Yale University's current Policy on Freedom of Expression begins: "Nothing is more conducive to the . . . search for truth, to individual growth and fulfillment and to basic human liberties than a community, rare in human history, where all shades of opinion can be voiced and all avenues of thought and research pursued."
Accordingly, at Yale, "the expression of all views" is to be protected. And "access to facilities" is to be open to holders of "all opinions."
Last spring, the Women's Center of Yale appeared to be in enthusiastic agreement with the college's policy. It declared the center to be "a place for all women -- of every race, ethnicity, age, ability, class, sexual orientation, religion. . . . We work toward a world without discrimination. . . . We invite everyone in our communities to join us in the challenge of creating such a world." The center said it wished "to break down the barriers between women."
In the fall, Yale Students for Life, welcoming this invitation to diversity, applied for space at the Women's Center. Yale Students for Life is not affiliated with any national right-to-life group and, in fact, goes further than any of them in its development of a consistent ethic of life. That is, it connects abortion to such other life issues as infanticide, euthanasia, capital punishment and nuclear war. It opposes all of the above.
When Yale Students for Life came knocking at the door, the Women's Center barred the group and decided to draw up a new set of rules as to what sort of women could be admitted. In order not to be shunned, it was decided, prospective members had to pledge their support for full rights for women, freedom of sexual orientation and expression -- and reproductive freedom.
During a lively series of exchanges in the Yale Daily News, the pro-life group noted: "This demand for unanimity of outlook is antithetical to the spirit of feminism and has no place in a community dedicated to the free expression of ideas." One of the outcasts told me, "I would have no objection if they named it the Yale Cen-ter for Reproductive Freedom, but it is called the Yale Women's Center."
A petition was circulated on campus asking students, whatever their views on abortion, to oppose "inappropriate discrimination by organizations, such as the Women's Center, which use Yale facilities and receive Yale funding." Somewhat to the surprise of Yale Students for Life, the petition attracted more than 300 signatures. Many who signed made clear they were in favor of abortion but were offended by the banning of these women from a Yale facility solely because of their views.
At last, an array of Yale deans has decided that Yale Students for Life should be admitted to the Women's Center, provisionally. What is now being worked on by the administration is a suitable definition of a women's group. If Yale Students for Life meets that definition, it can stay at the center.
Until now, there have been no official criteria for admission to the Women's Center. The need for such guidelines at this very moment created a certain amount of suspicion on the part of Students for Life after they were told by a dean that they are currently "in limbo." Says one of the pro-lifers: "We wonder if they're trying to find a way to exclude us by working out a definition of eligibility that keeps us second-class citizens. After all, we're still very much seen as illegitimate interlopers."
Meanwhile, in an editorial, the Yale Daily News -- while castigating the administration for making its provisional decision unilaterally -- was also critical of the incumbents at the Women's Center:
"The Women's Center advertises itself as 'a place for all women . . . to explore the richness and diversity of people's lives.' . . . Where is the diversity in attracting only those who agree with your position?"
Katie Oberlies, a graduate of Yale College, a third-year law student at Yale and active in Students for Life, says the fundamental issue is that "a small group of women should not be allowed to define for all women at Yale what it means to be a feminist."
As Elizabeth McAlister -- a thunderous pro-life feminist, long active in civil rights and antiwar work -- once wrote from prison after damaging some nuclear missiles: "We must widen the frame." Especially, one would think, at a university.