The Yale Incident
Fraternities are often portrayed as xenophobic, snobby, debauched, sexist and out of control. As such, the latest incident at Yale is hardly a shock. During a pledging ritual some folks interested in pledging Delta Kappa Epsilon Phi marched around campus saying things like “no means yes, yes means anal.” Critics are claiming that these boys were trivializing rape with their chants. It has also been pointed out that the march occurred near the dorms housing the Freshman women. The response was what you typically see at a university: a forum was held, an apology was issued and the frat suspended its pledging events. Of course, some folks are not satisfied with these results.
On the one hand, the response seems appropriate. While people should not be marching about chanting such things, this behavior falls safely under the right of free expression. While trivializing rape and potentially frightening (or annoying) young women are things that people should not due, this does not seem to cross into the realm of things that require punitive measures from authorities. The university should, as community, condemn such behavior and it should be taken (as it was) as an opportunity to educate people and correct their behavior and attitudes via education. After all, that is what universities are supposed to be all about. To expel the students, as some have argued for, would be a punishment that exceeds the offense: at worst they said stupid and wicked things. Expulsion requires a far more serious offense such as actually taking an action that is harmful to others.
On the other hand, it could be argue that the response is not appropriate. After all, it has been pointed out that such forums do not seem to meaningfully change behavior. As Aristotle argued, discourses on morality do not have much of an impact on behavior and attitudes. While merely saying such stupid and wicked things is not a serious offense, it is merely a symptom of a more serious problem. The attitude conveyed in these chants is actually expressed in behavior and allowing this attitude to flourish allows such serious harms to persist. That said, the challenge is to match the punishment with the misdeed while still addressing the underlying problems in a serious and effective way. Of course, the overall culture is infested with similar attitudes, as the feminists often point out. As such, this is a rather formidable challenge. But it is one worth addressing.