Usually, we at Harvard are more than happy to see Yale students make fools of themselves on camera. The video that emerged this week of Yale students screaming down one of their professors might make for a good laugh, if its implications were not quite so serious. It’s a scene we’ve seen played out far too often at college campuses in recent years, and it deserves to be called by what it is: a nascent form of fascism.
In case you haven’t heard, Yale has recently endured a firestorm of protest after a lecturer that presides over one of the undergraduate colleges questioned whether concerns about the offensiveness of Halloween costumes had gone too far in impinging on free speech.
In response, hundreds of protesters gathered on the quad, calling for Nicholas and Erika Christakis to be removed from their roles. Nicholas voluntarily came to discuss the matter with them, and soon, a crowd of students enveloped him.
One student is heard saying, “Walk away. He doesn’t deserve to be listened to.” When Nicholas started to explain himself, a student yells, “Be quiet!” and then proceeds to lecture him. When Nicholas calmly and politely says “I disagree,” the protestor explodes, screaming, “Why the fuck did you accept the position?! Who the fuck hired you?! You should step down!” Then, finally, “You’re disgusting!”
The problem here isn’t that people disagree with what Nicholas said. The problem is that they are calling for reprisals against Nicholas and Erika simply for saying it. This recent movement of university students to use administrative procedures to punish speech with which they disagree should be called by its rightful name: proto-fascism.
Several days later, students disrupted an event held by the William F. Buckley, Jr. program that was designed to highlight the importance of free speech. According to reports by the Yale Daily News, several attendees were spat on as they left.
Once again, the problem isn’t that you disagree with what the event said (though, if you disagree with an event about the importance of free speech, that might be a cause for concern itself), but that you are using a tactic—spitting—that constitutes battery, and should never be used against someone for expressing beliefs that you disagree with.
I understand that it can sometimes be difficult for college students today to tell the difference between fascist methods and non-fascist methods of advancing their beliefs and agendas. Luckily, I spent my senior thesis studying the rise of fascism in Europe, and am happy to give a few, easy tips about whether the activity you are engaged in adopts fascist tactics or not. To make it even easier, I’ve put it in table form: