Culture Beat / August 15, 2017

Yale Covers Over Its History, Literally

The university covers a stone carving of a musket over fears of not wanting to be offensive.

Over an entrance to Sterling Memorial Library on the campus of Yale University is a stone carving depicting an Indian and a Puritan. In the carving the Indian is holding a bow and the Puritan a musket … that is until recently, when Yale decided to cover up the Puritan’s musket. According to head librarian Susan Gibbons, the reason was that Yale’s Committee on Art in Public Spaces decided the carving’s “presence at a major entrance to Sterling was not appropriate.” But she offered a caveat: The cover-up “can be removed in the future without damaging the original carving.”

This decision by Yale is reminiscent of other art controversies. Renaissance artists, philosophers and clergy who were inspired by classical Greek art often chose to paint and sculpt the ideal human form in the nude as the Greeks had done. But during the Protestant Reformation, Catholic leaders seeking to respond to the criticism of the church being corrupt and perverse decided to literally cover up their nude artwork with fig leaves of stone or paint so as not to offend their flock.

Fast-forward 500 years and a similar mindset has appeared to grip those within academia. So afraid are they of offending, they have decided to hide the “embarrassing” parts of their history — in this case a gun — so as to appease masses. At Yale, it’s not only happening with art work, it’s happening with names. Recall last year that the university caved to revisionist demands that Calhoun College, named after the seventh vice president, be renamed because Calhoun was a slave owner and advocate of slavery. Once again, the justification for hiding history came out of the ill-begotten notion that protecting people from offense is more important than dealing with the challenging nuances of living in an imperfect world.

In order for a free society to exist, its citizens must be committed to the ideal that recognizes and protects the rights of others to freely have and express opinions and ideas which one may find offensive and even reprehensible. Thus far, Yale is failing to both instruct students in and uphold this high standard.

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