Laurie Santos, new “Head” of Silliman College, famed for teaching an extremely popular course on Happiness.
The Yale Daily News reports that a Yale junior’s Instagram quip has the campus again in a turmoil over Free Speech, with many students demanding punishment, Silliman Head Laurie Santos promising action and then crawfishing, Peter Salovey timidly defending Free Speech, and faculty arguing.
All this ICE but no detention centers in sight,â€ read the caption, beneath an Instagram photo of a Yale junior smiling amid a backdrop of snowy mountains.
Was the gaffe a distasteful joke or an affront to undocumented immigrants? Yale administrators and faculty disagreed. Screenshots of the post â€” a play on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and ice itself â€” quickly went viral on social media. Students denounced the junior for joking about the plight of undocumented immigrants, who sometimes spend weeks and months in border detention facilities. Tweets criticizing the post received thousands of likes and more than 900 retweets. One student said he is â€œglad to see that Yale is still prepping for the future generations of Kavanaughs.â€ Others urged their peers to email the head of the juniorâ€™s residential college, psychology professor Laurie Santos and demanded consequences for the junior. …
As emails requesting the student to be held accountable for his Instagram post inundated Santosâ€™ inbox, the Silliman Head of College responded to at least one studentâ€™s call for action against the junior.
â€œI have now heard about this incident from many, many students,â€ Santos wrote in the email, which was obtained by the News. â€œIâ€™m upset that a member of my community would post something like this and I will take action on it. I will be bringing this up with the proper channels.â€
While some students said they appreciated Santosâ€™ note, many members of the University community voiced concerns about the emailâ€™s implications on whether administrators and faculty members have the jurisdiction to regulate studentsâ€™ speech.
English professor David Bromwich said the idea that the junior â€œshould somehow be punished, or cited to justify a reprimand, seems a clear overreach of authority.â€
â€œ[Of] course the result [of Santosâ€™ email] would be to chill speech generally,â€ Bromwich said. â€œPeople say silly things like this all the time, on campus and in everyday life elsewhere. Will you install microphones in the potted plants and try to catch them all?â€
In an interview with the News, Chairman of the Institute for Free Speech Bradley Smith said Santosâ€™ email is â€œabsurd and anti-liberal.â€ The email sends a message that students now have to be extra careful to not upset others and â€œgives a license to social justice warriors to pick on students they donâ€™t like,â€ Smith said. He added that free speech is not only about a lack of censorship, but also about an open attitude of accepting controversial ideas.
In an email to the News on Wednesday, Santos said in hindsight, she â€œwould have worded things differently to make it clearer that what I wanted to do was gather more information â€” that was the action I had in mind.â€ …
Salovey did not comment on whether he had spoken with Santos about her handling of the matter.
â€œI would like to take this opportunity to underscore that Yale is committed firmly to free expression,â€ Salovey said. â€œTo learn, to create knowledge, to teach and to improve the world, we must engage in the exchange of ideas freely, especially when we disagree with one another. I have always encouraged members of the Yale community to participate in open discussions because the answer to speech that offends us is, most often, our own speech.â€ …
Thomas Kadri GRD â€™23 â€” who is a fellow at the Yale Information Society Project â€” added that while people should have the right to speak freely, free speech does not mean that people cannot criticize others if they dislike what is said.
â€œThat said, it might also be worrying if many students â€˜fearâ€™ the â€˜consequencesâ€™ of expressing their ideas and opinions,â€ Kadri added. â€œQuite how worrying it is would depend on a few things, I think. Are their fears reasonable? What do they actually fear will happen â€” criticism, social ostracism, bad grades on assignments, worse job prospects?â€
American Studies professor Matt Jacobson said that while the University may have some work to do, feeling uncomfortable is â€œemphatically not a â€˜free speechâ€™ issue of the constitutional sort.â€ Self-censorship is different from government censorship, and is in some cases â€œan organic response to the contending interests and the internalized dissonance brought about by social change and societal polarization,â€ Jacobson said.
He added that even if the climate issues on campus are very real and need to be addressed, it is important to recognize that there is a concerted effort on the right to use free speech as an instrument to advance a particular agenda, such as framing discrimination of ethnic, religious and racial minorities as freedom of expression.