More than 1,800 Harvard students have signed a Change.org petition asking the Harvard administration to rescind its invitation to hip-hop artist Tyga to headline the university’s annual Yardfest, because of Tyga’s "explicitly and violently misogynistic lyrics." The petition states:
We demand that Harvard rescind its offer to Tyga, because we believe that Harvard should not provide a platform for music that promotes sexism and rape culture.
What a missed opportunity this is. Can you imagine the powerful message that Harvard students would have sent the administration—and society at large—by boycotting Tyga’s performance en masse, and by sharing, via social media for example, their reasons for doing so?
But instead of using the opportunity to actually engage students and administrators in a dialogue about misogyny in popular culture—a dialogue with the potential to affect how people think about such issues—Harvard students have predictably asked the administration to simply shut down the performance.
Also predictably, it sounds as if the Harvard administration is taking the students’ request seriously: Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal issued a statement saying:
The College’s Office of Student Life has asked the College Events Board and Concert Commission to re-evaluate the invitation to Tyga in light of the concerns raised by students that the performer’s lyrics are offensive and hurtful to many in our community.
Unlike initiating a dialogue, canceling the performance is unlikely to change the way anyone thinks about violence and misogyny in popular culture. Students who were looking forward to Tyga’s performance are more likely to be annoyed at those who shut the performance down than they are to experience some change of heart. But this fact is most likely lost on the petition’s organizers—and not surprisingly, since Harvard itself has displayed a shocking disregard for free speech in recent years.
For an interesting comparison, take a look at how students at the "green light" University of Pennsylvania are handling the university’s recent announcement that Tyga would be performing at its annual Spring Fling. Penn senior Emily Goshey, who penned an editorial in the Daily Pennsylvanian criticizing the university’s choice, has also started a group called "We Can Do Better" that seems to be engaging in precisely the kind of consciousness-raising dialogue that Harvard students are avoiding. To see what I mean, take a look at the group’s Facebook page (contains explicit language).
As Goshey told The Daily Pennsylvanian (in an article subtitled "While Penn students express concern about Tyga performance, those at Harvard hope to cancel show"):
We at Penn realize this is not a problem of administration. It’s a student body concern. If the provost’s office or OSA has to come in and tell us we can’t have Tyga, that will mean nothing except that they want to protect our university from bad publicity.
We hope that Penn’s "We Can Do Better" group will stay on the course of promoting dialogue over censorship, and we suggest that Harvard students take a cue from their peers in Philadelphia.