Identity of Speakers
Trent Colbert is a student at Yale Law School, and a member of both the Native American Law Students Association and Federalist Society.
Incident Political Orientation:
University administration changed university policy as a consequence
- Did not involve Speech Codes
Trent Colbert, a law student at Yale University and member of both the Native American Law Students Association (NASLA) and Federalist Society at Yale, wrote an email to fellow members of NASLA stating “This Friday at 7:30, we will be christening our very own (soon to be) world-renowned NALSA Trap House … by throwing a Constitution Day Bash in collaboration with FedSoc.” The email went on to refer to Popeye’s chicken, among other food and drink.
Members of the Black Students Law Association took issue with the email, noting that “Trap House” is colloquially used to refer to crack houses and that the reference to Popeye’s is racially insensitive. Some students also objected to the reference to the Federalist Society because of its “conservative” views. Colbert stated that he did not intend any racial overtones to his email.
Yale University administrators met with Colbert and asked him to apologize, while “implying to him ‘that the legal community is really small and that they wouldn’t want this to have to go beyond Yale and to have a lingering effect on (his) reputation’.” Colbert refused to apologize, citing that fact that he did not intend for his email to be offensive in any way.
Yale Associate Dean Ellen Cosgrove sent out an email in response to the incident stating that “we understand that an invitation was recently circulated containing pejorative and racist language. We condemn this in the strongest possible terms.” After further review by the administration, Cosgrove apologized for the email, stating amongst other things that she deeply regretted the impression that administrators acted “in a biased or unfair manner.”
In the aftermath of the incident, Yale administrators stated their commitments to protected speech and academic freedom.