I can’t quite decide what I find more repulsive: Yale University’s decision to ban “Sex Week” from campus, or the Yale Daily News’ approval of this decision as defending “free speech.” In an astonishing act of repression and lack of respect for student rights, Yale president Richard Levin has banned a student group from holding “Sex Week” on campus. “Sex Week” has attracted lots of negative attention because some of the speakers are involved in the porn industry, and perhaps deservedly so. I’m not interested in defending “Sex Week,” but I am very interested in defending the right of students to hold “Sex Week” on campus.
Earlier this year, Yale asked a special committee to examine and report on “how sexual harassment, violence or misconduct may be more effectively combated at Yale,” and this committee decided that violating academic freedom would be a good start: “We recommend that ‘Sex Week at Yale’ be prohibited from using Yale’s name and any Yale facilities.” Levin agreed, but he may reconsider his decision if the organizers change “Sex Week” to fit his sexual preferences.
It’s equally disturbing that the students on the editorial board at the Yale Daily News are incapable of understanding what censorship is. In an editorial, the newspaper declared, “Levin has defended free speech” because “He allowed students to choose where to take Sex Week – or see it banned.” The newspaper adds, “He has been clear on one point: The revamped Sex Week design will have to meet his approval.” This is free speech? Giving the president of a university unilateral veto power over the content of student activities? That’s the precise opposite of free speech.
Imagine if the same logic were applied to the Yale Daily News: you have freedom of the press, so long as the president of the university approves of everything you print. If not, the name of your newspaper will be banned, and your newspaper will be prohibited from appearing on campus. Is that freedom?
If porn stars can be banned from campus, why not Ann Coulter? After all, she is to conservative ideas what porn stars are to sex education: outrageous, offensive, misguided, and distracting. If a university can decide what speakers are allowed to represent sex, why can’t the university decide what speakers are allowed to represent political ideologies?
Another allegation rumored is that some organizers of Sex Week were taking kickbacks from porn companies. So far, Yale hasn’t actually produced any evidence of these claims, which the students involved deny. But if they are true, they certainly don’t justify censorship. After all, taking vast sums of money from wealthy donors with dubious ethics is a Yale tradition going back centuries. Even if a student group leader had done something unethical in taking money, the proper response would be to punish the individual and monitor the activities, not to censor future events based on content.
If you don’t like Sex Week, then criticize it, denounce it, or create your own No Sex Week or Better Sex Week. But never ban an idea because you don’t like it.