Derwin Aikens, Yale ’16, Environmental Studies, Pierson Freshman Counselor, Dukes Men, Whiffenpoofs, posted in Overheard at Yale on Facebook:
I’m so tired of having to prove to people how this was never a debate about free speech. People are angry. People are asking faculty members to be removed from positions of power. People are threatening others, spitting on others (allegedly), and yelling at others because many people fundamentally don’t understand. Many of those actions are unproductive and maybe even wrong, but it’s because people are angry and tired of not being heard. This was never a discussion of free speech. That should have never been brought to the table. Dean Howard’s email was asking students to be culturally sensitive, to be aware of how your costumes were affecting those around you. And for some reason Christakis was made uncomfortable. She tried to regain her comfort by making this a discussion about free speech, but that was never the issue. The IAC was never asking students to censor themselves. They were asking students to critically engage with their costume choices and be sensitive to the ways in which it impacted those around them. Students are mad because Christakis found something wrong with that and abused her power as Associate Master to publicly announce her discomfort and justified it using free speech. Thus we now have this debate of respect vs. free speech, but it was never about that. Students are angry not because of free speech, but because cultural sensitivity made Christakis UNCOMFORTABLE. And there in lies the problem.
We need to change the conversation to one that is productive. Because we need to address why cultural sensitivity made her and perhaps many others on campus uncomfortable. Because I’m so sick of the debate forcing people to prove that cultural sensitivity and respect is somehow directly infringing upon free speech. We shouldn’t have to prove that, because it isn’t true. If you don’t understand this, please please please come talk to me because I’m so sick of this free speech debate. It’s bullshit and a total and utter misinterpretation of students anger. Listen up and do better, Yale.
Jencey Paz, Yale ’17, Psychology and Ecology & Evoluntionary Biology, Silliman Master’s Aide published an editorial titled “Hurt at Home” in the Yale Herald, but has obviously had it removed subsequently, after it was quoted with negative commentary on several on-line sites (example). Currently available via Google cache.
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. In the aftermath of the email, I saw my community divide. She did not just start a political discourse as she intended. She marginalized many students of color in what is supposed to be their home. But more disappointing than the original email has been the response of Christakis and her husband, Silliman Master Nicholas Christakis. They have failed to acknowledge the hurt and pain that such a large part of our community feel. They have again and again shown that they are committed to an ideal of free speech, not to the Silliman community.
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. Itâ€™s unacceptable when the Master of your college is dismissive of your experiences. The Silliman Masterâ€™s role is not only to provide intellectual stimulation, but also to make Silliman a safe space that all students can come home to. His responsibility is to make it a place where your experiences are a valid concern to the administration and where you can feel free to talk with them about your pain without worrying that the conversation will turn into an argument every single time. We are supposed to feel encouraged to go to our Master and Associate Master with our concerns and feel that our opinions will be respected and heard.
But, in his ten weeks as a leader of the college, Master Christakis has not fostered this sense of community. He seems to lack the ability, quite frankly, to put aside his opinions long enough to listen to the very real hurt that the community feels. He doesnâ€™t get it. And I donâ€™t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.
My dad is a really stubborn man. We debate all the time, and I understand the value of hearing differing opinions. But there have been times when I have come to my father crying, when I was emotionally upset, and he heard me regardless of whether or not he agreed with me. He taught me that there is a time for debate, and there is a time for just hearing and acknowledging someoneâ€™s pain.
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 attended the forum on Erikaâ€™s email at the Afro-American Cultural Center on Wed., Nov. 4, where students were vulnerable and shared deeply personal stories. After leaving the event early, Christakis tweeted an article on his personal account about the importance of free speech. Then, he retweeted his tweet using the Silliman Twitter handle. This is a clear and flagrant violation. No one should use the Silliman Twitter as a personal platform. The residential college Twitters are a place to share information relevant to everyone in the community; no one consented to having Christakisâ€™ personal view published in a manner that indicated that the community was behind him. The event was indicative of a bigger issue: Christakis is using Silliman college as his intellectual sparring ground.
Further, Christakis has yet to truly acknowledge to the entire Silliman community that he has hurt people. The closest he has gotten to this is sending out an open invitation to brunch at his house to further discuss the issue. Essentially, it was an invitation to debate more. But we donâ€™t want to debate more. We want to be able to go home at night in a place where we feel welcome and wanted.
Christakisâ€™ actions have not been aimed at healing a divided community. Instead, they continue to frame the issue in an â€œus against themâ€ 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.
Today, when many of us, mostly students of color and Sillimanders, confronted Nicholas Christakis in the Silliman Courtyard, he said he was sorry that we were feeling pain. But is he really? I donâ€™t think he understands what many Sillimanders are going through, nor has he tried.
Christakis hasnâ€™t checked in on any of us. He hasnâ€™t given us any indication that he is going to or wants to heal the community. If you know Iâ€™m in pain and you arenâ€™t doing anything to try to help me, then how can you be sorry? Christakis is the Master of Silliman College, it is his job to take care of us, and he is failing.