“Who the **** Hired You?
Another Halloween, another race-related disaster at an American college. Only this time, it’s the faculty that’s falling under scrutiny.
Every year we hear stories about some college student disregarding every warning they’ve ever heard and wearing an insensitive or downright racist costume for Halloween. Some schools have even reverted to sending out emails reminding the student population to be cognizant of how their choice of costume might affect or offend those around them. Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut is one such school, but what started as an innocent reminder erupted into a heated debate.
The University sent out the following email as a polite reminder about the racial issues the holiday provokes year after year:
Halloween is also unfortunately a time when the normal thoughtfulness and sensitivity of most Yale students can sometimes be forgotten and some poor decisions can be made including wearing feathered headdresses, turbans, wearing ‘war paint’ or modifying skin tone or wearing blackface or redface.
Enter the Christakises, a husband and wife who both work at Yale and live in Silliman College, one of the University’s residential colleges. Husband Nicholas is Silliman’s master, meaning his role is much more involved with the students than that of just a regular professor. He lives among them and is in charge of making Silliman a comfortable space to live and learn. His email made many students question whether or not he was suitable for his role.
“To be a student of color on Yale’s campus is to exist in a space that was not created for you.” – open letter to the Christakises
“I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: 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?” the email from his wife Erika began.
“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.” It was not in her belief that the University should have sent out an email telling students what not to wear in the first place, as they are young adults and should already have the capacity to make that judgement for themselves.
The couple tagged on, “Nicholas says, 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.”
It was these words, specifically the suggestion to “look away,” that drove students—especially minority students—to outright anger. There was an immediate backlash against the Christakises that even called for them to apologize or resign as master of Silliman or from their positions at the school. What the couple intended to be a thought-provoking look into today’s culture of taking offense backfired completely and, well, caused a whole lot of offense.
Several videos have since surfaced online of Nicholas Christakis addressing students in a quad at Yale, and the anger in the crowd is practically tangible. Some students came to hear dialogue, while others who expected an apology were left even more upset. One student berates Christakis as having failed to create a safe space for students who came to Silliman looking for a home.
Unfortunately, the discussion about racial sensitivity was exacerbated by the ongoing claims that a Yale fraternity hosted a “white girls only” party over Halloween weekend, landing Yale in the national headlines and drawing more speculation about the couple’s remarks.
Did the Christakises go too far, or were they simply trying to stress that academia has long been a safe space for uncomfortable discussion and civilized confrontation? Are college students and young people everywhere too easily offended today, blurring the line between sensitivity and freedom of speech and expression? Hear from both sides of the debate in the heated video below, then SHARE with a friend to let them know where you stand.
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