Roughly three weeks ago at the Cornell versus Yale men’s hockey game, something went awry. Students’ freedom of speech and expression was abridged for no demonstrable reason.
A student was kicked out of the hockey game for questioning why he and his friends were told to cover their shirts, which read “Yuck Fale.” It is disconcerting that Cornell University would willingly limit the freedom of speech and expression of its students, simply because someone else might be offended. What’s equally problematic is the University’s decision to enforce this limitation using the Cornell Police force. I find this offensive, much more so than shirts with gibberish written on them, and you should, too. Apparently, Cornell University ushers, administrators and police do not think you and I are capable of looking away when we see something that displeases us. Novelist Brad Thor wrote, “I live in America. I have the right to write whatever I want. And it’s equaled by another right just as powerful: the right not to read it. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend people.” The same goes for words printed on shirts.
I attended my first Cornell hockey game last night and watched the men lose to Princeton. The best part of the match was the boisterous and belligerent environment it fostered. Obscene chants were screamed by hundreds of college students enjoying themselves. Students mercilessly taunted one of the opposing players; they were having fun being college-aged fans. The students acted the way one would expect them to at a sporting event in which players hurtle into plexiglas with less than a foot separating the rink from the front row.
Nobody (except maybe Princeton’s number six) was negatively affected by any of the banter being spewed from the student section. Children weren’t running amuck because they had been scarred by obscene language, adults weren’t flabbergasted when we urged the Cornell players to “kill him.” But, even if they had been, they have the right to choose another form of Saturday night entertainment. This is particularly true in the case of “Yuck Fale,” a nonsensical phrase that means nothing unless one rearranges the letters.
Easily offended adults should seriously consider alternative forms of entertainment, if not cognitive behavioral therapy, if their experience is so tainted by a shirt that they cannot enjoy the game.
The University cannot claim to support free speech in principle and also disallow its potentially offensive free expression. Defending free speech is not a balancing act; one unit of free speech outweighs infinite units of offense felt by those with slight spines and overflowing saline pouches for tear ducts.
We must be free to wear shirts anywhere on campus that read “Yuck Fale,” and we need not provide justification. Because who among us is qualified to determine what is truly obscene and to set the limit on what you’re allowed to see, say and wear?
The students at the Cornell vs. Yale game committed a victimless crime and yet were punished by being dragged from the game by the police as well as being JA’d for, according to the victim, “unreasonably loud and belligerent behavior.” One would be foolish to attend a Cornell men’s hockey game with the expectation that attendees won’t be “unreasonably loud and belligerent.” It is childish to coerce someone into covering his or her shirt by threatening to involve the police. The Cornell University Police should not be perched on all fours waiting for the University to open its kennel door so they can bark at students who exercise their freedom of expression.
The students who bravely defied the order to cover up their shirts have worn them on campus without incident since last homecoming. No riots were incited, students who saw the shirts did not overrun Gannett’s psychological services and nothing resulted from the shirts, except for the occasional smirk or high five. Why then is Lynah Rink different from Ho Plaza? The University should not establish free speech zones by limiting students’ rights in certain venues. The United States of America is the smallest free speech zone in which I am content
The Cornell vs. Yale game was televised on NBC, which some might argue necessitated removing the shirts. I already exposed the idiocy of the FCC’s piddling censorship laws, which you can view here. The fact remains that the shirts do not have words printed on them that violate the FCC’s unjust obscenity rules. Thus, this is an excuse not a valid justification.
I came to Cornell with the belief that freedom of speech is a necessary condition of institutional legitimacy. As my last semester ends, Cornell University’s actions have shown that this is indeed the case.
S.D. Seppinni is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters from a Young Curmudgeon appears alternate Mondays this semester.