Students Protest Buckley Talk

Monica Wang et al., Yale Daily News, November 9, 2015

After a comment made by speaker Greg Lukianoff during a private William F. Buckley, Jr. Program conference on free speech was posted on the Facebook group “Overheard at Yale” Friday afternoon, over 100 students gathered around Linsly-Chittenden Hall to voice their anger.

“Looking at the reaction to [Silliman College Associate Master] Erika Christakis’ email, you would have thought someone wiped out an entire Indian village,” Lukianoff said, according to Gian-Paul Bergeron ’17, who was present at the event and posted the quotation online just after 4 p.m. According to seven other attendees interviewed, the remark was followed by laughter in the crowd, although students present gave different accounts of how many audience members laughed. Lukianoff is president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit organization committed to defending individual rights on American college campuses. In addition to speaking at the Buckley conference, Lukianoff was also a guest at a Silliman College Master’s Tea Thursday evening about the importance of free speech on college campuses. He is the author of “Coddling of the American Mind,” an article in The Atlantic that Erika Christakis tweeted last week in response to criticism of her Oct. 30 email defending students’ rights to wear costumes that might be deemed culturally appropriative.

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Before the comment was made, Edward Columbia ’18–a white male who did not register for the event–walked into the room and began putting up signs along the front of the room  which read “Stand with your sisters of color. Now, here. Always, everywhere,” according to Columbia and Bergeron. They both said a security guard asked Columbia to leave because he was not registered and because he was putting up posters, but he refused to do so. Shortly after, Lukianoff made the comment about the Indian village, and Columbia shouted at Lukianoff and asked him why he thought it was funny, according to Columbia.

While Columbia resisted, the guard dragged him outside of the room, where he was pinned down and handcuffed before being taken to a squad car, Columbia said. {snip}

“I couldn’t let the joke go. It was too f—ed up,” Columbia said. “All of the officers treated me well, and I feel bad for putting a security officer who was just doing his job in a position where he had to drag me out. But I also wonder whether I would have been released so quickly . . . if I weren’t a white male.”

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The online Facebook post led a group of Native American women, other students of color and their supporters to protest the conference in an impromptu gathering outside of LC 102, where the Buckley event was taking place. Officers from the Yale Police Department stood in front of the entrance, announcing that the event was at full capacity and that no one who had not registered would be allowed to enter.

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Around 5:45 p.m., as attendees began to leave the conference, students outside chanted the phrase “Genocide is not a joke” and held up written signs of the same words. {snip} According to Buckley fellows present during the conference, several attendees were spat on as they left. One Buckley fellow said he was spat on and called a racist. Another, who is a minority himself, said he has been labeled a “traitor” by several fellow minority students. Both asked to remain anonymous because they were afraid of attracting backlash.

Mitchell Rose Bear Don’t Walk ’16, a Native American student and one of the leaders of the protest, said she has spoken to the fellow who said he was spat on. She emphasized that spitting is “disgraceful” and not the message the protestors were looking to convey, but she confirmed that it did happen.

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An emotional rally soon followed as the last attendees emerged from LC and left the conference. Bullhorn in hand, Bear Don’t Walk shared her anger with the crowd, which had grown in size, about the comment made at the Buckley event. She expressed despair that this comment came on the heels of discussions about racial issues on campus.

“About an hour ago, we were sitting at the Native American Cultural Center and we were talking. We said today was one of the only days we felt okay on this campus,” Bear Don’t Walk told the crowd. “Then we looked at our Facebook feed and we saw this message about what someone at this freedom of speech conference said. But we rallied and we gathered here to tell them that this is not okay.”

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