Inadvertent comedy department: (above) Former master of (the soon to be re-named) Calhoun College & Edmund S. Morgan Professor of African American Studies, now the first black Dean of Yale College, Jonathan Holloway found himself confronted yesterday on the cross campus, in front of Yale’s Sterling Library by hundreds of beneficiaries of Affirmative Action (just like himself) demanding “additional black faculty, racial sensitivity training for freshmen and the dismissal of administrators viewed as racially inattentive.”
Indignation over microaggressions at Yale rose to the boiling point this week because Silliman College Associate Master Erica Christakis responded to an admonitory pre-Halloween email from the Intercultural Affairs Council â€” a group of administrators from the cultural centers, Chaplainâ€™s Office and other campus organizations â€” sent to the undergraduate student body warning against wearing Halloween costumes which could be interpreted as belittling or offensive: no sombreros, no blackface, no turbans.
The Oldest College Daily reports that Christakis responded with an email of her own, which
defended studentsâ€™ rights to wear potentially offensive costumes as an expression of free speech, arguing that the ability to tolerate affront is one of the hallmarks of a free and open society. Her email compared adults selecting costumes to children playing dress up, and she asserted that imagination should be encouraged and not constrained.
â€œIs there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious â€¦ a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?â€ Christakis, who assumed the position of associate master of Silliman this fall, wrote. â€œAmerican 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.â€
A Silliman student, Ryan Wilson ’17, drafted a letter in response, ultimately signed by “740 undergraduates, graduate students, alumni, faculty and even students from other universities… telling Christakis that her ‘offensive’ email invalidates the voices of minority students on campus. The letter, posted Friday night, state[d] that Christakis misrepresented the Intercultural Affairs Committeeâ€™s call for sensitivity as ‘censure’.”
After confronting Dean Holloway, a portion of the crowd went after Associate Master Erica Christakis’ husband:
A heated crowd of students encircled Nicholas Christakis after 3 p.m. and accused him of racism and insensitivity, with many in attendance demanding an apology for the email statement, which admonished the censure of Halloween costumes deemed culturally appropriating. They also criticized Erika Christakisâ€™ behavior during an open forum hosted at the Afro-American Cultural House Wednesday night â€” in particular, her attempt to leave the room before speaking or answering questions directed toward her.
â€œI apologize for causing pain, but I am not sorry for the statement,â€ Nicholas Christakis told the crowd. â€œI stand behind free speech. I defend the right for people to speak their minds.â€
The gathering quickly became tense and confrontational after his response. Several students screamed at Christakis and called him â€œdisgusting.â€
The suffering of Yale students of color at the sight of certain Halloween costumes was evidently quite considerable.
Students at Thursdayâ€™s protest said the e-mail ignored the way people of color experience such insensitive characterizations, and they recounted how students have faced threats of physical violence when they have questioned their classmatesâ€™ costume choices.
â€œThere was so much coded language in that e-mail that is just disrespectful,â€ said Ewurama Okai, a junior.
Several students in Silliman said they cannot bear to live in the college anymore. â€œThey canâ€™t stay in the masterâ€™s house,â€ one student said.
Thursday evening, students were drafting a formal letter calling for the removal of Christakis and his wife from their roles in Silliman. …
Some students said they believe the problem is broader, in that many Yale faculty members are unequipped to talk to black students.
Isaiah Genece, a junior, said he has never had a black professor at Yale. Nearly a dozen black students described the experience of being the sole black person in a class, and the unequal responsibilities foisted on them to speak on behalf of their race.
The universityâ€™s commitment to faculty diversity has come under heightened scrutiny since Elizabeth Alexander, a prominent black poet and essayist, announced her plans to leave Yale for Columbia. This week the university announced a $50 million, five-year initiative to enhance the diversity of the faculty.
Another student, Dianne Lake, tied anger over the Halloween e-mail to recent debate about the title â€œmasterâ€ used for the heads of the schoolâ€™s residential colleges, asking: â€œWhy do Yale students call these administrators master? The world is watching.â€
50 years of racially-based favoritism have led to what? Certainly not to genuine equality of intellectual maturity, independence, and self respect. Not to gratitude and appreciation either. All the special recruiting, the very-heavy-thumb-on-the-scales Affirmative Action admissions, the invention and establishment of cultural identity academic departments and majors, all the specially-motivated faculty and administrative appointments, the university-provided-and-funded cultural houses, all that is not enough.
Student representatives of privileged and protected groups want more privilege, more protection, and feel entitled to demand that the University Administration wave a magic wand and change reality so that Yale’s illustrious faculty (mostly selected on the basis of real achievement) will feature still more conspicuous representation of their own group. Meanwhile, the Yale Administration ought to get busy establishing a totalitarian regime enforcing a punitive system of speech and thought control calculated to ensure that no member of a protected group ever experiences an affront (however subjective).
One can almost feel sorry for Dean Holloway.