The Spreading Virus, Yale Postscript

Before the commotion at Yale over Halloween costumes recedes into the rearview mirror, let’s get a closer look at one episode that has drawn only peripheral attention. By coincidence, the William F. Buckley Program at Yale was having a conference on the subject of threats to freedom of speech on campus at the same time the Safe Space Cadets (SSCs) were having their meltdown. One of the speakers, Greg Lukianoff of FIRE, made a politically incorrect joke, and the SSCs went to DefCon1.

Yale junior and Buckley Program student president Zach Young tells the story in the Yale Daily News:

The unrest began when a student in a yellow t-shirt rushed to the front of the lecture hall during a panel. When other attendees told him to sit down, he refused and instead taped posters across the wall. A Yale police officer stationed outside entered the room and asked the student to leave.

“You’re going to have to carry me out,” the student said. The officer obliged.

Another student soon wrote about the incident on the Facebook group “Overheard at Yale.” Comments on the post identified our event’s location. “Run through,” one recommended.

Protesters lined up outside the lecture hall. Some demanded that we immediately add speakers of their choosing to the conference. Others tried to get into the lecture hall, which was oversubscribed and required preregistration. Police stood guard at the doors to ensure our symposium could go on as planned.

The professed reason for the protest was an off-color joke made by one of the panelists, Greg Lukianoff. “Given the reaction to Erika Christakis’s email, you would have thought she burned down an Indian village,” he said, referring to an email sent a week prior about Halloween attire.

Whether or not the remark was in poor taste is beside the point. As the Woodward Report, a cornerstone of Yale policy, makes clear, free speech is about the ability to “think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable and challenge the unchallengeable.” In any case, the protests did not conclude when Lukianoff left the stage.

For nearly two hours, the crowd outside grew in size and volume. Social media attacks on our organization intensified. When I offered the protesters leftover cookies — intended as a nice gesture — I was called a “white colonizer” and told to stay in the hallway to be “educated.” As audience members exited the lecture hall, protesters chanted, “Genocide is not a joke,” called attendees “traitors” and “racists” and, in at least one instance, spat on an attendee affiliated with the Buckley Program.

Our entire conference on free speech had come under attack.

Do read the whole thing if you have a chance.

As it happens, I got to meet the young Mr. Young in the seminars I taught last month at Yale for the Buckley program, and he was a most active and thoughtful discussant. Actually, all of the students who attended (which included a graduate student in theology) were very smart and were very lively in discussion. Not all of the students who signed up for the Buckley seminars were conservatives; a few of them were curious liberals, or students whose views were not fully formed but sympathetic to some aspects of contemporary liberalism.

The most salient point is this: we conducted a truly open and serious discussion of the flash point issues that march under the banner of “race, class, and gender,” which I suspect is probably impossible to do in many Yale classrooms. What is demanded by the Safe Space Cadets is capitulation to ideological slogans, not serious discussion and argument. It made me realize that you can now only have serious discussion and argument about some issues off campus, or through independent fora such as the Buckley Program.

Which prompts an idea: disgusted Yale alumni should send their contributions to the Buckley Program, and tell the administration about it. (Likewise, disgusted Claremont McKenna College alumni should send contributions to the Claremont Independent instead of CMC [the Independent has a PalPay account], and copy CMC’s president with your contribution note.)

Finally, if you want to see Mr. Young in action, below are his welcoming remarks to the Buckley Program’s “Disinvitation Dinner” last year (six minutes). I know it is cliche to say of Ivy League students, “keep your eye on this person—he’s going places,” but I think it applies in this case: