It was the source of an athletic taunt that could only have originated in the Ivy League:
“I want to go to Princeton,” said Amory. “I don’t know why, but I think of all Harvard men as sissies, like I used to be, and all Yale men as wearing big blue sweaters and smoking pipes.”
“I’m one, you know.”
“Oh, you’re different — I think of Princeton as being lazy and good-looking and aristocratic — you know, like a spring day. Harvard seems sort of indoors — ”
“And Yale is November, crisp and energetic,” finished Monsignor.
They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, Princeton X ’17, This Side of Paradise
Take a look at that passage. Can you identify the part that was recently deemed too offensive to repeat on an American college campus? Look hard.
Give up? Let’s go to the Yale Daily News:
The [Freshman Class Council] has decided to change the design of its shirts after the original design, which was submitted by students and voted on by the freshman class, sparked outcry from members within the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. …
The original design, which won out over five other entries, displayed an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote in the front — “I think of all Harvard men as sissies” — in bold white letters. The back of the long-sleeved, navy blue T-shirt said “WE AGREE” in capital letters, with “The Game 2009” scrawled in script underneath it.
That’s right — a T-shirt calling Harvard men “sissies” proved too offensive for Yale students and administrators, who seem to have somehow come by the impression that a college football game is an occasion for behavioral civility that the rest of us would reserve for a funeral. One student, who would clearly be beside himself were he to attend a Philadelphia Flyers game, pointed out that the word “sissies” was “offensive” and “demeaning,” and added that he considered the word to be a “thinly veiled anti-gay slur.”
Of course, it’s no surprise that when so many of our high schools and colleges spend so much time teaching students that they have an imaginary “right not to be offended,” some students will start to believe it’s true. One would hope we could expect more from Ivy League administrators, but of course one would be wrong. As the Yale Daily News goes on to report, Mary Miller, Yale’s dean, had decided to ban the design and would have done so had the Freshman Class Council not decided that discretion was the better part of valor and yanked the design itself.
Yale has distinguished itself in censorship this year. This fall, Yale was in the news when its press refused to print the controversial Danish Mohammed cartoons in a scholarly book about the reaction to those cartoons. In that case, Yale at least had the excuse that it was afraid that violence would result from publishing the cartoons, as it did the first time the cartoons were published. In the “sissies” case, Yale lacks even this excuse.
This episode demonstrates once again, if such a demonstration is necessary, the wisdom of the American legal tradition that whether expression is “offensive” cannot be conditioned on the feelings of the most sensitive member of the audience. To abandon that tradition is to tie yourself up in knots, constantly weighing words to ensure that no fragment of your audience, no matter how small, could ever take offense to what is being said. Our universities cannot thrive or even survive in such an environment — and neither can our free society.