What Does the Yale Murder Say About Security, Gender, and the Ivy League?

Journalists and citizens are asking what Annie Le's murder can tell us about Yale and about our society--and some are very angry

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The murder of Yale graduate student Annie Le days before her wedding, and the subsequent arrest of lab technician Raymond Clark III as a suspect, have generated intensive media coverage. They've also raised larger questions, such as what this crime means--what it says about Yale, our society, and whether it could have been prevented. This questioning extends to the nature of the coverage: would Le's death be national news if she weren't a Yale student? Opinions are running strong. A summary of the key debates:

What Does the Murder Say About Security?

The first concern of those in the Yale community is safety. Does this murder reflect a university security problem?

  • Safety Concerns  Bernadetter Durkin, mother of a Yale student, wrote in the Yale Daily News about the frustration of trying to get police to investigate when her daughter was mugged at knifepoint. "The law enforcement community seems to have gotten on this situation quickly," she wrote of the Le murder, "but that has not always been the case. Something should be done about the lack of security or the lack of police follow-up when things happen."
  • Yale is as Safe as Anywhere Else  Yale president Richard Levin wrote in a letter published in The Huffington Post that "this incident could have happened in any city, in any university, or in any workplace." Instead of reflecting on the university, "it says more about the darkness of the human soul." The student editors of the Yale Daily News concurred. 

What Does the Murder Say About Gender Issues?

On Thursday, The New York Times noted how New Haven police chief James Lewis characterized Le's murder as a matter of "workplace violence." But a number of bloggers and letter-writers were quick to voice concerns over the possible role of gender.

  • Workplace Crimes Still Involve Gender  "If the police are right," wrote Amanda Marcotte at the female-focused web magazine, DoubleX, "the narrative that the media originally plugged this story into doesn't quite fit ... We're all conditioned to think of sex crimes." Still, she argued, just because "this act of violence began as a power struggle at work doesn't mean that gender doesn't play a role in it." Looking at coverage of the suspect's past, she added, "it's all too easy to see how a man who reacted with violence when he saw defiance from romantic partners would have a similar reaction when defied by a woman he merely had a working relationship with."
  • 'A Psychopath's Rage Against Women'  Criminal profiler Pat Brown at Women in Crime Ink was "terribly concerned" over the police chief's declaration. Looking at reports of suspect Raymond Clark's behavior, she strongly disagreed with the official categorization:
To claim this crime is workplace violence is absolutely untrue and terribly damaging to the awareness of what this crime was really about - a psychopath's rage against women, one of the most prevalent crimes in this country.
  • Yale: 'Unsafe Climate for Women'  In a letter in the Yale Daily News, Anna Parks noted that "despite the pervasiveness of violence against women, the words we use to describe Le’s accused killer--monster, psychopath, evil--are meant to distinguish him from 'us.'" That distinction, she argued, lets "us" off too easily:
While these words certainly may apply, Le’s tragic death came on the heels of another, if understandably less newsworthy, attack on women perpetrated by men from inside the Yale community: the "Preseason Scouting Report," the e-mail rating freshmen girls’ attractiveness ... Although I emphatically do not equate such an e-mail with Le’s murder, both attacks contribute to an unwelcoming and unsafe climate for women on Yale’s campus. Whether sexual in nature or not, any act that objectifies women decreases the value of and respect for a female life. And it paves the way for dehumanizing acts that rob us of friends, daughters and fiancées.

What Does the Murder Say About Our Obsession With the Ivy League?

Much of the online outrage concerns the media coverage of the incident. Is this story big news, many asked, merely because it happened at Yale?

  • Let's Face It: There's a Media Bias  "Journalists almost everywhere," declared Slate's Jack Shafer, "observe this rough rule of thumb: Three murders at a Midwestern college equal one murder at Harvard or Yale." The coverage has nothing to do with the "dramatic" circumstances of this particular murder:
Members of the elite press identify with Harvard and Yale--even if they didn't go there. They may work for someone who went, or wish they'd gone, or hope their children go. The same applies to many Times readers, pre-selling the story on both the supply and demand sides. The murder-happy tabloid press, on the other hand, has always taken special joy in showcasing the pain of the high-and-mighty.

The gap between elite and tabloid narrows every time bad things happen to privileged people.
  • 'There's a Pecking Order in Life,' MariAn Gail Brown scornfully asserted in the Connecticut Post, noting lack of interest in the more common disappearances of "kids" in the "'hood" surrounding Yale University:
It extends from dating, social climbing to career advancement. The only thing that might have made Le more of a magnet for media and law enforcement attention is if, coupled with her wedding-that-never-will-be backstory, Ivy League pedigree, she looked like Barbie. That would be a trifecta.
  • She was a Human Being--Forget About Her School  Also noting a "widening gap between the haves and have-nots," Michael Peck at True Slant was disgusted by the inclusion of "Yale" in the headlines. He expressed sympathy for Annie Le's family: "[O]f all the memories they will treasure about her, that will make them laugh or cry, her institution of higher learning will not be at the top of the list."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.