Yale incident -- again, no state action,
but interesting student freedom issue
volokh at mail.law.ucla.edu
Mon Nov 5 15:08:36 PST 2001
As I mentioned, no state action, but still an interesting student
freedom issue, since as I understand it Yale generally claims that it
protects student speech as much as a government-run university would. Note
also the "[e]thnic counselor"'s suggestion that the sign might create a
Published Tuesday, October 30, 2001
Hate sign removed from Durfee Hall
BY NAOMI MASSAVE
Morse College freshman counselors removed an offensive banner from Durfee
Hall Monday. The banner had upset several students, but the students who
hung the sign said it was meant to be a joke.
The sign, which read "Kill 'em all, Let God sort 'em out," was interpreted
by many as a hate message directed against Muslims and South Asians.
But the male Morse students who put up the banner, who refused to give their
names, said the sign was meant as a joke to counter pro-peace banners, and
said they do not advocate violence.
"Nobody that actually put that sign up agrees in any way shape or form with
what that said. It was put up to get people to be like, 'What the hell,'"
one of the anonymous freshman said. "I actually helped put it up, and nobody
here hates anybody. I'm actually a liberal person almost, I don't have a gun
rack on my bicycle or stuff like that. It's so ridiculous."
Students in the suite said Morse freshman counselors came into their room
Monday afternoon and removed the banner.
"Basically our counselors came and confiscated the sign, and we just
discussed with them why we put it up," one of the freshman involved said.
"Apparently people were complaining because they interpreted it in a way it
was not meant to be interpreted."
The first freshman said the sign was made with red spray paint on a sheet
bought at the Salvation Army.
"It was quoting a redneck bumper sticker slapped on the back of a pickup
truck driving down Broadway with a gun rack -- then we knew it was an
ultraconservative," he said. "[It said] 'Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em
out,' then it had an American flag on the bumper sticker."
Morse Dean Rosemary Jones said she is not ready to comment about the
situation yet, and Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said its
consequences were not yet certain.
"I can't give you any definitive answer yet about what's being done about
it, but I've spoken to [the] freshman counselors and the dean of the college
where the banner was hung," Trachtenberg said. "What will be done will come
out after conversations with the people involved."
Anjan Bhullar '05 said he does not condemn punishing terrorists but added he
was bothered by the implication that killing civilians is acceptable.
"Implicit also is that among the dead are civilians," he said. "The only
reason [they're] being killed is because they're of the same people, they're
the same ethnicity."
Ethnic counselor Edward Teng '02 said he believed that although everyone has
the right to free speech, the banner might create a hostile environment for
some ethnic minorities.
"Being an ethnic counselor, one of my primary concerns for Muslim-Americans,
Indian-Americans, and South Asians at Yale was the fact that although the
sign maybe might have just meant kill the Taliban -- it didn't say that: It
said kill them all," Teng said. "It has implications for the way people are
going to read in to it, and the way people are going to react, and how they
might treat their peers on campus."
Morse Master Frank Keil said he was disappointed in the behavior.
"Obviously I think it's inappropriate to have that kind of hate language
going on," Keil said. "We really hope it wasn't Morsels, and it just got
hung out of Durfee."
Teng said the Trumbull College freshman counselors discussed the most
appropriate way to deal with the situation, weighing the right to free
speech against the right for freshmen to feel safe in their own community.
One of the solutions discussed included making other banners to counter the
message of the Durfee banner.
A Pierson College freshman counselor also spoke with the students in the
suite to try to convince them the banner was offensive and persuade them to
remove it of their own volition.
"He suggested we take it down, otherwise there would be protests," one of
the Morse freshmen said.
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