Tag Archives: DKE

It’s Not Just the Girls. DKE’s Chants and the Real Message for All of Us.

4 Nov

Four forums and an avalanche of opinion pieces later, our campus is in danger of moving beyond the DKE incident without realizing what is truly at stake.

It is our public sphere, and the language that we use to shape it. In its most nuanced form, what we speak amongst ourselves goes beyond English; it is “Yale-English,” with phrases and definitions that we have, as a community, decided over time to institute and accept. These phrases vary from the mundane and convenient – L-Dub, Master’s Tea, shopping period – to the context-and-campus-history-charged – Chief Perroti emails, the Flower Lady, tap night – but we expect them all to be interpreted in a certain way upon utterance.

It is this belief in the meanings of our sentences that glues our social relationships together into some hodgepodge of connections that form Yale’s public sphere, and this belief that allows us to trust in dialogue, instead of violence, when we wish to be heard. We write, speak, and tweet to one another because we believe that being listened to means something, that if you hear my carefully-selected pattern of vowels and consonants over someone else’s, you might change your mind. The rise of personal computers has only served to reinforce this trend, and even Yale’s top administrators regularly craft emails as their way of communicating with students. Rather than God, Yale’s currency today might be printed as, “In language we trust.”

Now consider again this line of students, all male, as they march through Old Campus. “No means yes,” they scream into the darkness around them. “Yes means anal.”

It bears repeating. No means yes. Yes means anal. This is not a statement of fact, or even a mere fudging of them. This is a full redefinition of our Yale-English writ large into the night sky. And it takes away, not just from the women among us, but from all of us who might, at some point in our lives, choose to utter, “No,” that most sacred aspect of our public sphere: the right to be understood. What we say, the DKE brothers tell us from the safety of their group, is not what we mean. And what we mean (clearly!) is that we would like to be raped.

A public sphere exists because a group of people agrees to use language, not violence, to make decisions to achieve a common good. This, then, is DKE’s crime: endangering the very existence of our public sphere. Their destruction of the purpose of language leaves people with no option but to resort to brutality and deceit. For where our words carry no weight, we will use our fists. And where our verbal meaning will be twisted, we will lie and lie again to twist interpretations farther. If we listen to Gibbon in his “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” it is precisely the mockery made of language that caused that great empire to fall; no community can thrive if its titles are petty shams. And on the heels of crumbled public spheres come solitude, distrust, and – yes – violence.

It is worth noting that DKE brothers have turned to this same public sphere to offer their apologies in bits and pieces through various forums. Now that they – instead of the theoretical women of whom they were speaking during their chants – have something important to express, they turn right back to the very words that they hollowed of definitions. “No, we didn’t mean to imply that rape is okay. No, we weren’t out to offend anyone. No, no, no, we weren’t thinking.” But no means yes, remember? It is a tangled web that they weave when they attempt to take our voices from us; in the end, they also muzzle themselves.

I recognize as I write this that I know some wonderful people in DKE, as do many of us on campus; that they are not the only ones to take our words for granted and to use titles for corrosive purposes (“Yale Sluts” being just one ghost of history ready to be conjured up); and that they are not the first, nor will they be the last, who need to consider this message.

Language is powerful. Words matter. And changing the meaning of what any member of our community says without her or his permission is dangerous to our entire public sphere. So when we sit here and talk about “never again,” let’s all take a moment, think about what we are saying – and this time, let’s mean it.