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Posted in Editorials, Opinion

Students Criticize Braun’s Defense of Conservative Flyers

By and
November 17, 2010

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.

  • Rachael Mansbach ’11

    First off, it's quite true that I know nothing about YAF. And I am quite willing to take your points at face value and say that it may have quite execrable aims. You're right, you definitely have the right to criticize it, and I wholeheartedly applaud you for coming out and saying so. However, I think your criticism of the Dean is a bit unfair. From the e-mail we got (and of course I'm going from that, so I suppose it could be biased) it seems that what the Dean was objecting to was the methods behind the people that she was talking about. And I really do think she has a point. Going around defacing posters isn't freedom of speech; it's censorship. Going around putting up similar posters to confuse people about the real poster's intent is kind of underhanded and malicious. If the posters that were put up were in direct opposition to the original posters and made that obvious, that's one thing. But it's not fair to try to mudsling at someone from the shadows, and it really isn't fair to deface and take down posters (unless they're direct hate speech, and it's true, I don't think I saw any of the actual posters, so I may be unfairly biased). So while I am quite willing to listen to your condemnations of the subject matter of the posters, I don't think the criticism of Dean Braun's actions or the defense of the actions she was condemning is quite fair.

  • Soren Larson

    Oh please.

    If the "the all-too-predictable backlash" is predictable in that it involves defacing posters and maliciously posting similar posters meant to confuse, then the campus really is as intolerantly liberal as SYAF might want the average person to believe.

    If you want to claim that SYAF is extreme (a claim with which most would agree; I agree), that's fine. But it's ridiculous to claim that *because* their agenda is extreme (in the context of Swarthmore!) they don't deserve the administration's protection.

  • jack n

    I do not agree with SYAF, but taking down their signs is a cowardly act and replacing them with jokes is disrespectful. Neither of these actions represent your so-called open dialogue.

  • sense and sensibility

    It's hard for me to respect both Dean Braun's email and YAF's constructed victimization at Swarthmore seriously when clearly the organization's goals are "underhanded and malicious," based entirely on fear-mongering and finger-pointing, crafting a strict left/right binary.

    This is a group that is still actively fighting in the "War on Christmas," calls global warming "hot air," and encourages college students to celebrate the birthday of Ronald Reagan annually.

    Take a look at the YAF's "Campus Conservative Battleplan":

    # Remember those murdered in the September 11 terrorist attacks
    # Celebrate Freedom Week
    # Organize a No More Che Day
    # End divisive race-based programs on campus

    "Mudslinging" some of these campaigns by either mocking them or directly opposing them does not seem like censorship to me, especially if we respect the value of academic work to life praxis.

    We are Swarthmore students, and in the future I think we can resolve similar conflicts without a strangely pedagogical email intervention. As Ronald Reagan once said, "I don't believe in a government that protects us from ourselves."

  • Nina

    "We all also have the right to criticize and rectify speech that promotes harm, falsehood, and ignorance."

    How are we to objectively determine what constitutes "harm, falsehood, and ignorance"? Although I (and many or maybe even most Swatties) disagree with the SYAF's agenda, I could imagine a parallel scenario taking place at an institution with predominantly conservative values. At such an institution, if people took down or defaced posters promoting an organization promoting liberal values, would we criticize the administration's decision to raise a concern about these actions? Of course we wouldn't, because we would feel that those posters were promoting a just cause. But certain other communities would view those posters as promoting harm, falsehood, and ignorance.
    It's not as if the posters had a violent message, or were promoting hate speech. Taking them down is really just rude, and seems to propagate the stereotype that Swatties, although intellectual, are not open to considering different political ideas.

  • Colonel Graff

    To be honest, having a dean send out an email like this sort of de-legitmizes the group. I'm very interested in the controversy surrounding SYAF and the pains the administration has gone through to prop it up as an example of ideological diversity.

  • Danielle, ’14

    You folks attack YAF as unworthy of protection, deriding it as a radical group. What, though, do you find so radical? You never explicitly say. Is our focus on freedom what makes people anxious? Or our regard for the Constitution? Or our faith in the American dream for all people? It’s not enough to smear a group as conservative. Logical discourse requires you to quantify your criticisms.

    First of all, we are the Young America’s Foundation ( You waffle back and forth between calling us by our true title and the Youth American Foundation. This is slapdash journalism. Once again, no members of YAF have been contacted to elucidate what the group stands for. Apparently a shoddy Google search and ghostly allusion to being “traditional” is enough to make the campus community tremble in its boots.

    YAF members had no problem with the parody posters, except that they so closely resembled our originals that folks thought we actually endorsed the crazy concepts that those posters advertised, which I think was the intent of the anonymous students who posted them. Are you even aware of which ones are the originals and which are fakes? I suspect not, since the initial flyers have been completely removed from campus bulletin boards. Political satire usually doesn’t involve utterly silencing the original opinion.

    For the record, we did not "run to the administration". We tried to open up an anonymous StuCo meeting discussion on the idea of political diversity and got lambasted in the Daily Gazette when the newspaper decided not to treat YAF as a soon-to-be-chartered group and highlighted one individual who was not even at the meeting to defend herself. Dean Braun, rightly, opted to set the record straight.

    Obviously, the posters you've lifted from the YAF website are supposed to be viewed as inflammatory, but what's so wacky about them? It's true that some Swatties’ idea of "diversity" is often very narrow. I respect your flyers, why not respect the diversity of mine? If you respect diversity as much as you say, allow YAF members to peaceably coexist.

    Our president’s dismal approval rating was recently usurped by even the infamously unpopular George Bush. Last time I checked, Republicans grabbed the most House seats in modern memory. Yet a faction of students wants to say YAF can’t raise questions about tax policy without being cut at the knees?

    Just to be clear, in a nutshell, these are the ideas YAF embraces:

    SYAF works to cultivate the belief that liberty is indivisible, that political freedom cannot long prosper without economic freedom, that the Constitution of the United States is the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government to fulfill its proper role, and that when government interferes too aggressively in the lives of the people, it tends to reduce the moral, fiscal, and physical strength of the nation.

    We’re now officially chartered and concerned by the deficit and what we see as a total disregard for the constitution. It’s be refreshing, for instance, not to have our views censored. This is not hate speech. This is not violent speech. This is not flag-burning, nor some far-fetched KKK-styled fear mongering (these instances, though, are often protected under the Bill of Rights…). What this actually is are a group of Swarthmore-chartered students wanting to chat about history, taxes, foreign policy, and what diversity actually means. We’re in the process of bringing several speakers to campus and planning to attend CPAC in February.

    It’s too bad we evidently don’t make the cut for diversity and tolerance. Who, precisely, does? Let’s petition for some sanity—for every Swattie.

  • Rory McTear

    Dear James and William,

    I have two objections to what you have to say. First, you claim that “Dean Braun’s email represents the protection of extremism”. I would agree that in the eyes of the typical Swarthmore student, SYAF probably appears to be an extreme organization. I respect your difference of opinion, even though I find it hard to believe that an organization committed to promoting the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values could be deemed as “extreme”. In a nation in which 42% of Americans describe themselves as being conservative, compared to only 20% who describe themselves as being liberal, is a college group that supports conservative ideals really that extreme? (Source: Gallup June 25, 2010 Poll: In 2010, Conservatives Still Outnumber Moderates, Liberals) But alas, we do reside in the liberal bubble that is Swarthmore College, so forgive me thinking otherwise.

    Secondly, you claim that Dean Braun’s email represents “the silencing of attempts to address such ignorance”. Once again, I respect your opinion that SYAF stands for ignorance, even though I disagree with you. What I object to here is your condemnation of Dean Braun’s attempts to put an end to blatant censorship. I am appalled that defacing of posters and putting up cruel and confusing similar posters could be considered proper ways to “address such ignorance”. Who are the ones who are really being ignorant here? I applaud Dean Braun in efforts to ensure First Amendment rights for all, not just the majority.

    I appreciate your editorial and encourage students of all political ideologies to continue such political discussions. After all, even a wonderfully diverse school like Swarthmore could use a little more diversity.

    Rory McTear ‘13

  • Allison

    If you want to criticize the values of this group, that is one thing, but deciding that they're not allowed to have those values or express them is CENSORSHIP, which is probably not something that you want to support. This is a slippery slope deciding who's allowed to express their opinions on campus, and who's not. A lot of our liberal groups could be seen as very extreme on some campuses, but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be allowed to exist here or that their posters should be torn down.
    I am personally very liberal, but I think that part of what we like to think of as liberal values involves promoting free speech and allowing other opinions to be heard, as hard as it can be to listen to something one disagrees with. It is the sign of a truly open minded person to be able to appreciate others' values, even when you do not agree with them, and Swarthmore should be a place that fosters open mindedness.
    As you said in the article:
    "Open dialogue is hard when one side insists on presenting only extreme views." And it is also hard when you censor views that are outside of your comfort zone.

  • Gabriella

    "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." – Hall, Voltaire

    Do we have the right to parody? Yes. Do we have the right to counter? Absolutely. Was it appropriate for people to take down the SYAF posters? Absolutely not. And while we may have the right to do a lot of things that doesn't mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that they're always the intelligent, progressive or right thing to do.

    For those of you following at home, everyone in this dialogue supports, or at least claims to support, freedom of speech. But I think that we are 'conflating' freedom of speech and an attempt to "rectify" ignorance. Am I the only one seeing the severe contradiction inherent in this intent which is being masked under the pretense that you too have the right to freedom of speech? You're criticizing a group who put up posters that are going against predominant community beliefs, you defend not that group's right to free speech so much as the right of the individuals who were mocking them, and then you claim that such mockery is reaffirmed to be more legitimate because it is 'rectifying ignorance.' Since when is the distinction between right and wrong black and white? I think you would do a lot more for this overblown dialogue by proving why your beliefs are inherently 'more' right. That was SYAF's fundamental miscalculation upon their advertising they emphasized criticism as opposed to rationalizing their beliefs. Is there a reason why you have decided to take a similar approach? Has it gotten us anywhere?

  • Adriana Massi, 2012

    I'm pulling out the full name, for this one.

    Firstly, I'd like to thank James and William for pointing out the obvious, which I think is yet eluding some people: Dean Braun's email had nothing to do with free speech. I'm in complete agreement that even silly trash like the YAF posters deserve to remain hanging, provided they don't demonstrate hate speech {although I can fully understand how a poster which elides your identity into "American" could be received as an attack; in a much different vein, I find it problematic to equate socialist politics to violent, totalitarian politics}. However, parody and satire are absolutely protected under the First Amendment, and there's no law that says you have to include a "DISCLAIMER: JK JK" somewhere within the text. I think the points James and Will, as well as Sense and Sensibility, have made on the motive for her email make perfect sense.

    For those who think satire can be "malicious and under-handed," well, duh. That's sort of the point — it's comedy, having a laugh at someone who you disagree with or find absurd. Again, if the YAF posters can stand, I see no reason why their parodies shouldn't.

    Lastly, I feel like the "group" {since so far I've only heard of one member of this group, but if even one of you are gathered in my name, etc.} is accomplishing its goals right under our noses. For those of you unfamiliar with internet culture, let me post a helpful definition:

    "Troll, n. One who purposely and deliberately (that purpose usually being self-amusement) starts an argument in a manner which attacks others on a forum without in any way listening to the arguments proposed by his or her peers. He [or she] will spark such an argument via the use of ad hominem attacks (i.e. 'you're nothing but a fanboy' is a popular phrase) with no substance or relevance to back them up as well as straw man arguments, which he [or she] uses to simply avoid addressing the essence of the issue." Courtesy of and Volourn.

    Trolling is the only word that fits the behavior YAF and its members have displayed thus far. They? love volume. They? LOVE noise. There is no bad publicity. I have engaged in debate with one of the members on the Gazette; unfortunately, our conversation quickly devolved into ad homines and accusations of what I had said {that I hadn't actually said}. I responded to a similarly conservative column on the Phoenix about porn and have not yet received a reply to my queries.

    There is no substance behind YAF. There is no intellectual unf.

    Why are we still listening and, moreover, responding?

  • Love for all!

    Thank you so much James and William for saying what needed to be said.

    And Adriana – your post rocks.


  • Holden Caulfield


    As I have stated on other DG posts I understand your frustration and, quite honestly, feel just as strongly as you that this sort of reaction towards Dean Braun's email is ridiculous. However I must stress the points I have made in the past: 1) the Daily Gazette is not the forum by which to spread information about YAF 2) Attacking the Swarthmore community will not further your cause.

    You have repeatedly criticized the Daily Gazette and their reports on YAF group, yet you continuously rely on the newspaper's threads to promote your cause. Yes, take the time and defend YAF from ignorant comments made online, but you need to supplement such action by providing information to the student body in a physical, "real" manner. Fliers are a good first step – unfortunately they were not well-received – move forward and hold information sessions like SLAP or other political groups do and I believe you will be pleasantly surprised by the student body's willingness to listen.

    Swarthmore is an open and accepting community, but when something so new is brought forth in even the most welcoming of places, there will be a wide spectrum of reactions – that is what we are seeing here. What saddens me is that you seem to focus on these negative reactions (defending YAF from its detractors is one thing, but grouping all of the student body with those exhibiting irrational behavior is irrational in itself) rather than noticing the support you are receiving. Look at what Soren has written! The comments Rachel posted above! Those statements made by Phil (though he hasn't posted yet we can be sure we'll seem him later in the day). The community at large is readily and willing to hear new ideas. While most might not agree with YAF's platform, I think you will find that Swarthmore is not the aggressive, censoring, close-minded community you've suggested.

    When people lack information about a group they are curious about they are forced to learn on their own. I believe that is what has happened here. While you have stated YAF's core values and ideals, I believe most students are interested in the specifics and are confused or upset when they go to the YAF website and see the sort of posters tagged above. As an Black student I have to say I was offended by the poster criticizing the promotion of racial identities/diversity. If I am misinterpreting the poster's true message please tell me and I'd love to discuss my concerns/thoughts with you (just ask and I'll provide you my real name – I love "Catcher in the Rye" too much not to use my hero Holden as my moniker). But because I am left with only the information I see above or Ben Stein's video message when I go onto the YAF website, I am forced to draw my own conclusions about what the organization stands for when it comes to more specific issues.

    I can think of numerous groups on campus that wish to speak about "history, taxes, foreign policy, and what diversity actually means" – in fact many of these groups do so or were founded around such a call for such discussion. Please help me and the many other curious Swarthmore students understand what YAF's exact thoughts on those issues are. Start up a dialogue, hold open meetings, or sponsor discussion forums. While I understand that SYAF is just starting up, now that you are chatered I think you should focus on combating the ignorance we've seen from a small group of individuals by providing live informations. Posting fliers and the like – especially shock posters – is not the route to take if you wish people to take a newly founded group serious. Shock posters are intended to do just that, to shock those reading them and evoke a reaction. Now that we've seen that the reaction has not been conducive to garnering respect for YAF (though this is by no means your fault and I am certain most students would agree), why not move on to some other means of providing information?

    I write all this in an attempt to help – I support your efforts and abhor the behavior of those who ripped down your posters. With that said, those individuals acting irresponsibly do not represent Swarthmore or me, any more than they represent you.

  • Danielle, ’14

    Thanks, Holden. I'm sorry if it seems I've been relying on DG threads. In reality, SYAF has been holding meetings, going to events in the Mid-Atlantic area, and even respectfully attended SLAP's hotel workers' panel. I want to make it clear I am not implicating all Swatties is this little firestorm. I'm sorry if it sounded as if that was the case. I see the people who feel censorship of conservatism as alright as a fringe minority. I've found most Swatties to be moderate, curious people who value the Bill of Rights.

    I'm not sure why the folks who wrote this article chose those particular posters. But, the take-away message is that sometimes we're so concerned about our differences (i.e. ethnicity, country-of-origin, sexual orientation) that we lose sight of our common thread: that we are all students studying in America. This poster, and YAF in general, has never tried to silence minority groups. Not in the least. What it has attempted to do is criticize what it sees as divisive politics. It certainly wants people to be proud of their heritage, and it recognizes that this is an important component of identity. But is race all we see in people? Hopefully not. SYAF seeks to foster nuanced members of all walks of life who find common ground.

    Adriana–on what basis can you argue SYAF is anti-intellectual? We're not wing-nuts. We're just fiscal conservatives who think the road to freedom is smaller government. And, I assure you, SYAF is a group, not an individual, but honestly, do you think SYAF sympathizers feel comfortable expressing themselves when editorials like these appear and folks smear them as ignorant? As for the satire comment, I love satire. But when the parody-makers remove all of the original flyers and make it appear as if SYAF is against "human rights", then that gets sticky. Dean Braun wasn't saying parody-making is unconstitutional. What she was saying is that tearing down flyers and then tricking the campus into thinking of YAF as a radical association against "housing for all" is kind of malignant, don't you think? You said that if the real flyers stay up the satire ought to stay up. Sadly, the satirical flyers are the only ones still up. The real ones were gone within 24 hours. I'm sorry you think I'm a troll. Yeah, the posters were meant to catch your eye, but do you really believe wanting to engage in a respectful conversation about taxes (which is my goal) is trash? I'm disappointed this campus largely overlooked Veteran's Day and that apparently it's never ok to criticize our president. I'm disappointed wanting to honor those who were killed in the 9/11 attacks makes me a bigot. But I'm confident the majority of the student body can find common ground in all this. Let's hope so.

  • 2012

    The bottom line is that basically many Swarthmore students are unwilling to consider opinions that they do not share.

    Many of the same students who are sticking up for this "right to parody" are the same students who denounced the OOTA campaign a few years back, which parodied the NOTA campaign.

    And I take offense to what Adriana said. How the hell do YAF flyers, "purposely and deliberately (that purpose usually being self-amusement) starts an argument in a manner which attacks others on a forum without in any way listening to the arguments proposed by his or her peers. "

    Some people on campus are trying to express their voices, just as every Swarthmore student has a right to do so. Who are you to oppress these rights to them?

    It makes me wonder who the Troll really is.

  • 343

    "I'm disappointed wanting to honor those who were killed in the 9/11 attacks makes me a bigot."

    Yeah, Swarthmore, this may be a sidebar, but what is up with that?

  • Huzilla

    "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."

    James and William, do you think that taking down YAF's flyers solve this problem. Why not keep the flyers up and let your fellow Swatties decide for themselves if they find YAF ignorant and problematic?

  • Adriana Massi, 2012


    Firstly, I think you should check yourself on claiming identity politics are "divisive." As a queer, I would be DEEPLY offended if a poster went up that tried to elide my identity into "American." What the hell is an American identity? Within the mainstream discourses of this country, "the norm" is not black or queer or disabled. Some of us find strength in our identities and our communities; I've often found people who think we can just blindly lump people together {against their will, in my case} are speaking from a position of unexamined privilege.

    I believe SYAF {and I apologize for getting the name wrong} is anti-intellectual on the basis that I haven't seen anything intellectual offered yet, in a public way. I've engaged with you on the DG before, and it was pretty hysterical, honestly — and these posters are the same incendiary tactics that we see Glenn Beck {who would be an amazing comedian if he weren't actually serious} and other pundits utilize. I'm waiting for reasoned arguments based on actual and unbiased statistics, instead of hyperbolic claims and a quick shift to martyrdom when things aren't going smoothly.

    I think this campus is much more open to dialogue than you've implied, but you're missing the key word: dialogue. A respectful conversation about fiscal policy is not trash, but I'm not sure you can claim that's your goal when you mount campaigns with those kinds of flyers. In other words, you can't claim "respectful conversation" is your goal, currently. Also, beg pardon, but weren't the "socialism = Communism" ones yours? I thought I saw them within the very first day, but I could be mistaken.

    As to satire being mean, um, yup. You're essentially demanding for it to defy its own genre, if you want it to be polite and gloves-on. I personally love black satire, so you're not going to find an ally in me, here.

    I'm amused by your last three sentences chock-full of generalizations, particularly after your more moderate appeal above. Who overlooked Veterans' Day? Students or administration? The family I have who served didn't wish to celebrate it because they hated to be reminded of their wartime experiences {ie, maybe you should stop guessing at people's motives}. I am only ever around people who are criticizing our president, but they make their critiques based on fact/absence {ie, he goofed BP, and he's not been as good an ally to us queer folk as promised}. I also have no idea to what instance you're referring to re: being a bigot for honoring those who died on 9/11. Are you disappointed with individuals? Did Swarthmore administration call you a bigot? Are you actually correctly telling us the part you were called a bigot for {like supporting imperialist politics, as opposed to honoring the dead}?

    I'm more than happy to correspond by email/have a lunch with you if you'd like to discuss this further, but I unfortunately don't have an infinite amount of time for DG commentary.

  • Adriana Massi, 2012


    If you read all of my comment, you would see I critiqued SYAF's behavior in more instances than just the posters.

    However, even so —

    Do posters create dialogue? How do you respond to a poster but with another poster?

    I stand by that definition, although I can acknowledge it doesn't line up perfectly, based on what I've seen of this group so far.

  • Count St. Germain

    Did I really just read the sentence: "I'm disappointed wanting to honor those who were killed in the 9/11 attacks makes me a bigot."

    Seriously? I'll eat my words if there turns out to be some sort of legitimate story behind this invocation of the new Godwin's Law, but, as is, this just looks foolish. I have no idea what you're talking about here, Danielle. What?

  • alum

    Ugh, maybe it's that I'm old, but you all need to settle down. The dean isn't protecting 'extremism'. Tearing down posters is counterproductive. This group may be a part of a national organization, but it will be made up of Swatties, so I doubt very much it will lack 'intellectual unf'. That being said: Danielle, if you want this group to be anything but an exercise in angry futility, you need to represent it better. These posters don't have anything to do with fiscal conservatism, they are intellectually dishonest and basely nativist. Call the left fiscally irresponsible. Call them out of touch with American values. But don't call them Stalinists and for goodness sake, don't strip people of their identities. It's really not okay.

  • Dougal Sutherland

    I'd like to clear up one thing that it seems some people might be confused about.

    This article is an opinions piece. It in no way represents the opinion of the Gazette, and it is not indented to be journalistic reporting. It's just what James and William think. So saying "This is slapdash journalism. Once again, no members of YAF have been contacted to elucidate what the group stands for." is completely irrelevant.

    If SYAF wants to publish their own opinions piece — and indeed, the DG has reached out to them asking if they want to — it would be welcome. And if we do end up writing an actual news article involving SYAF (as opposed to a report on what StuCo discussed in a meeting or an opinions piece), it will make all reasonable efforts to get comments from people on all sides of the issues.

  • Timothy Burke

    You know, there are some fairly serious, intellectually substantive debates within academia about propositions like "actually existing socialism has amounted to or led to totalitarian or authoritarian rule" or "identity politics can have divisive effects or distract from some other more important political challenge". (Say, Walter Benn Michaels for the latter.) So if saying that these are problematic assertions means they are worth debating, ok; if this is meant as a suggestion that only someone beyond the academic pale would ever make such an argument, maybe not so much.

    As for the general question being discussed here. I'm no fan of the YAF as an national organization, having previously criticized their poorly-researched, intellectually thin attacks on curricular designs in higher education.

    However, I have to ask in terms of James and William's essay: are they or other students proposing that the normal standard for campus discourse should henceforth be that satire, mockery and maybe even removal of posters or other material with which you disagree is generally legitimate? I think you can make a reasonable sort of free-speech-to-the-max argument that speech on campus should be no-holds-barred, rough-and-tumble, anything goes, and that no one in an authority position should ever get involved in censuring or discouraging any speech act by any student or student group.

    However, if so:

    a) anyone taking that position really ought to not to complain in the future if they are mocked, satirized or have their materials defaced or removed. Because to complain that what was good for the goose is not good for the gander means that what you really meant the first time around was "if someone else is wrong, it's ok to say or do anything about that person being wrong; it's not ok to say or do anything to those of us who are not wrong."


    b) I hope the pro-anything goes folks won't argue in the future that Swarthmore's culture is marked by some special regard for civil disagreement, "Quaker values" or similar constructions, because they pretty much left those ideas behind in arguing for a rough-and-tumble approach to political argument on campus.

  • D

    Not that it matters all that much, but the satire posters are contrary to the college's postering/chalking policies (sent out in an email by Myrt Westphal on August 28, presumably available elsewhere as well):

    "Postings need to be 'signed' with an organization or individual name."

    (Somehow I doubt that putting someone else's name that has nothing to do with it counts as 'signing.')

  • Aaron

    Isn't this all a little… sanctimonious and self indulgent? I mean, does anyone care that this group exists anyways? Or any other college group? Isn't this the pre-real world practice that trains our youth. Does membership in the YAF or SDS ever contribute to policy? I mean, a bake sale aimed at raising money for a Reagan memorial or Obama campaign wont ever match the revenues generated by, well, larger bake sales. But who knows. Um, this seems like criticism on criticism and on. Swarthmore is an academic institution, not the political battlefield we all envision it to be. So, if you are going to bake a lot of cookies, just eat them.

  • Get out of the kitchen

    If SYAF "respectfully attended" the hotel workers' panel organized by SLAP, I guess the organization only consists of two first-year students–one who posts extensively on the DG and another who is behind the column in the Phoenix. Is that true? If not, please represent your organization accurately.

    At that panel, when one of these individuals essentially suggested that what the hotel workers were saying held little validity near the end, I felt that her presence was actually disrespectful.

    That disrespect, however, is far from isolated to one event; it's reflected in the posters that this two-person organization put up around campus (along with others on, which largely criticize and attack others' beliefs. Harmless posters that simply promoted SYAF's goals or discussion topics with a meeting time and place would hardly have elicited such a strong, negative response from so many students. Attacking others' views with those insulting posters was throwing the first stone. If you can't take the heat…

  • LOL

    ^ The above comment shows the ignorance of some Swarthmore. Clearly, just because there are only two conservatives I know on campus, they must be the only two members of SWAF.

    Can someone explain to me how these posters are MORE harmful than other posters put on campus? Keep in mind, that some of the other advertisements more liberal groups on campus have put up, including during coming out week and the NOTA campaign among others.

  • Tyler ’14

    I just want to clarify that SYAF is not just two first-year students. Danielle and I are both members and we had many more at our meeting last night. And, even if it was just two people, that does not give anyone the right to take down posters and make unsigned parodies (which are against campus policy) in order to spread false information about our group. We had the integrity to sign every poster we put up.

    I also want to mention that the posters included in this ridiculous editorial which essentially advocates censorship were not put up on the Swarthmore campus. We felt that since there are many international students and people with different backgrounds that the "American" label may not fit on our campus.

    When I read this editorial, I was thinking how this is Swarthmore. I am a little perturbed that this editorial implies that because I hold a different political point of view than the authors that I am some racist bigot for being part of SYAF. I can tell you that I have many friends here from all over the world and they think this editorial is absurd.

    I respect your right to say what you have said but I disagree with your attack on Dean Braun. She is simply trying to uphold Swarthmore's mission to create a community of diverse people and opinions. What is wrong with that?

  • The Conscious of a Conservative

    This is getting kind of awesome. No longer confined to the Swarthmore bubble:

  • Jordan

    Is attacking a Swarthmore group based on some views of its national chapter legitimate? On these grounds, would we have to ban SDS because in the past SDS members have committed acts of domestic terrorism? Or fraternities because some of their national brethren have done or said stupid things?

    If you have a problem with what SYAF advocates, that's fine. But engage with what Swarthmore-YAF says, not what you find on a quick search of the YAF website. There are legitimate arguments against SYAF's positions. Saying that the national organization has put out some potentially divisive posters is not one of the them.

    I would, at the same time, encourage SYAF to not reach for the most extreme argument in the future. The poster that said "progressive" causes had murdered 100 million people in the last century is not constructive engagement. Instinctively calling Obama's policies socialist/communist/fascist is not constructive. Saying that liberals/Democrats/progressives don't care about the budget deficit is disingenuous. If you have a problem with current policies, people will respect that if you make reasoned arguments to support your position. They may not agree with you, but they will probably respect your right to hold the position.

  • Holden Caulfield

    Actually I'd love to celebrate Reagan's Birthday at Swat…Feb. 6 (it's mine and Babe Ruth's too haha)

  • OhWow

    SYAF really is trolling! They got this ish (with full editorial name disclosure, TASTEFUL!) on the national YAF website.

    Now let's really let the games begin…

  • D

    It is at least somewhat legitimate to criticize SYAF based on the views of the national organization. They chose to become a chapter of YAF rather than, say, the College Republicans or just their own organization, and in fact chose to do so quite recently.

  • and I don’t mean Ruth

    With effigies and kerosene? Respectful engagement here I come!

  • Sarah Palin

    I know who took my flyers down. It's amazing what I can see from my house….

  • ’11

    Two things:

    I absolutely agree with Jordan here:

    "If you have a problem with what SYAF advocates, that's fine. But engage with what Swarthmore-YAF says, not what you find on a quick search of the YAF website. There are legitimate arguments against SYAF's positions. Saying that the national organization has put out some potentially divisive posters is not one of the them."

    I also wanted to say that I have had this feeling in classes and seminars before. I think it is much broader than his point implies here. All too often are students willing to say that a person's argument (often times conservative) is invalid because of who the person is. I am a liberal by all means. Yet, I would wish people on this campus take an opinion or argument serious regardless of its author.

    Also, I love Prof. Burke's argument.

  • Peter ’11

    "However, parody and satire are absolutely protected under the First Amendment, and there's no law that says you have to include a "DISCLAIMER: JK JK" somewhere within the text." – Adriana

    There are no laws against saying you have to include "Disclaimer: JK JK," but there absolutely ARE laws against libel and, especially relevant here, false impersonation. Democrats can't run commercials purporting to be from Republicans and talking about how executing prisoners is fun. Coke can't run Pepsi ads about how Pepsi hates babies and puppies. Same deal.

    The counter-posterers would have to prove that confusion between their posters and the others would not be made. I know I absolutely saw one of the parody ads and thought they represented the actual opinions of SYAF. Of course this may be because SYAF's actions so far have occasionally verged toward SELF-parody, but that's besides the point.

    If we take the poster take-downs and the fake ads as a single coordinated act (if these weren't done by mostly the same people, correct me), it makes no sense to call the fake ads satire or parody. These forms thrive on the existence, in common culture, of the object of the parody. Otherwise there's nothing to satirize. Thus, I read rapidly taking down the original posters and putting up knockoffs as an act closer to vandalism than parody. And as an editor of the comedy magazine, I am obviously not against parody.

    Also, please stop calling SYAF (I'm speaking about the Swarthmore branch, not the larger organization) "extreme." It belies a depressingly limited view of the range of opinions that exist outside of Swarthmore.

  • Adriana Massi, 2012

    Hey, Peter,

    I actually didn't know that we had a rule prohibiting not signing posters. Obviously, the parodies are then inappropriate under our college policies. To be fair to whomever posted them, I had no idea that was a rule either.

    In other words, well said, sir.

  • Jordan

    @Peter re: "extreme"

    By reaching for the extreme argument I was referring to the 100 million dead poster in particular. I think that most of SYAF's actual political views, while certainly conservative, probably don't meet the definition of extreme. But by claiming that progressives had killed 100 million people in the last century, it's not so hard to think that their other views might be equally unusual. In the US, the "liberal progressive" movement has very little relation to Stalin's or Pol Pot's policies of mass extermination, no matter that all three self identify or could be labeled as progressive.

  • James Mao

    Against the general line of argument pointing out that Dean Braun’s email simply asked the (not-quite) parody-makers to desist with their borderline libelous and certainly vandalizing behavior, I would like to make two quick points: first, that in light of the rule against posting unmarked or falsely marked flyers, I will gladly concede the point. These unknown individuals are in the wrong.

    Second, however, the point isn’t really mine to concede. In general, I don’t support censorship, nor does the op-ed explicitly condone censorship. The op-ed expresses skepticism about the appropriateness of the administration’s intervention—admittedly, primarily because of SYAF and what it stands for. But also because of how it chooses to stand for its values.

    In my view, the main issue is that a new student organization waltzed in with a highly provocative and, yes, dangerous message, and then, as similarly explosive retaliatory attempts were launched, the administration felt the need to defend the organization. I suppose I am only addressing Soren here, since he was the only one of the dissenters to jump to the point.

    So does SYAF’s extreme agenda alone disqualify them from protection from the administration? Of course not. But take that extreme agenda in conjunction with SYAF’s deceptive and deliberate tactics, then I would yes with no hesitation. At risk of sounding trite (and what do I have to lose, really – thinks I’m a shoddy writer already), if you’re going to play with fire, you had better be ready to get burned.

    It’s interesting to me that SYAF is still pretty successfully perpetuating the myth that it’s this pitiable voice of reason in the midst of intolerant madness. “We're just fiscal conservatives who think the road to freedom is smaller government,” says Danielle. “We just want an innocuous little “conversation about taxes (which is my goal)”! Then you chose the wrong organization to align yourself with. As D says in post #35, SYAF chose its own affiliation. Since it just formed recently (as Danielle attests to), and I’m fairly certain SYAF members can use Google in just as lazy a manner as they’ve accused me of doing, they would have known that what YAF promotes is more than just innocent chats about taxes. “Campus Conservative Battleplan” is more like it. “End divisive race-based programs on campus” is more like it. Courtesy of

    So no, I’m going to continue associating SYAF with YAF. As people have pointed out, Danielle and crew had plenty of options to choose from. The fact that they chose this bigoted organization as their affiliation of choice speaks volumes.

    It speaks volumes about the danger agendas like this presents. “[T]he posters you've lifted from the YAF website are supposed to be viewed as inflammatory, but what's so wacky about them?” Danielle asks. There’s nothing “wacky” about it. There’s just something deeply disturbing, the sort of disquiet that you feel when somebody else tells you that because you are recognizing that your background presents to you challenges that those who have been fortunately privileged and those who are socially advantaged could never imagine, that because you identify with your struggles and the struggles of those whose heritage or socioeconomic background you share, that because you know that even though there are those who pretend the American dream is equally attainable for all now – that by identifying with these things, you are participating in “divisive” race politics.

    And you know what, all that would be fine. Ignorance isn’t a crime. But when an organization presents its agenda so aggressively and starts equating totalitarianism with progressivism (oh, yes, I definitely know these weren’t parodies: Week Flier), then I think they lose all right to claim that they are innocently promoting open dialogue. They are coming in with a fixed mindset. They are going to panels and telling the panelists that no, your hotel worker experience is not valid. They are putting up the death toll of Mao’s China and equating that to the policies of American left wing, and then they act surprised when people are being “intolerant.”

    And when they do that, they forfeit all rights to protection by the administration.

    I know what you’re thinking – you’re thinking, James, you’re such a hypocrite! You have a fixed mindset too! You’re right, I do. The administration can withhold my protection from censorship too. I’m not going to pretend to have such a rigid moral compass like some of the commenters here apparently do. Of course censorship is wrong – of course vandalism is wrong. But SYAF appeared on the scene with guns blazing, loaded with its affiliation and its reductionist arguments, and inexplicably claimed that it wanted to start an open dialogue. So far I haven’t seen anything from its members, beyond deceptive comments in the Gazette, that would constitute open dialogue.

    So make me a liar, SYAF. Hold these open dialogues. Quit running to higher authorities, whether it’s editorial staff (a class act, by the way, except the complete opposite) or our admirable administration (seriously, with the amount of bickering that they put up with from all of us). Let’s “chat about taxes.” Leave your posters at home.

    Oh, and just in case: this post represents my views alone.

  • Jelayna Stephens

    I decided to stop lurking in this forum and make an account for the sole purpose of saying that post #42 beautifully and wonderfully and magically represents my views as well. Way to go James


  • Phil Chodrow


    I think that your previous comment (#42) displays important insights in a number of ways. However, it also suggests to me that you might be misreading the point of Dean Braun and your critics on the Gazette. I think the most important point to be made here is that there is no way in which the administration has “defended” or “protected” SYAF. Dean Braun’s email was to voice a neutral concern, that students were vandalizing and unfairly representing the views of other students. Full stop. The administration has not supported SYAF with reference to its views or to any other aspect of the organization. It has simply expressed to the student body that SYAF is an organization of fellow students, which deserves the respect implied thereby. Anything less would have been procedurally unfair, no matter what the group had been espousing.

    Do I disagree with many of the substantive points which SYAF might be arguing? I haven’t seen a substantive statement from them, but the answer will likely be “yes.” Do I disagree with the ways in which members of SYAF have sought to further their views on campus? Yes.

    But to argue against SYAF by claiming that they have been extended non-existent “protection” from the administration is not acceptable. They have received only the recognition from the administration worthy of any other student group, the recognition that our peers at Swarthmore are owed the duties of civility. I hope that the administration persists in its recognition, and that we as Swarthmore students will persist with it.


  • Argos

    lol butthurtz
    lol internets

  • Adriana Massi, 2012

    It's not truly a contentious Gazette thread until Argos appears. <3

  • Bob Dole

    1) I'm with you there, Adriana. I love Argos.

    2) Now, I like sleeping, so I haven't read the entire thread here. Some of the longer posts I just skimmed. But I think one of Danielle's early comments got overlooked:

    "This is not flag-burning, nor some far-fetched KKK-styled fear mongering (these instances, though, are often protected under the Bill of Rights…)."

    Really, Danielle? I'm sure some KKK speeches and propaganda are protected under the 1st Ammendment. But as was mentioned in one of the many DG threads about SYAF, threats are not protected speech. Nooses in a tree ( are not protected speech or demonstration. Burning crosses in people's yards are not protected speech or demonstration. And I'm pretty sure lynching is illegal too. So when you apparently defend the KKK's tactics, you worry me. I don't want hate crimes at Swat.

    3) Three examples of why I am frightened by YAF, and, by extension, the current "conservative" movement:

    i) Quote from the YAF wikipedia page: 'In 2000, before a speech given by conservative Michelle Easton, fliers were passed out reading: “What does a woman REALLY want? Husband. Children. Picket Fence.”'
    Those flyers were passed out by the YAF. I think this one speaks for itself.

    ii) From the YAF Mission statement: "Young America's Foundation is committed to ensuring that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values."
    Traditional values. That means queer people are evil, or something like that, right? Danielle, have you met any queer folk here at Swat? How do you feel about them? Because I know a bunch and I like them just the way they are. I don't really see how promoting "traditional values" is different from being racist.
    Actually, when I think about it, owning slaves was kind of a tradition, right?

    iii) This page right here:
    Every single one of the YAF's "Top Conservative Colleges" is associated with some branch of Christianity. So if I may borrow a phrase from Johannes Climacus, let's play a thought-game…
    Suppose, for a moment, that I am ardently conservative. I wish to attend University with my peers, and I wish to make new friends who will share my political inclinations. So I hop on over to the handy list of Top Conservative Colleges. "Hey, this is great!" I tell myself, "I can't wait to meet all these like-minded individuals and… oh, crap."
    Because we have also supposed that I am Jewish.
    From what this list has told me, one must be a Christian to be conservative. And maybe I'm intolerant for this, but… I just can't stand for that.

  • Enlace Member


    Why didn't the administration stand up for Enlace when its own posters were defaced and ridiculed and taken down?

    just saying.

  • GR

    I absolutely hate it when people play the guilt by association game. You are affiliated with YAF, so I will hold you responsible for everything anyone in this organization has previously said and done. They could totally play this game in reverse, it is really easy: "Oh, you are a Democrat. OMG, Clinton got a BJ from his secretary. Rangel doesn't care about ethics rules. Hence, you must be a cheater too!" No doubt, the scope in these two examples is a bit different and I am willing to concede that right away.

    My point is that this guilt-by-association game has two effects:
    1. It automatically undermines any point you are making because it screams "I can't argue against your views and/or actions effectively because I am either unwilling to listen to you or because my arguments aren't really that good."
    2. It fosters an environment totally unconducive to a serious discourse.

    Come on, Swatties – we are better than that! Let's cut out the mudslinging. Personally, I think conservatives are dumb. But, the way I see it, I will listen to their (be it a person or a group) arguments, maybe even brush aside a poster that is insensitive (probably because they were trying to raise attention and controversy, not because they wanted to be spiteful), go back to my room, eat my bag lunch, come back with counterarguments and show them why they are wrong.

    That's what I understand meaningful discourse to be. The real world might not be like this, but I am more than sure that we are smart enough for it.

  • Oh Snap!

    #42, Thank you James.
    #48. Speak the mother f**ing truth!

  • Bob Dole

    Very well, GR. If you want to ignore the "guilt-by-association game" I apparently played, please do so. But my first (ok, second, the Argos bit was first) argument — that Danielle believes the KKK's fear mongering is largely protected by the Bill of Rights — stands.

  • GR

    Although my comment was not directed at anyone in particular, I have to reply to Bob Dole:

    That's another strategy to shoot down meaningful conversation: Pick the worst thing they say and pick it apart. Don't we all say something insensitive every once in a while? Don't we all get heated up and wish we could take it back every now and then?

    Yeah, Beck, Cheney, Limbaugh, Gingrich, Palin, etc. scare the crap out of me. But I don't equate Danielle with them. Neither am I willing to read her (unfortunate and awkward and insensitive and call-it-whatever-you-want) point out of the context she meant it in.

  • Bob Dole

    Sounds fair. To be fair, I don't equate Danielle with the crazies you mentioned either — or at least I won't until she says she agrees with them wholeheartedly or something.

    I am concerned by just mistakenly condoning the KKK though. That's a serious thing for me. So, Danielle, if you want to take it back, please do. Just say "I take it back." Until then, I'll keep worrying.

  • Peter ’11

    Enlace Member:

    Nothing in that extremely long comments thread (that I can find) indicates that any of the Enlace posters were taken down. All I see is some indication that Olde Club posters were taken down, though Enlace said they agreed not to do that. If Enlace posters were taken down, I guess Enlace should've made a bigger stink about it.

    As for vandalized, there was writing on the posters but it seemed to respond to the poster's message, without obscuring the original text too much. Responding in a separate poster would have been more polite, and I certainly see how one could construe this action as vandalism, but I would personally argue that (in the case of disposable printed speech, not property), addition writing from a clearly separate source would itself count as free speech, rather than vandalism or defacement. That's just my opinion.

    And James:
    It seems like you're admitting that your argument against deans condemning poster-takedowns/parodies is an emotional, rather than rational argument of principles. I'm glad our deans have more discretion.

    That said, you do have rational arguments about SYAF (and I seriously hope the thumbs ups on your comment were for those, and not the other stuff). I think there are many better ways to voice these arguments than taking down posters. The rules of civil society exist for a reason, and they go both ways.

  • S


    At the risk of resurrecting a dead debate (although it seems you've already taken that step), I don't suppose it could have anything to do with the ad hominem (and I am using this term literally) attacks posted (and signed) by Enlace, directly slandering the students in charge of Olde Club? The posters that, in fact, had no purpose other than to attack those students? I mean, at least SYAF's posters thought they were contributing to a discussion.

  • Ali

    I wasn’t going to step in on this one, since a lot of people far more articulate than myself are saying everything I’d want to say. But there seems to be a slight factual confusion that I believe needs some clarification.

    Danielle said that some KKK-styled fear mongering has been protected under the BoR. I don’t see how this is her condoning the KKK or their actions, as she has since been accused of doing. Rather, she is stating the simple fact the Supreme Court has held that “the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” This quote in fact comes from Brandenburg v Ohio, a case about a KKK rally that was extraordinarily creepy, but within the realms of what the court has deemed constitutional. Read about it on Wikipedia or Oyez, or read the Oyez summary of the holding, as quoted below:

    “The Court's Per Curiam opinion held that the Ohio law violated Brandenburg's right to free speech. The Court used a two-pronged test to evaluate speech acts: (1) speech can be prohibited if it is "directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action" and (2) it is "likely to incite or produce such action." The criminal syndicalism act made illegal the advocacy and teaching of doctrines while ignoring whether or not that advocacy and teaching would actually incite imminent lawless action. The failure to make this distinction rendered the law overly broad and in violation of the Constitution.”

    I hate fear-mongering as much as most of us do. But Danielle was merely stating a fact, and shouldn’t be attacked for it. That makes all of us look worse.

  • Dougal Sutherland

    If you haven't seen it elsewhere, SYAF published a response to this article and its comments:

  • hmmm

    Dear Adriana Massi, 2012,

    As a minority queer myself, I don't think I am speaking from a position of unexamined privilege when I say that I don't need to be near the norm to feel like I can identify myself as an American. Though obviously there is discrimination abound, I would rather fight it from a spot within a society. Being disgusted by the notion of being "American" implies we can't hold that spot in society and I am disgusted by your view in that regard. I'm queer, part of a minority, and I'm American. I don't need to be designated as a queer minority American to feel at ease – American is just fine!


    As a concerned Swattie, I would love to tell you all my side of the argument, but am humble enough to know others can speak better for me. As a result, please see this man's comments, which personally and convincingly touch on so many points of our current argument:

  • Adriana Massi, 2012

    Hey, Hmmm,

    I'm glad for you?

    Your position/comfort level does not speak to everyone's, does not dictate everyone's. To each their own.

    And you're right. I'm disgusted with the mainstream discourse. We could talk about why somewhere else.

    If I provoke such strong emotion in you, please feel free to use my first name. ;D

  • Offended

    I'm sorry, but I lost all respect for this group when they compared liberals to Josef Stalin, a man that contributed to the mass murder of over 700,000 people. I come from rural conservative America. The situation in my town is just at the opposite extreme if not more so than Swarthmore's campus. Not even they could have gotten away with such comments without an enormous backlash.

    Definitely being more conservative than most liberals on Swarthmore's campus, I sympathized with the reaction to SYAF's posters, that is, until I read this comment. Good luck winning back the respect of the students at Swarthmore. You definitely won't win back mine.

  • Rachael Mansbach ’11

    I have to say, I'm incredibly disturbed that someone just said that "traditional values" were evil. I happen to be a traditionalist myself. Does this mean that I think that "queer folk are evil"? God, no! Why in the nine hells would I think that? Where can you possibly come off telling me that because I happen to believe in listening to traditional wisdom (no, not all the time, no, I don't believe everything everyone has said in the past hundred years, before someone jumps down my throat, yes, I am a feminist) I must be a horrible bigot? Not cool.

  • Will

    Oh man. GOOPER, you got me in the middle of class. Congrats.

  • Rachael Mansbach ’11

    Oh, also, if I "hated queer folk" my bi, Catholic flatmate and I would be having problems.

  • Clara Gordon ’11

    Regarding the second YAF poster: what's a leftsist?

  • Emperor Norton

    Hi there! I just finished spending almost two hours reading this editorial's comments and unexpectedly listening to Rick Astley (Well done, Sir). Since I've done that, I might as well expound my own opinions, eh? Or at least the bits that I haven't just read a thousand times.

    1) Everybody, it's important to stay calm. Don't think you're being insulted personally. And I felt lumped into several groups while reading comments, so try not to make people feel like that, 'k? Don't say things like X=Y. (ex. traditional=anti-gay, progressive=Stalin) I know this wasn't people's intention. So, while writing, beware the words 'is' and 'like'!

    2) I am glad that the Swarthmore Conservatives have changed their name from the SYAF. I tend to divide those I disagree with politically into two groups: sensible people whom I can debate politics with (and maybe even come to some agreements) and… others. People who will probably shout at me and call me names if I try to disagree with them. The YAF strikes me as in the second category, especially after their response to this editorial (an editorial, for the record, I disagreed with – alleged radicalism is not an exception to free speech). By changing their name, the SC are, in my mind, dissociating themselves from the YAF and thus placing themselves in group #1: the sensible people group.

    9) Although I myself do not agree with their views, I'm actually feeling a bit more comfortable now that the SC exists. I was starting to feel creeped out by being in a majority.

    By the way, while reading these posts, I was literally eating popcorn and cheering everyone on.

  • Un Hombre Sincero


    You've already destroyed your reputation here. Congratulations.

  • 100 million, really?

    Why were you admitted here in the first place, Danielle? Judging by your posters you're not particularly intelligent or open to new ideas. Do we have some pro-conservative affirmative action policy?

  • Soren Larson

    Woah guys. Personal attacks are not welcome on the Gazette or anywhere else.

  • Timothy Burke

    Even if you believe in no-holds-barred discussion with no institutional interference (and to make my earlier point more directly, I think very few of the students posting in this thread would be prepared to forgo asking for administrative or faculty support if your own causes or communities were strongly criticized or attacked), I think #67 and #68 cross some other kind of line.

  • serenity now!

    This is what makes me hate Swarthmore.

    Can we please have more missed connections instead?

  • Rachael Mansbach ’11

    I love you, Emperor Norton!

  • your missed mage

    Re: serenity now!,

    You sound like you're in need of a little love. Check out today's RSD. Methinks I've got a *magical* solution for you 😉

  • Peter ’11

    My favorite part of people's arguments that I've gleaned here and especially from speaking with people is that they think it's ridiculous to grant SYAF/SC any rights because they're just one or two people.

    Like…really? Did Swarthmore College just decide it's ok to hate on people because they're minorities??

    Do people ever think to substitute words/groups and then see how their arguments (irrespective of their feelings toward particular groups) stand up in a different context? Because they probably should.

  • liberace

    Can someone please seriously expound upon conservatism's "traditional values"? What exactly are they? Please don't say "family, security, etc." because I also value those things, but I do not identify in any way with conservatism.

    A list that details traditional values would help add some much-needed clarification to that sector of the debate. For instance, I was always under the impression that anti-homosexuality was a traditional value. Enlighten me, please.

  • Chris Wickham

    I was actually interested by Liberace's question, and did some research (Google, Wikipedia, Conservapedia, the usual). I found the major lobbying group for 'Traditional Values' in Congress, namely the 'Traditional Values Coalition'. While this may not represent the Swarthmore Conservatives (and I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt), it probably does represent the views of a lot of Conservative America, as well as the views of a lot of Conservative politicians, since it's involved with them every day. In other words, this organization is legit, and probably a pretty authoritative voice on what 'traditional values' really are.

    Fortunately for Liberace and I, they define 'traditional values' right on their website. Here goes:

    Looks like Liberace wasn't so off.

  • Adriana Massi, 2012

    I'm really not sure where Rachel's comments re: traditional values as not entirely backwards and oppressive were coming from. "Traditional values" has a pretty specific connotation in America and is used by numerous socially conservative groups.

    If you're trying to reclaim it or identify yourself by it, you should know that and be ready to expound upon what it means to you.

    Also, Rachel, the "I HAVE A ___ FRIEND, SO I COULDN'T BE ___" argument usually comes up when the person is in fact advocating a ___ position. See: the Sarah Palin v. Joe Biden debate {"I HAVE A GAY FRIEND, SO I LIKE GAY PEOPLE, OTHER THAN WHEN I DENY THEM THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS"}.

  • Emperor Norton

    The issue is many who identify themselves as 'traditional' have different interpretations of what traditionalism means. This is also the case for all other politically-styled adjectives that can be made into -isms. See also: progressivism, liberalism, rationalism, feudalism. Nobody has an authoritative voice on what these values truly are because nobody can speak for everyone. Therefore, a list of such values is impossible.

    It is foolish to assume someone has certain views because you look up a word on the Internet. The views of whoever wrote that webpage can be quite different. By following this route, you are effectively telling someone what they believe in and then condemning them for it. Asking somebody to change the word by which they identify themselves is also foolish. I will stand by my title of Emperor despite the many emperors throughout history whom I cannot support.

    Oh, and by the way, Conservapedia is not a valid source for anything, including conservative beliefs, as it's written mostly by trolls mocking Andy Schlafly.

    I'm out of popcorn.

  • Adriana Massi, 2012

    Emperor Norton,

    I would still maintain "traditional values" DOES have a very certain connotation/set of meanings in our society. You may not be able to pin every individual tenet down, but it's ridiculous to claim that it has no meaning or very individualized meanings when it's thrown around all the time in journalism and mock-journalism {Fox News} and people can engage in discussion around it without clarification.

  • lcarde1

    I was just poking about the yaf website and came across a guide to some top conservative colleges for students:

    This in particular really stuck out to me:

    "These colleges offer an alternative to the liberal status quo, because they allow and encourage conservative students to explore conservative ideas and authors…

    Furthermore, they avoid trends in academe by continuing to study Western Civilization instead of straying toward the study of Marxism, feminism, sexuality, postmodernism, and other distractions that do not give students a complete understanding of our country, our culture, and its founding principles."

    I'm not sure what to make of this, and maybe I'm incorrect in the way I'm thinking about this but, if Swarthmore is supposed to be a place that should contain a wide range of ideas, perspectives, and beliefs, then how does an organization like yaf promote just the opposite…

    I didn't know that postmodernism, gender/sexuality courses, and feminism were "distractions". Also, the study of Western Civilization? …vague. And really insensitive and close-minded, I think, in regard to the rest of the world and the various people and cultures that make up the U.S in particular. I can't help but think of this flyer:

    and feel incredibly … offended that my identity should just be erased and defined as "American" when Filipino, Mexican, Queer, First-Gen. college student, and other such markers are so very important to me. Token Asian on the poster isn't diversity–it just a way to lump the Asian-American experience together as if it is/was the same narrative without any respect to where we all come from.

    Thoughts on this? Can anyone clarify? This is off topic, based on the main points of the conversation here, but I just wanted to know. Feel free to troll or ignore or flame, but there it is.

  • Maddie

    Thank you James and William for your editorial!!

  • Chris Wickham

    So what are you saying? Are progressivism, liberalism, rationalism, and feudalism inherently indefinable (and therefore meaningless) terms, just because people disagree about them? I think that's pretty foolish. I'm pretty sure I added enough caveats to intimate that I didn't have any idea if this website represented the Swarthmore Conservatives. However, going to the website of arguably the most prominent 'traditional values' federal lobby is just about the closest one will get to closely understanding how the term 'traditional values' is used broadly by those that identify as 'traditional values' politicians, if not the broader conservative public. And that's what Liberace was asking for.

    I admit it's not perfect, but that's a pretty decent standard as definitions go. I'd rather have an imperfect definition then say "Oh well, I say this, you say that, political discourse is meaningless anyways." And the conservapedia thing was sort of a joke, I think the site is hilarious. If you get more popcorn, and you have a decent sense of humor about this sort of thing, look up "the Homosexual Agenda". I had no idea we were so powerful.

  • lcarde1


    I just want to add my thanks to James, like others above have done, for expressing his views in point #42.

  • DC


    I know this is off the topic of the original conversation, but I just wanted to respond to your comment.

    Yes, it seems that YAF does not encourage discussion of a wide range of ideas concerning ideas like postmodernism. I wouldn't say that the study or even the emphasis on Western civilization is close-minded and insensitive. I think that everyone who graduates from college should have a general idea of the history of Western civilization. It's not as though Marxism is completely separate from Western civ, as the YAF quotation seems to suggest. As I see it, one reason the study of Western civilization is encouraged is that, while all of us do not stem from Europe, yet the language, the culture, and the politics of the society we live in stem from there.

    And yes, it is definitely offensive to erase all the aspects of how people view themselves, except for the label "American." I haven't done enough research, but what I've read suggests that the conservative organization tries to erase or at least neglect the diversity of concepts and ideas that many of us find so important to not only how we view the world in general but also how we view ourselves and other people.

    I'm glad SYAP is changing to Swarthmore Conservatives (but I thought that was already a group?).
    As for the original topic for discussion, I think the writers of this opinion piece have taken Dean Braun's e-mail way too seriously. The impression I've gotten from the e-mail was that Dean Braun wants to encourage respectful debate, and that removing posters does nothing to encourage good, rational debate on important topics.

    Much of the argument in the opinion piece was based on the extreme (I think most of us can agree that extreme is the right word) position reflected in the posters, but the point of Dean Braun's e-mail wasn't about whose view she deemed correct. It was, I repeat, about making sure that students feel safe expressing their views. The Swarthmore administration wants to support that environment.

  • Tired

    I agree with DC. There are two main arguments going on in here:

    1) YAC is an extreme-conservative organization that we don't personally like or agree with.
    2) Students have the right to form a chapter to the YAC and advertise their ideas if they want to.

    A lot of people seem to be arguing the first point, but Dean Braun was clearly arguing the second point. And she's right: if you don't like the YAC, don't join the Swarthmore Conservatives. But you do not have the right to tear down posters or claim that students should leave Swarthmore just because they don't agree with your political views.

  • Tired

    I agree with DC. There are two main arguments going on in here:

    1) YAC is an extreme-conservative organization that we don't personally like or agree with.
    2) Students have the right to form a chapter to the YAC and advertise their ideas if they want to.

    A lot of people seem to be arguing the first point, but Dean Braun was clearly arguing the second point. And she's right: if you don't like the YAC, don't join the Swarthmore Conservatives. But you do not have the right to tear down posters or claim that students should leave Swarthmore just because they don't agree with your political views.

  • Rachael Mansbach ’11

    Thanks for the defense, Emperor Norton. And, sorry guys, I did goof up a bit. I'm apolitical enough that I wasn't aware of the connotations of "traditional values" that you were talking about, so I was parsing the terms in a more general sense. I do find it irritating that apparently some rather bigoted people have taken over a term that to me is a generally positive one. I guess I should call myself a traditionalist instead? I'm not sure. Anyway, also, sorry if that joke about my flatmate was in poor taste. It's just an accusation that seems hard to defend against, since if you say "I don't hate such-and-such a group of people" you tend to be told that you're protesting too much (in my experience). I wonder if anybody has any suggestions for that sort of thing?

  • Emperor Norton

    It appears that my last proclamation upon this page has been misinterpreted by some. I did not mean to claim that words are inherently meaningless – although I do believe this, it is a bit off-topic and Wittgenstein can be discussed elsewhere.

    I simply meant that individual opinions will differ in any given group, and that a word – especially a political word – means very different things to different people. As evidence, I submit to you the names of political parties in foreign countries.

    This is often overlooked – one of the many sad consequences of the two-party system that I abolished from these United States one hundred and fifty years ago. Imagine how divided the people of this nation would be if I had not done so!

    And now I depart to attend to matters and affairs elsewhere. Farewell!

  • 2012

    Here is Dean Braun's message:

    "Dear Friends,

    I am writing to share my concern about a recent issue on campus related
    to free speech and campus civility. A new student organization that has
    recently formed, Swarthmore Young Americans' Foundation (SYAF),
    (a politically conservative student group) put up a series of flyers
    on campus advertising their organization and inviting participation
    in their organization. Shortly after the posters were put up, many of
    the posters were removed from all around the campus. In addition, there
    soon appeared parodies of the original posters. These posters mimicked
    the originals so closely that many students believed that these were also
    created by SYAF and created confusion and misinterpretations about the
    beliefs and goals of SYAF.

    Being part of a diverse and inclusive community means that within the
    college there will always be a wide range of ideas, perspectives, and
    beliefs. These differences are what make this college such a rich and
    dynamic learning environment. Removing posters or putting out misleading
    information about a student group on campus does not allow us the
    opportunity to engage as a community in respectful dialogue and
    discussion. Rather it creates an environment in which only some voices are
    heard, while others are silenced or excluded.

    I want to encourage all of you to actively seek out opportunities to
    discuss, debate, and be in dialogue with each other about difficult topics and
    differences of opinion both in and outside of the classroom. Every
    student group, as well as students individually, must assume
    responsibility for creating a culture of civility, respect and engagement. Within this
    complex community, we will not always agree, but we owe it to ourselves
    and each other to remain open to listening and understanding.


    Liz Braun
    Dean of Students"

    Can someone tell me exactly which part of this message they found problematic? Like which sentences.

  • a


    "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."

    I think their point is not that the email itself is problematic, but the fact that it protects a group with "extreme" ideals is.

  • Rob Purcell

    1. Why is no one discussing the fact that this group was started by some freshman? Freshman *don't know anything*. By the time you're a sophomore I suspect you have at least discovered how very much there is you do not know, achieving at least a level of Socratic ignorance, but as a freshman, you *don't know anything*. Lab work, philosophizing, precise logical argumentation, literary and artistic criticism and creation; these are all things that exert, in their own subtle way, strong influences upon someone's thinking. So, until an individual has busted their chops with some of the above, I personally think them completely unqualified to talk about anything like an adult, let alone be taken seriously when they try to start an organization.

    2. I consider myself to be an extremely moderate Swarthmore student, fiscally speaking. And I, frankly, am disgusted that anyone wishing to see sanity and variety represented on the Swat political scene would turn to the YAF. The organization is infected with the same moralizing (and thus, at a deeper level, anti-intellectual and anti-scientific) attitude that has come to plague the mainstream republican party in recent years. I am all for discussions of fiscal conservatism, but as soon as you see the shadow of "traditional values", you know you are dealing with a backwards and reactionary group that does not deserve the attention of modern, intelligent people – a class of individuals of which I like to think Swatties are a subset.

    3. Taking down posters = not cool. Parody posters = cool. Let's just agree that these should be the standards in all conceivable cases.

  • Peter ’11

    I know some freshmen who are way smarter than most of the people bothering to comment on either side of this flame war (including me). You can't really generalize people's

    a) pre-college experiences
    b) openness to actual education
    c) (perhaps most importantly) application of that education to all practical domains of their lives – and not just when it suits their goals

  • Honorable Chief Justice

    I think that maybe taking Constitutional Law would help a lot of people in this situation. Thankfully it's being offered next term.

    re parody: As many have stated, parody is a protected form of free speech. No, the posters should not have been unsigned as per college policy, but it doesn't matter if you think that the parody is mean or damaging. You had the right to post a poster; you also have the right to be mocked if something thinks your poster is stupid. (Hustler Magazine v Falwell, for instance.)

    re YAF posters: Considering the offense of the community, I'm thinking in particular of the "American" and "Leftist" posters, I'd suggest reading the book Words that Wound for a deeper understanding of why they might be hurtful, even if legally protected (as the court sides in favor of a broad definition of free speech and freedom of the press).

    re KKK activity: Clarence Thomas (surprisingly, perhaps) speaks quite eloquently in response to Virginia v Black on the issue of action meant to intimidate with attached historical connotations, specifically cross burning. Brandenburg v Ohio more directly relates to whether the riot is going to cause others (the court often cites the "rational man") to break the law (as previously mentioned, the imminent lawless action test), as opposed to actions involving intimidating or harming targets.

    I don't mean to imply that Danielle is in support of the KKK in any way, just that maybe we should all do some fact checking.

  • Peter ’11


    re:parody – but there are laws against false impersonation, as I stated earlier. The issue would have to be if a reasonable person would be misled by the "parody" ad. I think at the very least there's a gray area.

    re YAF posters: You mean the ones that the Swarthmore branch NEVER posted? Those ones?

  • Honorable Chief Justice

    re parody – Perhaps the confusion would have been avoided if the original posters didn't seem like a farce themselves.

    re posters – I forgot about the Swarthmore branch's belated (and weak) efforts to distance themselves from the national organization and their beliefs and posters! Sorry, I was too busy reading about Swarthmore's egregious mocking of freedom on the YAF national site. (Strange connection, how ever did they hear about the Daily Gazette!)

  • Phil Chodrow

    Hon. Chief Justice,

    re parody – you may be right, but, as many have pointed out on this thread, that's not the point.

    re posters – I guess "weak" is a matter of judgment, but I'm not quite sure what's weak about the distancing the group has made from the national YAF. Since articles from the Daily Gazette appear on Google, it is at least plausible that someone at headquarters found the Gazette thread when checking for Google Alerts related to the organization.


  • In Dissent

    @Chief Justice,

    I feel your application of Hustler Magazine v Falwell is misplaced. The Court ruled that the poster was permissible explicitly because reasonable people would not interpret the poster as having factual claims (nobody actually thought Falwell was a raging alcoholic). In contrast, the Swarthmore posters were so similar to Danielle's posters that, as the email states, reasonable people could have easily mistaken it as an accurate statement made by the SYAF.

    Furthermore, the case applies only to "public figures" (as many first amendment cases do). Libel against private citizens like Danielle enjoys much less protection. For such private cases (where neither a government organization nor a public official is not involved), individual states are allowed to create their own laws for what constitutes libel/slander. You can Google it if you want, but I'd advise you to notice that the "parody" posters fulfill every single one of Pennsylvania's requirements. If the case hypothetically went to court, I would say Danielle would have a very strong case.

    Finally, I would remind students that the First Amendment does limit the government, but does not apply to private institutions like Swarthmore. On this campus, free speech consists of whatever Dean Braun says it does. If she wants to suspend you because she doesn't like your posters, the constitution will not protect you. If she wants to say that the SYAF posters are protected and the parody posters are not, the constitution will not protect you. (Note that this is a hypothetical, Braun's point is much more nuanced. I'm merely saying that the 'first amendment protects parody' argument is fundamentally flawed; I am in no way advocated for the Dean to go all 1984 on us.)

  • In Dissent

    Clarifying a few points in response to Ali.

    1) It is a very important distinction. I thought that some of the parody posters included Danielle's email address on them. If the parody posters only attacked YAF and didn't in any way include Danielle, then it's probably not fraud. However (see point two), Dean Braun can still decide it's unacceptable at Swarthmore.

    2) I was referring to the difference between public schools and private schools. The first amendment does protect student speech at public schools, but it does absolutely nothing to private schools. Public universities like upenn are extensions of the government and are subject to the first amendment. Private universities like Swarthmore are not. For example, a private Christian college could require its students to go to mandatory mass every Sunday, but this would be unconstitutional at upenn (in fact, Swarthmore did require mandatory Quaker-style meetings in the past, though I'm not sure how religious they were). At least on campus, our freedom of speech is exactly whatever Dean Braun says it is (and again, not a suggestion that she needs to start censoring speech, only an acknowledgment that she theoretically could).

  • Peter ’11

    Uhh, pretty sure UPenn isn't public (though it may get some federal funding of some kind, just like Swarthmore likely does, which may be an issue worth considering). Maybe you mean Penn State?

  • Paul Cato

    Peter I think he means the state of Pennsylvania since he was referring to state laws on parody posters and the like

  • Ann C

    To whom it may concern,

    "When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to stop and reconsider."

    -Mark Twain