recruiting on campus. Joseph Bristol ’88, Mark Chiang ’85, Nicholas Jaffe ’86, Alan Minsky ’88, Jennifer Skurnik ’85 and Roxana Tynan ’88 were arrested for their actions by the New Haven Police. Eventually, Yale’s Executive Committee punished them with a three-term probation.
I am not sure what this punishment meant to the students in question, what drove them to such an urgency and commitment, but the University’s response to their protest did not put an end to advocacy on campus against CIA influence. Yale was only one piece of a much larger puzzle, too. In April 1985, The New York Times reported, “Around the Nation; CIA Recruiters Leave, Ending Campus Protest.” Of the legacies left behind at Yale, this is one that comforts me in my time here.
Much like Akhil Amar, I arrived at Yale when I was just 18 years old. I, too, found a home here. Professor Amar responded to his Yale education by growing up to become a Yale Law School professor who teaches the U.S. Constitution and defends people like Brett Kavanaugh. In my time here and beyond, I hope to respond to and respect what Yale has taught me differently.
My name is Zulfiqar Suhail Mannan, but my friends call me Zulfi. In an American accent, it is a name almost impossible to pronounce precisely, but people who care about me here try. I am a musician and poet from paradisiacal Lahore, Pakistan. My education at Yale began with a 9:25 a.m. level three French class every weekday and a determined ambition to be the world’s next Lady Gaga. I wanted to change the world, and I promised myself to use no force but one of love. I wholeheartedly believe that this is still the main prerogative for everything that I am doing and have done in the name of activism.
Last year, Yale chose to arrest 27 students who sat in the Financial Aid Office to demand the elimination of the Student Income Contribution. In 2017, more than a thousand people gathered outside Commencement in support of graduate students’ unionization, after months of rallying and even a hunger strike. To this day, Yale is one of the few Ivy League universities that still does not recognize its own graduate student union.
If you walk through the second floor of 35 Broadway, you will find an exhibition that catalogues student activism at Yale. My best friend, along with her ER&M class on “Comparative Ethnic Studies,” helped research, curate and set up this magical archive. In 1971, the Black Student Alliance at Yale began to publish the People’s Paper. The cover of the first issue of its second volume reads: “For the next four years, you will live, eat, sleep, talk, walk, learn with the enemy. Don’t learn from him! And don’t think it will be ‘easy’ to come out enthusiastic, dedicated, and acting in the best interest of black people, however … together we must try!”
As a sophomore, I submitted an application to the Human Rights program in which I wrote that I wanted to “make politically conscious art that could change the world.” This Wednesday, I found my face plastered on the front page of the News for my senior year capstone project on Human Rights. As flattering as the rigorous university-wide coverage and attention is to my academic work, I am afraid the University, especially including Emma Sky, seems primarily interested in representing my performance or actions as anything but academic.
I am writing this opinion piece to contest this representation of “Paradise Sought,” which in actuality is an experimental, interdisciplinary research project yearning to explore in enormous public transparency the myths of student activism and agency at Yale by revealing the true nature of institutional authority. Simply, my project is an ethnography of power. Thanks to the history and resilience of my peers and people invested in our collective liberation, I am not the only Yale student invested in this effort.
Over the course of the past few weeks, the institutional pushback to my project has shifted from being about inflammatory speech — in my use of the word “war criminal” — to the creation of a violent or triggering environment to preventing the free exchange of ideas in a classroom. Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken states that “disrupting a class is fundamentally at odds with the values of a university” in an article published by the News on Nov. 20.
I would like to make clear to all Yale community members that our performance dedicated to Professor Sky’s seminar was meant to be a 45-second-long, silent and merely symbolic “epistemological interruption” where we distributed argumentative pamphlets to her students. “Paradise Sought,” inspired by Jack Halberstam’s “Gaga Feminism,” is a Benjaminian offensive to the myth-making at Yale that feeds and proliferates Yale’s investments into exploitative capitalism, imperialism and patriarchal militarism. It is the theatrical outburst outside a Global Affairs giant’s class to reveal to my Yale kin that the University’s allegiance to such power is directly related to its indifference to ER&M, its culpability in terrorizing and exploiting New Haven, its colonial roots and contemporary sins.
The education I received at Yale has positioned me to do this research. My privilege, confidence and family support is the reason I am able to potentially risk everything and have this energy. We learned a lot from our Nov. 5 performance and conducted a beautiful artistic interruption of Sky’s lecture “Gateway to Global Affairs.” We remained outside the class, livestreamed our theatrical performance recreating the power dynamic that led to violations of human rights in Iraq and engaged in dialogue with many World Fellows who came to Linsly-Chittenden Hall, knowing we were going to have a second performance. To my understanding, our performance did not lead to an interference of University functions, and we had an amiable relationship with the police officers stationed to prevent us from entering the lecture.
“Paradise Sought” will continue to learn, construct and re-engage because the show and the resistance must go on. I dedicate our work to the history and legacy of activism at Yale, exemplified in the facets of the University’s students-of-color life, many of whom nourish me, party with me and laugh with me. I can never hope to cover everything that “Paradise Sought” is, or hopes to be, or finds inspiration and solidarity in, in one article. However, of course, stay tuned.
ZULFIQAR MANNAN is a senior in Morse College. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org .