A series of workshops intended to raise awareness of colonial genocide scheduled for this month at the Yale Center for British Art have been canceled after students and scholars turned away from the inaugural lecture last Wednesday when actor and activist Danny Glover arrived bearing a casket filled with human skulls.
Glover told The New York Times that the C.v.M.A. would have been a good venue, but the anxiety among the students “was not compatible with the level of sensitivity that had to be achieved” for the memorial to demonstrate the difficult truth of the past.
The cancellation of the two workshops triggered outrage and calls for repeal from outside the university community, as well as protests by those at the center who viewed the decision as an act of censorship.
The Met Museum in New York said Wednesday that the walkout was “outrageous” and “unfortunate.”
Students appeared distraught over the loss of an opportunity to discuss colonization on campus.
“We were hoping to make connections and metaphors for a single space, that can be intimidating for any group, to make connections,” said A.J. Oppenheim, an 18-year-old junior in the department of history. “It would have really been an opportunity for students to discuss the whole issue from a completely different perspective.”
A junior in the department of arts and letters, Ms. Oppenheim was enrolled in the “Intersections” workshop, which she said was to be held this Saturday.
“We imagined it would be an honest and raw conversation,” she said. “My goal for this workshop was to make connections between the experiences and the artwork.”
She said she felt that her project had been rejected, and that the two workshops would still exist in some form.
The world-famous Yale professor who hosted the inaugural talk, Bruce Douglas, dismissed students’ concerns as “trivial, politically motivated pieties,” but he invited them to join him for the “Workshop II,” due on Oct. 7.
“My teachers once told me to remove myself from the problem and to ‘grapple with the issue’ – it’s always struck me as very low-brow, but that’s my education,” Professor Douglas said, before adding that “the potential by the students for engaging in a civilized dialogue which is so lacking in our society has been acknowledged by both me and Danny Glover.”
Professor Douglas’ email included a welcome note that read: “I myself have handled a coffin, and continue to handle a high degree of other artifacts from 17th-century Europe, and we had not anticipated an emotional response to the topic at all.”
“I was surprised,” said Mr. Glover. “There was definitely an atmosphere of fear and sensitivity … I guess you could say I was the dark horse here.”
Mr. Glover’s acting credits include “Lethal Weapon,” “Malcolm X,” and the Oscar-winning documentary “Waiting to Exhale.” He founded the One People One World Foundation, which offers programs on digital media and activism, in 1996.