To Dean Braun and the College community,
We would like to express our disappointment with the email that Dean Braun sent out on Tuesday afternoon entitled “community concern.” The email is the latest episode in the ongoing dispute surrounding Swarthmore Young America’s Foundation (SYAF). In the email, students are exhorted to desist from defacing and removing the flyers SYAF has placed around campus, since “[b]eing part of a diverse and inclusive community means that within the college there will always be a wide range of ideas, perspectives, and beliefs.”
But it is clear that, in trying to defend SYAF’s freedom of speech, Dean Braun’s email represents the protection of extremism, the silencing of attempts to address such ignorance, and the astoundingly easy manner in which the administration has been maneuvered to speak in defense of this group.
The point of contention here is not whether or not SYAF has had its right to free speech infringed upon. (Incidentally, if we are supposed to be as mindful of the sanctity of free expression as the email helpfully reminds us to be, then there should not have been a condemnation of the “parodies of the original posters” in Dean Braun’s email.) Quite obviously, SYAF has had the freedom to express its views, which is why there are still posters on various surfaces on campus. The issue here is how a student group representing extreme views can blitz the campus with its message, then run to the administration when the all-too-predictable backlash occurs—and then find shelter from the administration!
Thus far, SYAF has successfully represented itself as an innocuous student organization, marginalized by a intolerantly liberal campus. This is a fantasy that needs to end. SYAF is a chapter of the national behemoth that is the Youth America’s Foundation, an organization funded by corporate and conservative interest groups. It is a national youth movement that aims at promoting pro-business ideology and traditional values.
It is an organization that has a penchant for presenting itself as the “reasonable” dog in the liberal-conservative fight, all the while engaging in the dangerous practice of conflating identity and dismissing the very real challenges minority communities face. The YAF poster at right illustrates such ridiculousness and ignorance quite clearly.
Conflating identities, in fact, seems to be YAF’s calling card, which is especially interesting given that its members claim that they are simply looking to “open a dialogue on free speech.” We are currently having difficulty conceptualizing how open dialogue can be had in the midst of ignorance and reductionist arguments such as the one below, which YAF endorses.
Open dialogue is hard when one side insists on presenting only extreme views, and it is especially hard when the administration decides that it is somehow appropriate to legitimatize, privilege, and — worst of all — protect SYAF’s agenda.
As students at Swarthmore College, members of Swarthmore Asian Organization, and people of Asian Pacific Islander/American descent, we see Dean Braun’s email as confirmation that the College has played right into the hands of this organization. There may be nothing wrong with conservative causes in themselves, but when they are presented in such ignorant fashion and shielded from censure, there is a problem.
Dean Braun is absolutely right in that SYAF, like anybody else at Swarthmore College, has the right to free speech.
We all also have the right to criticize and rectify speech that promotes harm, falsehood, and ignorance.
— James Mao ’12 and William Lin ’12
Editor’s Note: SYAF has responded to this piece on the Gazette.