Mediation room with sand box at Yale’s “Good Life Center”
Back in my day, Yale’s colleges had squash courts, pool rooms, wood shops, and not uncommonly print shops in which undergraduates could produce hand-printed limited edition books. Today’s Yalies go to therapy and play in sand boxes.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, before shelter-in-place orders, there was the campus safe space. Students claimed that they needed protection from perceived threats to their emotional well-being. College administrators were only too happy to comply, building up a vast edifice of services to respond to studentsâ€™ alleged emotional trauma. Last year, Yale University created a safe space that will set the industry standard for years to come. Call it the college woke spa, though its official title is the Good Life Center. Featuring a sandbox, essential oils, massage, and mental-health workshops, the center unites the most powerful forces in higher education today: the feminization of the university, therapeutic culture, identity politics, and the vast student-services bureaucracy. While other colleges may not yet have created as richly endowed a therapeutic space as the Good Life Center, theyâ€™re all being transformed by the currents that gave it birth, currents visible even in the reaction to the coronavirus outbreak.
â€œI donâ€™t know anyone [at Yale] who hasnâ€™t had therapy. Itâ€™s a big culture on campus,â€ says a rosy-cheeked undergraduate in a pink sweatshirt. She is nestled in a couch in the subsidized coffee shop adjacent to Yaleâ€™s Good Life Center, where students can sip sustainably sourced espresso and $3 tea lattes. â€œNinety percent of the people I know have at least tried.â€ For every 20 of her friends, this sophomore estimates, four have bipolar disorderâ€”as does she, she says.
Such voices represent what is universally deemed a mental-health crisis on college campuses. More than one in three students report having a mental-health disorder. Student use of therapy nationally rose almost 40 percent from 2009 to 2015, while enrollment increased by only 5 percent, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University. At smaller colleges, 40 percent or more of the student body has gone for treatment; at Yale, over 50 percent of undergraduates seek therapy.
Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos created the Good Life Center in response to this alleged mental-health crisis. She had just taught what is billed as the most popular course in Yaleâ€™s history: â€œPsychology and the Good Life,â€ which aimed to arm students with â€œscientifically validatedâ€ techniques for overcoming emotional distress and â€œliving a more satisfying life.â€ The course presented the findings of positive psychology, a recent subfield that examines what makes humans happy, rather than what makes them miserable. â€œPsychology and the Good Lifeâ€ was not just a disinterested overview, however; it was a semester-long exercise in self-help. Students were assigned better mental-health practicesâ€”getting more sleep one week, exercising a few minutes a day another; meditating during the next week, keeping a gratitude journal the following week. For the final exam, students designed their own personalized self-help: the â€œHack Yoâ€™Self Project.â€
The courseâ€™s target audience was, by its own account, in desperate need of emotional rescue. â€œA lot of us are anxious, stressed, unhappy, numb,â€ a female freshman told the New York Times. â€œThe fact that a class like this has such large interest speaks to how tired students are of numbing their emotionsâ€”both positive and negativeâ€”so they can focus on their work, the next step, the next accomplishment.â€ The size of the turnout itself was therapeutic: â€œBeing able to see that an entire giant concert hall full of people is struggling alongside you is huge,â€ another student told the Yale Daily News. Apparently, being a Yale student was a massive burdenâ€”something that would have astounded Yaleâ€™s legendary teachers, such as art historian Vincent Scully and literary critic Harold Bloom, who conveyed to students the excitement they should feel before the lure of beauty and knowledge.
The questions of what leads to happiness and how we should conduct our lives have deep philosophical roots in the West, stretching back to the pre-Socratics. The Stoics and Epicureans sought to inculcate in their followers a mental outlook that would steel them against fate and the fear of death. Only a virtuous life, growing out of settled habits of character, the ancients counseled, led to happiness. Aristotle posited that the use of reason to attain truth would bring fulfillment, since reason was manâ€™s highest faculty and truth was the telos of human existence.
The syllabus for â€œPsychology and the Good Lifeâ€ contained no hint of this rich tradition. Instead, it was relentlessly presentist, consisting of online TED talks, news articles on positive psychology, lecture videos from other psychology courses, short research papers, and chapters from recent nonfiction books, like Cass Sunstein and Richard Thalerâ€™s Nudge. The final recommended reading was Dr. Seussâ€™s Oh, the Places Youâ€™ll Go. To get students â€œpumpedâ€ for each lecture, Santos played the Black-Eyed Peasâ€™ â€œI Gotta Feelingâ€ (â€œI gotta feeling, that tonight, that tonight / That tonightâ€™s gonna be a good, good, good, good, good / Good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, goodâ€). Platoâ€™s Symposium this wasnâ€™t.
Nearly a quarter of Yaleâ€™s undergraduates signed up for â€œPsychology and the Good Life,â€ whose popularity may have been boosted by rumors of undemanding grading expectations. Courses that met at the same time experienced a sharp drop in enrollment. A decision was taken not to reoffer the â€œGood Lifeâ€ course. As it happened, however, Santos had precious real estate at her disposal, since she leads Silliman College, one of Yaleâ€™s 14 undergraduate residential communities. So she converted four rooms at the top of a landing in Silliman into the Good Life Center, to â€œpromote a campus culture that values wellness as a community responsibility,â€ as the centerâ€™s mission statement reads. Or, in less bureaucratic terms, to â€œspread good vibes,â€ as the GLC website puts it. …
Here, in a nutshell, is the essence of the college woke spa: an aesthetic and worldview built predominantly around what have been largely female interests, concerns, and fears. The GLCâ€™s self-esteem bromides, the self-compassion ethic, the yoga and mindfulness sessionsâ€”all would be at home in a Beverly Hills â€œhealing space,â€ where trophy wives can â€œcenter themselves in an atmosphere of calm.â€ A visitor keeps expecting to encounter crystals and star charts. …
Underneath the essential oils and yoga mats, the woke spa mental-wellness crusade is accomplishing an even more profound transformation of university life. The assumption that emotional threat and danger lie just beyond the spa is the product of an increasingly female-dominated student body, faculty, and administration. That assumption is undermining traditional academic values of rational discourse, argumentation, and free speech.
Former Silliman College Master Nicholas Christakis told by Shrieking Student to resign. He promptly went on sabbatical and then did resign.
Richard Epstein contemplates the shame of Yale’s sexual misconduct star chamber tribunals along with the hypocrisy of President Peter Salovey’s claim that Free Speech flourishes at Yale.
Salovey takes great pride in noting â€œthe Yale administration did not criticize, discipline, or dismiss a single member of its faculty, staff, or student body for expressing an opinion.â€ That sentence may be technically true, but it does not explain why Salovey did not mention the unfortunate fate of Nicholas and Erika Christakis, both of whom resigned from Yale under massive pressure after student protestors demanded that Nicholas be removed from his position as master of Silliman College. Why? Because Erika had written an email that took issue with a letter from Yaleâ€™s Intercultural Affairs Committee that warned students against various insensitive forms of behaviors, like wearing offensive Halloween costumes. The letter noted, like Saloveyâ€™s op-ed, that Yale values â€œfree expression as well as inclusivity.â€ But the massive level of abuse directed at Nicholas and Erika Christakis reveals how strongly Yale weighs one imperative over the other.
Yale surrendered to the Obama Justice Department’s Russlyn Ali, immediately upon receipt of her infamous “Dear Colleague letter,” which threatened withholding of federal funds to universities which failed to establish
Sexual Harassment Inquisitorial procedures forthwith.
President Salovey announced last Fall that he was firmly behind the Christakises, when outraged student demonstrations erupted after Mrs. Christakis wrote an email questioning the appropriateness of an Intercultural Student Affairs edict warning against students wearing Halloween costumes which could be interpreted as belittling or culturally appropriative: no sombreros, no blackface, no turbans. Both Christakises, nonetheless, were out of the Master’s House in Silliman in short order and out of New Haven. A decent interval, up until the next Mid-Summer, was allowed to go by to save Yale’s face, before Nicholas Christakis’s permanent resignation was announced. Way to go, Free Speech at Yale!
Current Head of Silliman College: Laurie Santos, Harvard ’97 A.B psychology & biology, ’03 Ph.D. psychology.
A Yale alumn I know from Silliman (I was in Berkeley myself) passes along an email:
Excerpt below from actual email I received from actual grown-up in an important position at a once-prestigious Ivy League university (“HoC Santos,” who is the new don’t-call-it-Master of Silliman). Am I just old and out of it, or is it fundamentally undignified for someone in that sort of role to adopt the tone of a perky 19-year-old sorority social-events chair at some perfectly-okay state university somewhere out in flyover country?
“Our first ever Sing-Along will take you back to the days of flannel clothing, huge scrunchies and boy bands. It will be the ultimate celebration of all things â€˜90s! From the Britney to Backstreet Boys, with plenty of Alanis and Nirvana mixed in, this is how we Sillimanders do it, even as we smell like teen spirit cuz we’re livinâ€™ la vida loca.8-9:30pm in Silliflicks. Word to your mutha.”
There was no email, not even any PCs, back when I was an undergraduate at Yale. In those days, all Yale Residential College Masters were middle-aged White Anglo-Saxon Protestant males and distinguished scholars. In Silliman’s case, the Master was one Elias Clark, a law professor with a background which included Yale and Andover and WWII military service.
Somehow, I cannot really picture Master Clark sending out to the Silliman Salamanders of my day a mimeograph announcement of a college shindig celebrating the music and pop stars of the 1950s couched in the Beatnik vernacular of Maynard G. Krebs. Still less, his screwing up and inadvertently forwarding such a missive to graduated alumni.
Professor Santos may very likely have been specifically chosen to make the Snowflakes of Color of Silliman College feel safer from improper Halloween costuming and more comfortable and at home there, which we all learned last year is the most essential function of the heads of Yale residential colleges.
Former Associate Masters Nicholas and Erika Christakis fell afoul of diverse student sensivities, when La Christakis responded to an admonitory Intercultural Affairs Council email edict warning students sternly against such Halloween transgressions as wearing blackface, sombreros, or turbans with a skeptical email of her own wondering aloud about the propriety and necessity of such politically correct pronunciamentos.
In response to Erika Christakis’s chin-stroking email, students went absolutely wild. Nicholas Christakis was confronted, shouted down, told he was not doing his job properly, and urged to resign. An African-American dean was similarly mobbed and lectured on his responsibility to be on the side of his own people. There were marches, one of which occurred at Midnight and featured the delivery of some pretty outrageous demands to the timid Yale President Peter Salovey at his house on Hillhouse Avenue.
The Yale Administration announced that it was firmly behind the free speech rights of the Christakises, which announcement was followed by Erika’s rapid departure in under a month, immediately thereafter by husband Nicholas’s departure on sabbatical, and finally (surprise! surprise!) by the announcement of his resignation during the summer. Yale was ever so solidly behind them. Adieu! Christakises and Adieu! the title of Master itself.
President Salovey previously announced that Yale would pay $50 million in Danegeld for more privileged-victim-group faculty recruitment and development (aka remedial education) and whatever else our contemporary Danes might desire. Yale’s concessions and surrenders will be continuing.
Master of Silliman College 1962-1981, Charles Elias “Eli” Clark, Andover ’39, Yale ’43 B.A. American history, Army Air Corps pilot 1944-1945, Yale Law ’47, Yale M.A. ’58.
The very liberal Master of Silliman College and his equally liberal wife and co-Master, were publicly denounced and vilified early last November for Mrs. Christakis’s daring to question the dictate on the vital issues of Halloween costuming laid down by Yale’s “Intercultural Affairs Committee,” a 13-member group of administrators from the Chaplainâ€™s Office, campus cultural centers, and other campus organization. That committee urged students to be careful of the cultural implications of their Halloween costumes and to avoid trespassing upon the tender sensitivities of officially-recognized victim groups via the use of feathered headdresses, turbans, â€œwar paint,â€ or blackface, all cases of inappropriate â€œcultural appropriation and/or misrepresentation.â€
Co-Master Erika Christakis responded two days later, the night before Halloween with her own email, based on her professional expertise as a child development specialist, questioning the appropriateness of the university policing students’ choices of Halloween costumes:
I donâ€™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.
Christakis raised free speech and expression issues and then inquired philosophically:
Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxiousâ€¦ 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.
Demonstrations ensued, an open letter denouncing Erika Christakis’s email was signed by hundreds and hundreds of students and faculty, Nicholas Christakis was confronted and abused by “the shrieking student,” Yale Dean Holloway was confronted and scolded by a crowd of students of color, demonstrators demanded the Yale Administration apologize and meet a long laundry list of demands, including the dismissal of both Christakises.
The University declined to fire the Christakises, and affirmed that they continued to have its support. But, Erika Christakis quit teaching at Yale last December, and her husband Nicholas announced soon thereafter that he would be taking a sabbatical for the Spring Semester.
On Wednesday this week, the Yale Daily News reported that, all that solid Administration support notwithstanding, what do you know? the Christakises will never be coming back.
Months after a controversial email helped spur sustained student protests last fall, Nicholas and Erika Christakis will step down as head and associate head of Silliman College, effective this July.
In a Wednesday afternoon email to the Silliman community, Nicholas Christakis announced that he submitted his resignation to University President Peter Salovey last week. The couple drew national attention last fall when a Halloween weekend email from Erika Christakis defending studentsâ€™ rights to wear culturally appropriative costumes sparked outrage on campus.
At the time, many students and alumni called for the couple to resign their roles at the helm of Silliman College, arguing that the two could no longer serve as effective leaders of a college community designed to create a home for undergraduates. But others said their removal would constitute a serious blow to free speech on college campuses.
In his resignation announcement, Nicholas Christakis emphasized the importance of open intellectual debate, a stance which caused controversy last fall as many students argued that the emphasis on free speech came at the cost of student wellbeing and safety.
â€œWe have great respect for every member of our community, friend and critic alike,â€ Nicholas Christakis wrote. â€œWe remain hopeful that students at Yale can express themselves and engage complex ideas within an intellectually plural community. But we feel it is time to return full-time to our respective fields of public health and early childhood education.â€
Now both professors have stepped down. The â€œglowing promisesâ€ … in Yaleâ€™s famed Woodward Report, which assures students and faculty members that they are free to â€œthink the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeableâ€ and states that â€œ[a]mong the Collegeâ€™s most cherished principles is its commitment to freedom of expression.â€
With the Christakisesâ€™ resignation, itâ€™s clear that Yaleâ€™s ability to live up to its public promise to provide an environment that fosters free and robust debate has been called into sharp question.
It is probably some Yale irate alumn who has singled out the shrieking student on Facebook for revenge.
Silliman College has decided to cancel all future Safety Dances after eight hospitalizations followed Saturdayâ€™s event.
In a Monday night email to the News following this weekâ€™s Silliman Activities and Administrative Committee meeting, Safety Dance organizers Nicole De Santis â€™15 and Hannah Fornero â€™15 announced that the â€œrisk and liability of the Safety Dance are too great for us to continue having it.â€ Though new efforts were made at this yearâ€™s Safety Dance to help improve student safety, binge drinking and hospital transports still dominated the event. Silliman College Master Judith Kraus said three students were transported from the dance site to Yale-New Haven Hospital, and that another five were transported from several other locations on campus â€” marking a significant increase from last yearâ€™s five students in total. Krauss said that aside from those students transported due to intoxication, many others were excessively intoxicated and engaged in inappropriate behavior.
â€œThere were countless incidents inside the dance, most of them unrepeatable, that can be directly attributed to drunkenness,â€ Krauss said.
Master K has always been the biggest sourpuss on campus. Just a curmudgeony old witch with a total no fun attitude. This quote blew me away:
“â€œThere were countless incidents inside the dance, most of them unrepeatable, that can be directly attributed to drunkenness,â€ Krauss said.”
It calls to mind Neidermeyer’s line from the disciplinary hearing in Animal House: “And most recently of all, a “Roman Toga Party” was held from which we have received more than two dozen reports of individual acts of perversion SO profound and disgusting that decorum prohibits listing them here”
“…ambulances picked up the other five students from different locations around campus, attributing these cases to excessive pre-gaming.”
As would be expected when you ban or heavily restrict access to alcohol at the event itself. Experience has shown that when access to alcohol is limited, students will simply hide in their rooms and rip shots before mixing up some sauce in a gatorate bottle or flask for the road. They’ll drink it quickly leading to a rapid and dangerous rise in BAC.
This whole thing is ironic given subject matter of the Men Without Hats song from which the dance’s name was derived. It was the band’s response to curmudgeons like Master K who thought the drunken, raucous new wave dance parties of the 80’s were detrimental to society. “We can dance if we want to…” Except at Yale.
13 drunks got carted off to the tank after the major party of the year attended by roughly 2300 undergraduates. Oh, me! oh, my!
In my day, of course, when you got yourself blue, blind, paralytic drunk, nobody came to the rescue with an ambulance. You had your own private session of worshipping the porcelain god, and then you staggered off to bed, doomed to rise eventually to experience the kind of hangover that makes one seriously consider embracing Mormonism.
In those days, Yale residential college masters were all incredibly distinguished, internationally renowned scholars, and representatives of armigerous families whose first American settler had signed the Mayflower Compact. They were worldly men, who had won fame by publishing major studies of prominent canonical subjects like Shakespeare or Dante, or who had written the definitive diplomatic history of the Madison Administration, or who presided over the Yale Library’s cataloguing of the papers of Benjamin Franklin.
They were men of the world, operating at an Olympian level of serenity which could not possibly be disturbed by the petty follies or incidental misbehavior of lowly undergraduates.
The current Master of Silliman College is a professor from the Yale School of Nursing, forsooth! I always thought the existence of a Yale School of Nursing was a quaint anomaly instituted sometime in the Middle Dark Ages to provide a kind of minimal level access to females in the grim pre-coeducation era, probably as a budgetary expedient intended to lower slightly the university dining halls’ budget for saltpeter. We’d probably get more sophisticated residential college governance if the current administration were selecting college masters from the faculties of a Yale School of Taxidermy or the Yale Correspondence College of Beauticians.