Trap House Parties, Yale Style

Out of the august halls of Yale Law School comes one of the most absurd cases of campus cancel culture I’ve ever seen. The Washington Free Beacon reported on a story and audio recording they received from a second-year law student at the school, whose name has been withheld at his request over fears of retaliation, of an incident in which the student sent out an email inviting fellow members of the Native American Law Students Association to a Constitution Day party planned in collaboration with the Federalist Society (FedSoc for short). Here is a screenshot of the email in question

The email was immediately shared on a message board for fellow second-year law students, with several students alleging that “trap house” is a euphemism for a blackface party.

Excuse me, what?

I am as Terminally Online as they come and I had never heard of anyone using the phrase “trap house” in that way, so I decided to search the internet for other instances of the phrase being used as code for a blackface party. Outside of the reporting on this story, I could not find a single instance of the use of “trap house” being used in that manner. Not one. And yet

“‘I guess celebrating whiteness wasn’t enough,’ the president of the Black Law Students Association wrote in the forum. ‘Y’all had to upgrade to cosplay/black face.’ She also objected to the mixer’s affiliation with the Federalist Society, which she said ‘has historically supported anti-Black rhetoric.’”

Anyone with a passing knowledge of online political culture can see that this wasn’t an invitation to a blackface party or an actual trap house but is a winking nod to Chapo Trap House, the patron saint podcast of the Dirtbag Left. The language of the email is a clear aping of the kind of language used by the Chapo crowd, and the collaboration with the Federalist Society is part of the joke. But instead of getting the joke, several students invented a whole new meaning for the term “trap house” and reported the email to the Office of Student Affairs.  

To recap — this email was sent out by a half Cherokee student inviting members of the Native American Law Students Association to a mixer. So the implication here is that a Native American student is throwing a blackface party for other Native American students at Yale in 2021 to “celebrate whiteness.”

That Yale took this accusation seriously is mind-bogglingly absurd. But of course, they did

“At a Sept. 16 meeting, which the student recorded and shared with the Washington Free Beacon, associate dean Ellen Cosgrove and diversity director Yaseen Eldik told the student that the word ‘trap’ connotes crack use, hip hop, and blackface. Those ‘triggering associations,’ Eldik said, were ‘compounded by the fried chicken reference,’ which ‘is often used to undermine arguments that structural and systemic racism has contributed to racial health disparities in the U.S.’

Eldik, a former Obama White House official, went on to say that the student’s membership in the Federalist Society had ‘triggered’ his peers.

‘The email’s association with FedSoc was very triggering for students who already feel like FedSoc belongs to political affiliations that are oppressive to certain communities,’ Eldik said. ‘That of course obviously includes the LGBTQIA community and black communities and immigrant communities.’”

The argument here is that a handful of students were triggered by an invented definition of “trap house”, hip hop, and a drug that I’m sure none of them have ever been within 20 miles of. The triggering was compounded by the notion that only black people enjoy Popeye’s chicken and therefore that must have been some sort of sly coding. 

Oh, wait, no, Eldik finally gets to the real issue — the Federalist Society and their involvement in the party. Because that is what this is about ultimately, nine students getting pissy about the Federalist Society and targeting this student to lash out at the organization. 

Yale’s reaction to this invented controversy, including soft threats to the student’s ability to pass the bar exam and a prefabricated apology letter, has already been documented elsewhere. Ultimately the student did not issue an apology, prefabricated or otherwise, and has instead offered to speak directly to any fellow student who was offended by the email. Currently, Yale has no plans to pursue the issue further and will not be handing down formal punishment. 

Much has been made of Yale’s response to this non-controversy, and rightly so, but I want to focus on what kicked it off in the first place. A few students decided a phrase meant something it has never meant before, and that new meaning was specifically crafted to turn a non-racial situation into a racial one. That wasn’t done by accident; the weaponization of claims of racism has been going on for some time now, but this case takes it to another level. We’re not even talking about a “squint really hard and you can see it” case of racism but a wholly invented one. It’s a part of a trend of automatically throwing the race card into situations where racism was not involved, much like the Frederick Joseph dog park saga. Systemic racism, especially in our criminal justice system, exists in the US, there is no need to invent instances of racism to fight. It would seem that anyone who truly cares about systemic racism in the US would spend more time discussing that than using racism as a cudgel to punish those they don’t like or to self-aggrandize. 

UPDATE 10/15/21 - David Lat reports that the student who shared his story with the Washington Free Beacon has been identified as Trent Colbert, and a campaign is underway to have him removed as a 2L student representative. Students are circulating a form letter which is a list of grievances that add up to “we’re mad Colbert told the Washington Free Beacon what we tried to do him.” Lat does correctly point out that this is a bad strategy that will only draw more attention to the initial story, and I agree.

I feel like this won’t be the last update I make to this post…

UPDATE 10/18/21 - The Dean of Yale Law School, Heather Gerken, has decided to get involved in this ridiculousness. In a letter sent out to the entirely of the Yale Law student body, Gerken announced that she has asked Deputy Dean Ian Ayers to “assess the situation” and “help us think how to best move forward.”

It would seem to be the best way to move forward would be to let this situation die a natural death, but Yale seems determined to drag this out until they look as foolish as possible.


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