Yale President Responds to T-Shirt Controversy

University president responds to t-shirt controversy

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald poses for a portrait in this 1920's file photo.

    F. Scott Fitzgerald and a T-shirt have caused a whole lot of trouble at Yale. Now, the university president says he regrets the controversy and doesn’t want students to think that their speech is subject to censorship, the Yale Daily News reports.

    The firestorm stared in November over a shirt the Freshman Class Council designed for the time-honored Yale-Harvard game, according to the Yale Daily News.

    The 7-word phrase that angered the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and caused the freshmen group to pull the shirt: “I think of all Harvard men as sissies.”

    The quote, from Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise,” actually takes a dig at both Harvard and Yale:

    "I want to go to Princeton," said Amory. "I don't know why, but I think of all Harvard men as sissies, like I used to be, and all Yale men as wearing big blue sweaters and smoking pipes."

    The offensive word was “sissies,”  which was “considered offensive and demeaning," as well as a “thinly-veiled gay slur,” Julio Perez-Torres ’12, a member of the LGBT Co-op, told the Daily News in November.  

    FCC members said they didn't realize the connotation and changed the design. The controversy was whether Yale College Dean Mary Miller told the students to pull the design or merely issued an opinion and the students pulled it.

    Then, in December, Adam Kissel of the Foundation for Individuals Rights in Education -- and a Harvard man -- sent University president, Richard Levin, a letter saying Yale College Dean Mary Miller acted inappropriately by ruling the shirt unacceptable.

    “It is not a happy day when a Yale College dean with degrees from Yale and Princeton, an historian of art, declares that T-shirts quoting Fitzgerald are 'not acceptable,'" Kissel wrote. “In matters large and small, Yale has taken steps that erode the freedom it once championed, teaching its students that the authorities ultimately decide which expressions are acceptable or unacceptable.”

    Levine responded by letter, saying Yale maintains its policy on freedom of expression.

    “Dean Mary Miller and I agree with you that it is not the role of the Dean or any other University official to supress the speech of any student or student organization,” he wrote.

    There are times, he said, when it is appropriate to advise students of how their freedom of speech will affect others. Miller had concerns about the impact of the proposed T-shirts and told the class’ representatives.

    “The decision not to print the T-shirts was made by the Class Council, not the dean,” he wrote. “But …  it would have seemed possible, and not unreasonable, for some members of the Council to interpret Dean Miller’s counsel as a directive. This we regret.”