Content Warning: Race-based violence
“The trouble with the minority houses,” said a 2006 article published in the Tufts Primary Source, “such as the Africana Center and the Asian Start House is that they imply inferiority of the groups for which they exist. The groups coddled by these houses and their administrators (namely, the Group of Six) are perfectly capable of surviving Tufts on their own.” In this article, entitled “End the Segregation,” former Tufts student Alison Hoover argued for the dissolution of the Group of Six.
Until 2013, much of the campus dialogue surrounding freedom of expression and nondiscrimination centered on one specific campus publication: The Primary Source, a Conservative student publication.
“We saw it as Hate Speech, pure and simple,” stated Seth Markle (’00). He described articles and editorials that claimed all people of color at Tufts were products of affirmative action and damaging to the university’s credibility, and editorials that attacked Black student leaders by name. He finished, “Now, I will let you be the judge in determining what Free Speech means…”
The content of the Primary Source prompted backlash from students of color, though the publication remained a recognized student group for years after this resistance began. While members of the Source claimed that their content was intended to give voice to those with marginalized or unpopular opinions, other students classified this content as university-sponsored hate speech. Though the Source is no longer published, the debate over what constitutes free speech and what constitutes harassment continues on Tufts’ campus today.
A Black alumnus (’98) who wished to remain anonymous was attacked by name in the Primary Source. She explained in an email, “I was called a whore in one issue and I cried a lot during that time. [I]t was really hurtful to have a big portion of an issue dedicated to me in my senior year because I was engaged in providing resources for students of color on campus.” She continued, “Free speech is a coded way of saying you can say what you want. However, free speech does not mean that you can be hurtful and wrong… It was racism masquerading as conservative thought.”
In the eyes of alumnus Andrew Núñez (’15), the Primary Source turned the campus into a hostile environment under the guise of free speech. He stated, “If your living and learning environment is affected, that is an unequitable state for you to learn and to study and to be a student… Students should have the right not to be verbally abused and assaulted on that campus.”
Núñez identified the emotional and physical labor that went into existing in the same environment as the Primary Source as a student of color. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Black students were actively throwing away newly printed copies of the Primary Source, according to Markle. A ‘04 alumnus commented, “Events such as Black Solidarity Day and many others were born out of the silent hate that existed on the campus.” She explained that the Primary Source galvanized the radical activism that took place during this time, mobilizing students of many races and ethnicities into action.
From its inception in 1982 into the early 2000s, the Primary Source continued to exist at Tufts without severe criticism from Tufts administration. However, in the December 6, 2006 holiday issue, the Primary Source published “O Come All Ye Black Folk,” a self-proclaimed satirical Christmas carol stating that the only reason Black freshmen had received acceptance into Tufts was because of affirmative action. A line read, “We need you now to fill our racial quotas. Descendants of Africa, with brown skin arriving: O come, let us accept them…Fifty-two black freshmen.” The song received widespread criticism and condemnation, but the administration cautioned students against overreacting. Members of the Source defended themselves, saying that students had unfairly conflated racially insensitive comments with relevant criticism of affirmative action. That same year, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) charged the Source with harassment after they published “Islam—Arabic Translation: Submission,” an editorial imitating the format for MSA’s advertisements for Islamic Awareness Week.
Later that year the Committee on Student Life (CSL) found the Primary Source to be in violation of community values. However, there were no attempts to shut down the publication. Instead, rules were put in place so that no student on Tufts campus could write anonymously—the Source’s most inflammatory pieces had been published without a byline. Later that summer, James Glaser, Dean of Undergraduate Education at the time, reverted CSL’s ruling, thereby allowing students to again write anonymously on Tufts campus. Dean Glaser commented, “For the most part, having an unpopular political opinion should not disqualify them from having the right to speak or write… I don’t like it when people are derogatory or offensive. But I don’t think that you can overly regulate.”
As a result, the Primary Source maintained its position on Tufts campus, continuing to publish issues every semester. However, in December 2012, the Source re-published a Christmas carol from their 1991 issue, parodying the annual Take Back the Night event, a sexual violence awareness and education event hosted by various sororities on campus. The parody was widely condemned as mocking the issue of sexual assault. For this reason, the editor-in-chief imposed a semester long suspension on the publication. In the spring of 2013, the Source did not have the minimum number of members to get re-recognized and submitted a membership list with names of students uninvolved with the Source, constituting fraud, according to an article by published by the Tufts Daily in May of 2013.
However, in the fall of 2013 the Judiciary and the Office of Campus Life once again granted recognition to the Source.
In an interview with the Daily, Austin Berg, editor-in-chief of the Primary Source in 2013, emphasized that the Source did not condone insensitive or harmful content, and that the magazine was starting from scratch. In Berg’s opinion, the Source “…[was] an important source of dialogue for students whose views are marginalized… It gives the spotlight to those whose voices aren’t otherwise heard, and that’s an honorable goal.”
Tyler Cooper, a 2011 Tufts graduate and a former editor of the Source, believes that there is a double standard at play. He stated, “If we’re going to judge every single Tufts institution based on the actions of members who are no longer on campus, we might have to shut down virtually all of the fraternities…for hazing, sexual assault, and narcotics trafficking…It feels like a double standard to excuse the fraternities for committing various felonies over the years while continuously blaming current writers of a publication for tasteless articles written a decade ago.”
Núñez firmly disagreed, arguing that there is no room on campus for organizations with a legacy of hate speech. “No matter how many times the Primary Source targeted students, targeted women of color, targeted faculty of color, harassed survivors of assault, the Tufts community continued to welcome them back every time since they resurged under the auspices of free speech and having different points of view,” he said.
The Primary Source no longer exists at Tufts. This does not mean that the views articulated in the Primary Source are gone. An alumnus stated, “People didn’t want to be affiliated with the Source but they shared the views and that was evident by the conversations in classes and dining halls.” Núñez echoed this sentiment: “There is definitely a silent majority at Tufts.”
Though there is no clear evidence of such a “silent majority” on Tufts’ campus, the idea that one exists still fuels campus debate today. On September 25, Tufts Sophomore Jake Goldberg posted a petition entitled “Free Speech Is Dead At Tufts” in the Class of 2019 Facebook group. Goldberg was consequently interviewed by The Tab, where he stated that his views and platform had resonated with Tufts students, many of whom who had privately messaged him on Facebook. Goldberg feels that such students comprise a silent majority on Tufts campus afraid to speak out. His interview has since been taken offline.
These sentiments mirror a piece published by the Primary Source on May 18, 2008 titled “Five Common Lies About the Primary Source.” The article reads, “So what is our purpose? Our purpose is to say what no one else is willing to say. That doesn’t mean a lot of people aren’t thinking it, of course; there is a silent minority of conservatives on this campus, one much larger than the staff of the Primary Source.”
The debate over free speech continues today. “I think it’s too bad that there is not a stronger conservative voice on campus, it’s important that lots of different points of view are articulated,” said Dean Glaser. “The Primary Source was a chronic offender of people and I certainly don’t miss them, but I think they had a right to be here.”