Two Yale students took the stage in Sterling Professor of Law Akhil Reed Amar’s ’80 LAW ’84 “Constitutional Law” lecture on Wednesday, holding a banner that read, “The US Constitution is the law of stolen land … upheld by Yale rapists.”
The event was the third performance of a campaign entitled “Do You Trust Your Educator?” — part of Zulfiqar Mannan’s ’20 larger human rights capstone project called “Paradise Sought.” On Nov. 6 and 7, Mannan and other Yale College students — including Casey Odesser ’20, the other student present at yesterday’s demonstration — staged the first two performance protests outside of Director of the World Fellows Program Emma Sky’s global affairs courses.
While University administrators forbade the students from entering Sky’s “Middle East Politics” seminar, Amar invited the two students onstage after the students entered the room and allowed them to present their pamphlet. Mannan — a staff writer for the News — is facing a disciplinary case from the Yale College Executive Committee for their conduct during their earlier demonstration against Sky. Amar told the News that he considers the incident a “minor disruption,” one that he hopes “ended up promoting useful conservation.”
“I am a believer in the Yale regulations on this topic; willing professors and willing students have a right to meet during scheduled class hours without interference,” Amar wrote. “That said, different professors will sensibly respond to protests in different ways, in large part because specifics matter, and so does context: How much of an actual disruption is involved? Does the protest substantially interfere with free communication between willing professors and willing students, or is it more akin to a student group making a quick announcement at the beginning or end of class? To what extent is the protest genuinely relevant to the subject matter of the course?”
According to Odesser, the latest demonstration consisted of an “audio-visual installation” outside of the class. The group sang songs that “conveyed [their] anger,” and distributed pamphlets to members of the class. Since Amar invited the group to give a presentation, Odesser noted that “the whole thing was quite diplomatic” and the group felt “heard and respected.”
The pamphlet distributed by the students criticized Amar’s defense of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s ’87 LAW ’90 nomination in July 2018. Prior to his confirmation in October 2018, the justice faced three allegations of sexual misconduct, including one citing an incident that occurred while Kavanaugh was a student at Yale. Amar voiced his support for Kavanaugh’s nomination before the allegations came to light, and in a follow-up column for the News, Amar defended the judge’s scholarly and judicial record but called for the “best and most professional investigation possible — even if that means a brief additional delay on the ultimate vote on Judge Kavanaugh, and even if that investigatory delay imperils his confirmation.”
The students’ pamphlet also questioned the U.S. Constitution’s “relevance to the US contemporary political process.”
“Ask your educator: how essential was the U.S. Constitution to the annexation of Indigenous land, a political process that culminated into an ongoing ethnic cleansing?” the pamphlet read “Ask your educator, also: how much military and policy violence has been necessary over the past 200 years to maintain the U.S. Constitution as law on the territory occupied by the U.S.A?”
Mannan’s latest demonstration followed through on their earlier promise, despite backlash from their protest against Sky.
Mannan announced on Facebook last month that Amar’s class would be the next site of their performance. Still, Amar told the News that he had no foreknowledge that there would be a protest in his class on Wednesday. He did expect a demonstration at his class after reading of Mannan’s plans in the News last month, the Sterling professor said. He noted that his course — an introduction to American constitutional law — necessarily “implicates many controversial issues” and that he has often taken public positions on many of these topics.
Odesser added that the group chose this class period for the performance because the week’s topic is civil rights. They said they wanted to “contextualize the discussion of the legal theory and … larger history of the U.S. Constitution and what systematic violence and oppression it’s been used to carry out.”
“We are very happy with our performance today and urge Professor Emma Sky to rethink her actions and treatment of our art inspired by the conduct and grace performed by Professor Akhil Amar today,” Mannan told the News in an email. “Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, this one was to honor you.”
Sky told the News last month that her classroom “is a safe forum for students with different views and backgrounds.” She added that “Yale should remain vehemently committed” to the most basic values of a university, which she said allows students and faculty members to exchange ideas freely and without undue imposition. At last month’s demonstrations, Mannan was barred entry into Sky’s classroom by a Yale Police Department officer and Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarríbar. Lizarríbar did not respond to a request for comment. Sky could not be reached on Wednesday evening.
According to Mannan, the group began their performance by constructing a shrine outside Sudler Hall made up of the project’s second publication, a Transgender pride flag, an LGBT pride flag and the banner. After the students read from their pamphlet inside the classroom, Amar offered them the chance to stay for the remainder of the lecture, which discussed cases pertaining to issues they brought up. Amar tied this discussion to the demonstration.
But the students left after they read from the pamphlets, and Mannan said they had “existing academic commitments.” Mannan added that since the demonstration, they have sent a letter of gratitude to Amar “for reviving [their] hopes in the University.”
One of Amar’s students Ainsley Weber ’22 said that following the group’s departure, the class discussed cases “pretty relevant to [the demonstrating students’] grievances” and noted that the students had an opportunity to stay and “[engage] further with the class.”
In an email to the News, Amar said that he “used the protest as a ‘teachable moment’ to discuss in more detail several of the important issues and themes of the course and university education more generally.”
“I have the utmost respect for the protestors and their efforts,” Weber said. “But in my opinion, by declining professor Amar’s invitation to stay for lecture, in which we discussed several of the topics they assume he neglects to address, they actually undermine much of their argument. I recommend they take the class next semester — Amar might surprise them.”
Odesser said students and faculty members should be “on the lookout for more” similar protests to come. The group hopes to continue generating conversations on “the consequences of a Yale education” next semester.
The Yale Law School is housed in the Sterling Law Building, which was built in 1931.
Alayna Lee | firstname.lastname@example.org