The 2002-2003 school year began with civil disobedience. At least, that is what members of Yale unions called it when they were arrested for blocking traffic on College Street in an attempt to gain sympathy for ongoing contract negotiations. Protestors filled out forms earlier in the week to expedite their own arrests, and while none of the marchers actually saw the inside of a jail, several gullible freshmen earned criminal records.
November brought an end to a more peaceful conflict when Yale adopted a non-binding early action admissions policy in place of its former binding earlydecision policy.
Crossing through Porter Gate became an ordeal when Students for Justice in Palestine set up a mock checkpoint in order to raise awareness of the injustice done to Palestinians by Israelis. The idea was floated to stage a mock car bombing at the checkpoint in order to raise awareness of the injustice done to Israelis by Palestinians, but the idea was ultimately rejected. Yale Friends of Israel responded more sensitively and maturely, holding vigils yearround for Israeli victims of suicide bombers.
Students returned from Winter Break to find themselves the victims of deception. Philip Shaw, who by claiming to be a junior in Ezra Stiles College had gained admission to the Yale Political Union and Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, was exposed as a “special student” – a non-resident student allowed to take Yale classes for credit. Shaw responded to the accusation of deception with heartfelt apologies, the sincerity of which was only slightly damaged by the fact that he had run a similar scam at Harvard before coming to Yale.
February was a big month for Yale students, crowned by the opening of Mexi-Cali Grille. Students were reassured with the knowledge that their hunger for burritos would never go unassuaged again.
Their hunger for dining hall food, however, would soon go unsatisfied. March 4th marked the beginning of a week-long strike by Yale unions, which proved to be quite a disappointment to a campus that had been counting on a crisis. With the exceptions of being denied access to delicious dining hall food and being forced by pro-union professors to trudge through the snow to off-campus classrooms, students’ lives were largely unchanged by the much-anticipated labor strike. Picket lines were mostly “metaphysical,” consisting at best of solitary signs reading, “Stop! You are crossing a picket line.” Some unlucky students were awakened early every morning by a straggling band of protestors armed with clanging pots and pans, but for most students, Jesse Jackson’s speech marked the only time that any active support for the strike became obvious.
Unfortunately, the end of the strike did not coincide with the end of contract negotiations, and Yale President Richard Levin had the privilege of celebrating his ten-year anniversary at Yale on April 15th by watching the Undergraduate Organizing Committee erect the “Better Way Village” on Beinecke Plaza. This village of plywood houses represented an ideal Yale, complete with a free public library and gateless colleges.
The same people agitating for a Yale without gates, though, were outraged at the lack of security on the Yale campus when an incident was inspired by Katherine Lo’s decision to hang a flag upsidedown from her window in Calhoun College. Though accounts of the incident vary, the most common account has two men breaking into Katherine’ room, threatening her with a two-by-four and leaving a hateful message on her message board after she retreated into her bedroom. Students across campus were infuriated by what they considered to be a violation of Lo’s right to free speech. Many expressed camaraderie with Lo by joining her in disgracing the flag such that, despite many patriotic protests, Yale’s campus was soon peppered with upside-down flags.
Lo’s symbolic declaration against American initiation of the war on Iraq was representative of mainstream sentiment on the Yale campus. In addition to faculty panels created to explore the implications of the war, several protests were initiated by students including a “die-in” and a march against the “war machine.” Supporters of the troops at war demonstrated in response at a patriotic rally organized by the Yale College Students for Democracy. Participants received American flags and yellow ribbons, which they sported for the rest of the day.
In the final month of the 2003 spring semester, a great victory was achieved for those who oppose the unionization of graduate students. Falsely confident of student support, organizers of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization held a vote in which they expected graduate students to affirm unionization. When GESO chairwoman Anita Seth arrived in front of Woodbridge Hall to report the results, however, her announcement was astonishing. Despite extensive measures taken by GESO to bias the vote, providing non-GESO members with little notice of the vote and setting the vote in a location convenient only to those graduate students most sympathetic to GESO, graduate students voted against unionization. GESO attempted to mitigate the unfavorable outcome by contesting ballots that counted with the majority; however, the damage was irreversible.
Unfortunately, while the outcome of the GESO vote was positive, the outcome of votes held by members of Locals 34 and 35 was inauspicious. Union members voted against closing contract negotiations, an action which set the stage for the strike facing Yalies upon their return for the 2003-2004 school year.
Natalie Jin is a junior in Pierson College.