Stop coddling Brian

A glorious article: “If our free speech isn’t in jeopardy, why won’t my TA let me spend all of class yelling “FUCK BRIAN” at Brian?

So why was it that this Tuesday my voice was silenced? Why was it that when I tried to speak my mind by swearing at Brian for the entirety of an Organic Chemistry lecture, I was told by my TA, a representative of this university, “Maybe you could not say that, because it is entirely irrelevant to our discussion of the Robinson Annulation, and it also made Brian feel threatened”?

Excuse me? Why are we coddling Brian by not allowing his education to be disrupted for fifty minutes as I repeatedly yell “FUCK BRIAN” while standing on a table and waving my hands in the air?

I came to Yale for the late night dorm room conversations, for the free discourse and the distribution of ideas. But what happens when that “idea” is that Brian sucks? Apparently in that case, the ideals on which our university was founded are simply thrown to the wayside.

7 thoughts on “Stop coddling Brian

  1. I guess I don’t see the glorious-ness in the article. This point is, I suppose, that creating an environment of free expression doesn’t mean people should be free to say anything at any time. Nor does it mean that speech geared to be hurtful (or that is just plain hurtful) should be given any desired forum or should be free from loud and public criticism.

    But everyone agrees with this. People like Stanley Fish have built a whole career out of making that point. The question is where to draw lines. It would been interesting to see the author make a case that yelling “Fuck Brian” at another student for an entire class is in the same category as one administrator responding to another administrator’s email on the worth of Yale’s administration intervening in students’ Halloween costume decisions. That, though, would require some work and some deeper thought.

    They seem like very different cases, for pretty obvious reasons – involving context, content, temperament, etc. The problem is just harder, and the article treats it as less than that.

  2. ajkrieder, I question your claim that “everyone agrees with this.” It seems to me that — at least among philosophers — many people don’t.

  3. I’m really saddened to see the PC left and its identity politics obsession squelching an open discussion of the “Fuck Brian” perspective. Sure it is controversial — there are some good reasons for doubting the “Fuck Brian” stance, I can see that of course — but really? Are people so tender and in need of protection that they can’t even hear what the “Fuck Brian” side has to say? Wouldn’t it be more in the traditions of the university to organize a dialogue where those who passionately believe “Fuck Brian” can speak their minds and listen in turn to the counter-arguments of those who just as passionately *don’t* think “Fuck Brian”? Are the latter so insecure in the goodness of their case? Why wouldn’t they welcome the opportunity to convince “Fuck Brianers” to reconsider their position? Not a good day for academia.

  4. “one administrator responding to another administrator’s email on the worth of Yale’s administration intervening in students’ Halloween costume decisions”

    This is an awfully anodyne description of what happened. What happened was: Many administrators sent out an e-mail that, while emphasizing students’ right to free speech, suggested that it wasn’t a good idea to use things like blackface and redface in their costumes. Notably it did not express any prohibition of such costumes, but merely criticized them.

    Another administrator, whose administrative job is specifically to oversee the well-being of a group of students,* sent out an e-mail to those students protesting against this e-mail and saying that college was a time when students should feel free to be transgressive. She also spoke of the pleasure she took in mimicking other people’s accents. Notably, given the original e-mail’s emphasis on blackface and redface, one of her examples was of a white college student dressing as a black movie character.

    Given all this, it’s entirely fair to characterize the e-mail as defending blackface and redface. So why not describe it more specifically, as “an administrator responsible for shaping the social life of a dorm sending an e-mail to the residents of that dorm defending blackface and redface”? It’s going to be hard to tell where we should draw the line if we don’t accurately represent what was controversial about the e-mail. Describing this as an e-mail about Halloween costumes is about as useful as describing “FUCK BRIAN” as “remarks made in class discussion.”

    *From Yale’s website, the house master is “responsible for the physical well being and safety of students in the residential college, as well as for fostering and shaping the social, cultural, and educational life and character of the college”; the associate house master presumably is meant to assist the house master in this job.

  5. Thank you, matt w. I started composing a similar response yesterday but figured there was likely no practical point and gave up. There is still the substantive point, of course, which you take the trouble to make well and patiently.

    I’d only add that “FUCK BRIAN” is actually an understated comparison to the blackface/redface context at Yale, since the former represents nothing more than personal, unhinged, immediately disruptive animus.

    (Since claiming ignorance about the significance of blackface has become routine these days, I’ve gone ahead and copied this from Wikipedia: “Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used by performers to represent a black person. The practice gained popularity during the 19th century and contributed to the proliferation of stereotypes such as the ‘happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation’ or the ‘dandified coon.'”)

  6. @matt w

    I wasn’t interested in giving a full-throated account of the email, anodyne or otherwise. People can read it at their leisure. My point was just to disagree with the supposed insightfulness of the article by pointing to the prima facie differences in the cases compared. This isn’t an endorsement or critique of the email.

    But it is indeed a stretch to characterize the email in question as an endorsement of black-face or red-face. The email is about the administration’s, and people’s ability in general, to properly identify appropriate limits – for children and adults. At worst, it’s an endorsement of the claim that the college isn’t well-positioned to suggest to students that they shouldn’t go around in black-face for Halloween.

    That may be false, but it’s not endorsing black-face. Nor is it like yelling “Fuck Brian” at Brian for the duration of a class. It would be like a case where someone sent out an email saying that students shouldn’t go around yelling “Fuck Brian” at Brian, that was responded to by a house master saying that Yale’s administration isn’t well-positioned to make recommendations on what students should say to each other in class, because sometimes things like profanity have their uses.

    The latter could indeed be somewhat hurtful to Brian, especially if Brian knows that past Brians have been so addressed. But being thusly yelled at for an entire class seems much much worse. Perhaps one has to have the lived experience of being told to one’s face to fuck off, to fully appreciate the difference, however.

  7. It would be like a case where someone sent out an email saying that students shouldn’t go around yelling “Fuck Brian” at Brian, that was responded to by a house master saying that Yale’s administration isn’t well-positioned to make recommendations on what students should say to each other in class, because sometimes things like profanity have their uses.

    …and if this were to happen then everyone would agree that the house master was being bad at their administrative job, and no one would say that critics of the second administrator were “coddling” Brian, and people would not even be surprised if Brian were to be upset at the second administrator.

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