Getting minds right at Yale

Aaron Sibarium gives readers a look inside the higher education asylum in the Washington Free Beacon story “A Yale Law Student Sent a Lighthearted Email Inviting Classmates to His ‘Trap House.’ The School Is Now Calling Him To Account.” Subhead: “In leaked audio, administration officials allege his membership in the conservative Federalist Society is ‘triggering’ and ‘oppressive.’” Sibarium’s story opens:

Administrators at Yale Law School spent weeks pressuring a student to apologize for a “triggering” email in which he referred to his apartment as a “trap house,” a slang term for a place where people buy drugs. Part of what made the email “triggering,” the administrators told the student, was his membership in a conservative organization.

The second-year law student, a member of both the Native American Law Students Association and the conservative Federalist Society, had invited classmates to an event cohosted by the two groups. “We will be christening our very own (soon to be) world-renowned NALSA Trap House … by throwing a Constitution Day Bash in collaboration with FedSoc,” he wrote in a Sept. 15 email to the Native American listserv. In keeping with the theme, he said, the mixer would serve “American-themed snacks” like “Popeye’s chicken” and “apple pie.”

The student, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, is part Cherokee, the Indian tribe that was forcibly displaced during the infamous Trail of Tears.

Within minutes, the lighthearted invite had been screenshotted and shared to an online forum for all second-year law students, several of whom alleged that the term “trap house” indicated a blackface party.

“I guess celebrating whiteness wasn’t enough,” the president of the Black Law Students Association wrote in the forum. “Y’all had to upgrade to cosplay/black face.” She also objected to the mixer’s affiliation with the Federalist Society, which she said “has historically supported anti-Black rhetoric.”

Law school associate dean of student affairs Ellen Cosgrove and director of diversity, equity and inclusion and Yaseen Eldik called the “offending” student in for a meeting or two. Eldik did most of the talking. In the guise of offering the student help, he sought to extract a written apology through the use of not very subtle threats. The student not only resisted the threats, he recorded the conversation.

The Free Beacon has posted audio in “Listen to Yale Law School Administrators Tell a Student His Affiliation With the Federalist Society Is ‘Triggering’ for Classmates.” The audio is below. It warrants the time necessary to take it in.

The audio derives from meetings with the student and the two administrators on September 16, when the student was told that his membership in the “oppressive” Federalist Society had “triggered” his peers, and on September 17, when he was reminded that “there’s a bar you have to take.” The Free Beacon provides time stamps for the audio of the September 16 meeting:

-1:00: Eldik explains why the term “trap house” is “triggering” and “racialized.”
-3:40: Eldik says that references to fried chicken have been used “to undermine arguments that structural or systemic racism have contributed to health disparities in the U.S.”
-5:15: The student is told that “as a man of color, there probably isn’t as much of a scrutiny of you as there might be of a white person in the same position.”
-5:32: Eldik says that the student’s affiliation with the Federalist Society was “very triggering” for students who “already feel” that the conservative group is “oppressive to certain communities.”
-7:15: Eldik says his office has received complaints that the student’s email was a “form of discrimination” and “psychically harmful.”
-10:00: Eldik starts to pressure the student to apologize.
-11:40: Cosgrove and Eldik propose addressing the apology to the leaders of the Black Law Students Association specifically.
-12:10: Cosgrove warns the student that “these things amplify over time,” so apologizing quickly is important “for your sake.”
-13:35: After the student suggests letting his peers reach out to him individually to discuss their feelings about the email, Eldik responds: “I don’t want to make our office look like an ineffective source of resolution.”
-14:05: Eldik says his office has received “eight or nine student complaints about this” and tells the student that the best way to make this “go away” would be an apology.
-14:23: Eldik says an apology would give the student “character-driven rehabilitation.”
-15:10: Eldik says he worries about the email affecting the student’s reputation, “not just here but when you leave. You know the legal community is a small one.”
-16:20: Eldik volunteers to help draft the email.
-18:10: Cosgrove warns that escalation is a possibility if the student doesn’t apologize.
-20:00: Eldik characterizes the student’s email as an invitation “to make a mockery of black people.”

These are the time stamps for the September 17 meeting:

-1:13: Eldik says, “This is all because we care about you,” and tells the student, “I don’t have to do my job like this.”
-1:35: Eldik says, “You’re a law student, and there’s a bar [exam] you have to take, so we think it’s really important to give you a 360 view.”

As Sibarium notes in his story, the law school declined to offer any comment on the story prior to publication yesterday “Eldik, Cosgrove, and Yale Law School dean Heather Gerken did not respond to requests for comment”). Following publication of the story, however, Yale issued a statement saying that “no student is investigated or sanctioned for protected speech” at the law school. “At no time was any disciplinary investigation launched or disciplinary action taken in this matter,” the statement added. “While any person may report concerns about a lawyers’ character and fitness to the bar, the law school has a longstanding policy of reporting only formal disciplinary action to the Bar Association.” For some reason or other, this information was never conveyed directly to the student.

Reason’s Liz Wolfe explores the history of the term “trap house” in her coverage of the Free Beacon story. She advises: “Don’t Use the Term ‘Trap House’ in Your Party Invite at Yale Law School.” Especially if you’re associated with the Federalist Society.

Quotable quote (Eldik to the student): “As a man of color, there probably isn’t as much scrutiny of you as there might be of a white person in the same position. I just want to acknowledge that there’s a complexity to that too.”

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