Why are Yale murder victims more important?

Murdered Yale graduate student Annie Le in a photo released by the FBI

Murdered Yale graduate student Annie Le in a photo released by the FBI

One word keeps popping up in the Annie Le murder headlines.

The word is “Yale”.  “Lab worker arrested in Yale student’s killing” blared CNN’s headline this morning. “Yale Murder: Crime of Passion? ” asked ABCnews.com. Even Britain Guardian’s newspaper proclaimed that “Yale Student Annie Le was strangled”.

But do a Google search for “college student murdered.” Lots of hits, but not a lot that appear on national news sites. “The gruesome murder of Imette St. Guillen” read an MSNBC headline that failed to mention the victim was a graduate student at John Jay College. “Hunt On For College Student’s Killer” read the CBSnews.com headline that neglected to include that the victim – an attractive young woman like Annie Le – was an Auburn University freshman.

Annie Le was murdered on her wedding day. But those weren’t the buzz words in the headlines, except when they read “Missing Yale Student Annie Le’s Body Likely Found on Wedding Day‎”.

Would Annie Le’s death have been any less tragic if she had been a student at Wackapoo Community College? Her murder had nothing to do the school she attended. If she had been an Hispanic cleaning woman killed on the Yale campus, would this have made national news? You know the answer.

We live in a society that is disintegrating from the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. We have already established if you’re young, white and blond, like Natalie Holloway, then your murder becomes a sensation. Now we are sending the message that society only cares about your safety if your college is at the top of the U.S. News and World Report college rankings.

My heart goes out to Annie Le’s family. Not because their daughter was a Yale student. Of all the memories that 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.

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11 Responses to Why are Yale murder victims more important?

  1. Caitlin Kelly says:

    Thanks for this. You’re right and it’s supposed to be shorthand for (more) valuable which is deeply offensive to anyone who didn’t attend an Ivy or need or want to.

  2. Stellaa says:

    Not to mention young women that are not college students who get murdered daily.

    Why is it a national story? All murder is bad, yet, as you point out, some murders are more “sad” than others. We accept that poor people are killed.

  3. Chris Thomas says:

    You ask a great question but I think you’ve missed an important part of the question.

    A murder at Yale is significant because we perceive an Ivy League school like Yale to be safe. Though the students we send off to college are adults, to their parents they are very much children and there is a concern – particularly after shootings like we saw at Virginia Tech – that we send our kids to safe schools where no harm will befall them.

    And so stories get national attention when they violate our perceptions of what is and what ought to be. Colleges ought to be safe and while a murder at a college is always tragic it takes some guy with a samurai sword to make a killing news at Johns Hopkins – probably because it’s nestled into some of Baltimore’s more unsavory neighborhoods.

    Stories like this aren’t just about who we value; they’re about the violation of the cocoon of imagined safety we’ve built for ourselves.

    A murder at an Ivy is another chink in that armor, another shock to the system and another indication that the world is a dangerous place.

    Fear sells and nothing frightens parents more than hearing about the murder of a child as or more sheltered than their own.

    • Michael Peck says:

      Are Ivy League schools perceived to be safer? I hadn’t thought of that. It always seemed to me that some prominent schools are located in city neighborhoods that aren’t so great.

      But that doesn’t explain why the name of the university is highlighted when the victim is Ivy League. If student safety is what concerns us, you would think that a college murder in, say, a tranquil, low-crime part of Wisconsin would get more attention because it’s so unexpected.

      • carolrhill814 says:

        You took the words right out of my mouth sort of but just because it a school of higher learning doesn’t mean that the people who go there are the richest or the smartest and all of these children come with their past no matter where they are from. If they had a violent past and was never corrected they will bring it everywhere they go no matter where they go to school.
        School where they attend has NOTHING to do with what kind of person they are or are not that comes from within further more if they were never taught respect of PERSON, PLACE or THING they feel they have a right to do what they want to do whenever they want to do it.
        But that is the way I feel.

  4. “Stories like this aren’t just about who we value; they’re about the violation of the cocoon of imagined safety we’ve built for ourselves.”

    But part of that “safety” and “sheltered” aspect, Chris, is who is seen as deserving of a cocoon. Safety is a right, and a commitment to it should be something that we should be bestow as equally as we can. It shouldn’t be a luxurious pod that only the elite can purchase. The assumption that “colleges ought to be safe” is part of that worldview. I’d think that neighborhoods ought to be safe as well. Just b/c you’re in a place where the ruling class replicate themselves shouldn’t buy you any more right to safety than someone in Compton. Obviously, the world doesn’t work that way, but we shouldn’t lie to ourselves and pretend those assumptions aren’t deeply immoral.

    Even the worst neighborhoods are overwhelming populated by the non-criminal. They’re a victim twice – from the criminals and from our withholding of resources b/c of an assumption that property values determine your worthiness as a human being.

  5. carolrhill814 says:

    The sad thing it is true when someone likse she dies it is all over the news. I guess it is very shocking.
    But I agree someone in lesser stature does get killed nothing is sad about it. It is like they are hidden some where and not important and that is also not fair.
    I don’t whether anybody heard about a killing in Florida at high school called Coral Gables High School and it was over a girl. Both boys got into a fight but one of them brought a knife and stabbed the other boy to dealth and it is all over the NEWS because it happened at school.
    I remember the days going to school (just after the ark landed) and violence in was not part of the picture at all because there were rules and everybody went by them or else and we never knew what the or else was but we never wanted to know either.
    But in those days we were taught very well to respect PERSON, PLACE and THING no matter what especially your elders but today that just doesn’t happen and we should go back to the old days and everything would change for the better it just would and that is a fact nobody has said because you have to be careful what you say.
    But in my days everyone is important no matter the money you have or don’t have because we wouldn’t be here if GOD didn’t want us to be here and that is a fact.

  6. Rick Ungar says:

    Interesting question.
    I wonder how much has to do with the “conbination” of a university everyone knows combined with a murder? It might be that Yale is more of a highbrow school, as you suggest, or it might just be that the story is “juicier” when its a famous school.
    I think I’m less convinced that its about there being something ‘special’ about kids who attend an ivy league school like Yale versus the fact that the school is nationally famous and, therefore, a bigger news story. But, you certainly could be right.

    • Michael Peck says:

      But why is it that some schools are famous? Perhaps it’s because their names are always prominently mentioned. How often do you read in a feature article that the subject is a Princeton grad, versus Univ. of Kentucky?

      Still, you raise an interesting point. If Annie Le had been a Univ. of Pennsylvania student, would the school’s name have appeared in the headline? Maybe some Ivys are more equal than others. What about prestigious but non-Ivy schools such as Georgetown?

      Incidentally, an MSNBC headline on the Virginia Tech shootings said “Worst U.S. shooting ever kills 33 on Va. campus”. Notice it said Virginia campus. I suspect that mass murder at Harvard wouldn’t have been written up as “33 killed on Mass. Campus”.

      • Rick Ungar says:

        Isn’t that kind of like asking why some actors are more famous than others? The fact that Harvard and Yale are not only among the oldest universities in the nation but are considered to be among the very best might have something to do with it. I’m not sure why that is a bad thing. So they have a better reputation for education than, say, Kalamazoo University. Not sure why you would be troubled by that. It has alot to do with tradition and the fact that some of the best minds in the nation choose to teach at the better known schools. I’m not sure I’m prepared to infer something nefarious about that. If you are correct that a murder on one of those campuses results in more coverage because a student there is perceived as somehow “better’ or more ‘important” I can see your point. But I don’t see any crime in Harvard or Yale being more famous than a lesser known college.

      • Michael Peck says:

        I don’t have a problem with Harvard and Yale having better reputations. I do have a problem when the most prominent aspect of Annie Le’s murder – at least in the national news headlines – was that she was at Yale. The headlines didn’t say “College Student Murdered on Wedding Day”, which was the most poignant aspect of the case.

        Again, when an Auburn university student was murdered, the national headlines didn’t mention the Auburn name. Why? A lot of people would recognize that Auburn is a university (its athletic teams get a lot of publicity).

        It seems to me that the message we’re sending is that college rankings determine how much attention a murder gets.

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