“Stop instigating more debate”
Just when you thought the “safe spaces” PC-plagued college campuses couldn’t get more ridiculous, Yale students step up to prove you wrong.
Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Council (yes, they have such a thing) sent out an email prior to Halloween asking that students be thoughtful in their costume selection so as not to offend others. They listed specific examples of costumes deemed offensive, “such as feathered headdresses, turbans, ‘war paint,’ and blackface as examples of inappropriate ‘cultural appropriation and/or misrepresentation’.”
Erika Christakis, Associate Master of Silliman College, responded to the email and defended students’ right to wear Halloween costumes of their choosing, even if said costumes might be considered outrageous, inappropriate, provocative, or even offensive.
Christakis further urged students “not to take offense at insensitive Halloween costumes,” and she told students, “‘If you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. ‘Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society’.”
Christakis drew on her experiences as a child development specialist to question whether a university should dictate what students should and shouldn’t wear on Halloween:
I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community. I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.
In addition to expressing concerns about how policing students’ costumes can limit the exercise of imagination, free speech, and free expression, Christakis asked:
Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition.
Yale students, however, did not appreciate this attempt to loosen the university’s control over their Halloween costume choices nor the suggestion that they can control their own response to insensitive costume choices by choosing not to be offended or by the simple act of looking away. Indeed, they are now demanding Christakis resign for daring to suggest they should be free to make their own decisions . . . about Halloween costumes.
When her husband, Master of Silliman College, Nicholas Christakis defended his wife’s statements, students responded . . . well, as you might expect.
Watch (language warning):
The above student screams that her “home” is threatened by Christakis’s email and by her husband’s defense of it.
This concept of Yale as both “safe space” and “home” is illustrated by one student writing at The Yale Herald about her “hurt at home” (Edit, 11/10/15: this post has been taken down, but is cached here):
As a Silimander, I feel that my home is being threatened. Last week, Erika Christakis, the associate master of Silliman College, sent an email to the Silliman community that called an earlier entreaty for Yalies to be more sensitive about culturally appropriating Halloween costumes a threat to free speech.
. . . . Today, when a group of us, organized originally by the Black Student Alliance at Yale, spoke with Christakis in the Silliman Courtyard, his response once again disappointed many of us. When students tried to tell him about their painful personal experiences as students of color on campus, he responded by making more arguments for free speech. It’s unacceptable when the Master of your college is dismissive of your experiences. The Silliman Master’s role is not only to provide intellectual stimulation, but also to make Silliman a safe space that all students can come home to.
. . . . I have had to watch my friends defend their right to this institution. This email and the subsequent reaction to it have interrupted their lives. I have friends who are not going to class, who are not doing their homework, who are losing sleep, who are skipping meals, and who are having breakdowns. I feel drained. And through it all, Christakis has shown that he does not consider us a priority.
. . . . Christakis’ actions have not been aimed at healing a divided community. Instead, they continue to frame the issue in an “us against them” split. Christakis needs to stop instigating more debate. He needs to stop trying to argue with people who are hurting, regardless of his personal opinions. Being the Master of Silliman is a position of power. To use it to marginalize so much of the student body is deplorable.
Someone suggests they can (not that they must or even should, mind you) wear Halloween costumes (Halloween costumes!) that someone else might find offensive, and these students become unhinged and melt down; they’re not eating, sleeping, or doing homework, and some are having “breakdowns.” What is going to happen to these precious snowflakes when they leave college and face the real world? Their delicate sensibilities and sense of perpetual victimhood and entitlement will not serve them well.
Yale’s president, however, is fostering their extended adolescence of self-indulgence and stompy-footed temper tantrums. He’s not defending the faculty members but is instead expressing his sorrow that Yale administrators “failed” the students.
“We failed you,” Peter Salovey, a psychologist, told more than 40 students gathered in the ornate room where the Yale Corporation meets, on the top floor of the president’s office.
“I think we have to be a better university. I think we have to do a better job,” he said, according to several students in the room who were taking notes. The four-hour meeting concluded a dramatic day on this Ivy League campus, as students confronted administrators about a series of recent events that have laid bare long-simmering racial tensions at the elite school.
All of this is completely surreal to me, but perhaps Yale is trying to model itself on “Safe Space University“?
And woe betide the person who puts this entire incident in its proper perspective. Yale News reports:
After a comment that speaker Greg Lukianoff made during a private William F. Buckley, Jr. Program conference on free speech was posted on the Facebook group “Overheard at Yale” this afternoon, over 100 students gathered around Linsly-Chittenden Hall to voice their anger.
“Looking at the reaction to Erika Christakis’s email, you would have thought someone wiped out an entire Indian village,” Lukianoff said, according to Gian-Paul Bergeron ’17, who was present at the event and posted the quotation online. According to seven other attendees interviewed, the remark was followed by some laughter in the crowd.
. . . . The online Facebook post led a group of Native American women, other students of color and their supporters to protest the conference in an impromptu gathering outside of LC 102, where the Buckley event was taking place. Officers from the Yale University Police Department stood in front of the entrance, announcing that the event was at full capacity and unregistered individuals were not allowed to enter.
The situation escalated when President of the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program Zach Young ’17 came outside to offer food to the protestors. Students outside demanded that a representative be allowed to join the conference and voice their views. But another attendee engaged with the protesters, saying that unregistered students were not allowed into the room and adding that speakers within the conference were entitled to their views as well. The standoff quickly became confrontational, with both sides raising their voices.
Yale students are protesting a talk on free speech because someone exercised that right and said something they didn’t like.
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