Yale students should deal with debate, not yell it down

The scariest thing about Halloween at Yale was apparently freedom of speech.

faculty free speech ivy petition university USA yale

Yale University has been plunged into a free speech controversy so tense it’s made the global news.

Emails sent to students before Halloween urging them to reconsider Halloween costumes that were insensitive or appropriated other cultures. Two members of the faculty responded by arguing that students should be allowed to be ‘a little bit inappropriate or provocative’.

They were concerned that universities had become ‘places of censure and prohibition’ (does this sound familiar?). They even had the audacity to suggest that students who may not like the costumes worn by others should ‘talk to each other’.

And that’s when it all hit the fan.

More than 700 people signed an open letter to the faculty members criticizing them for minimizing the concerns of minority students. The protests on campus have become incredibly intense, with students encircling their professor in the yard of their college to discuss (in the loosest sense of the word) their concerns.

There is a video of one particularly impassioned undergrad shouting him down when he tried to explain. She repeatedly yells “Shut the f*** up” when he attempts to respond to her ever more hyperbolic questions. Eventually she screams ‘You should not sleep at night. You are disgusting’ before storming off without waiting for a response.


The small proportion of minority students is undoubtedly a large issue in Yale, where only 7% of students are black, but the point of the original email has been entirely obscured by the subsequent melodrama. The point at which a person starts shrieking like a banshee and doesn’t let others get a word in edgeways is the exact point at which any legitimacy their point of view may have had is lost.

It’s completely ridiculous that supposedly intelligent, well-educated undergraduates are unable to have a rational discussion. The idea that people should be wrapped in cotton-wool and protected from any view that isn’t theirs ludicrously implies that students are incapable of taking any kind of disagreement.

The debate as to whether universities should be places that encourage dissent and disagreement or places that create a safe space for their students may have been had ad infinitum, not least here in Cambridge, but it is unacceptable to just go up to someone and yell your views at them without giving them a chance to respond.

An example of the rational debate for which we should all strive

President Obama weighed into the free speech on campus debate a few months ago, saying “Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em,” he said. “But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, ‘You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.’ That’s not the way we learn.” It would benefit the Yale undergrads to listen to their President.

It’s particularly ironic to watch someone squawk angrily about the need for a safe space while simultaneously preventing those with whom she doesn’t agree from speaking, and telling them they should not sleep at night. Personally, it appears potential Yale freshers might be more discouraged from applying by her furious, echoing tones than by a relatively reasonable request for discussion and debate.

Activists who scream and swear and suppress opposing views also make the vastly more reasonable majority less willing to speak out and create any form of change. Students visibly turn their backs and walk away from the screaming match in the video above and it is easy to imagine many people not wanting to be associated with that kind of screaming.

See the students turning away

It is up to all members of a community to create an environment in which people can voice their views and have discussion and debate. It shouldn’t be acceptable for students to literally silence others simply because they are outraged or offended.

Yale undergraduates, if you really want anything to change, you need to be better than this.