Every word you read in this New York Times article of November 8, 2015 is supposed to be taken seriously. You are not allowed to laugh, smirk, guffaw, smile ruefully, snort, cry out, but are ordered to read it on a spirit of hushed reverence as truth goes marching on. Got it? This is the only proper way to appreciate your various sins as a white, old, and conservative person who reads this blog.
I did not make up a word of this, I swear.
I quote in full:
Weeks of simmering racial tension at Yale University boiled over in recent days into a heated debate over whether the administration was sensitive enough to concerns about Halloween costumes seen as culturally offensive, students and adminstrators said.
Peter Salovey, the president of Yale, said he had been left “deeply troubled” by a meeting he held with students of color last week who were “in great distress.” Many said they did not believe the university was attuned to the needs of minority students.
“The experiences they shared went beyond the incidents of the last few days,” he said in a statement. “Their concerns and cries for help made clear that some students find life on our campus profoundly difficult.”
The debate over Halloween costumes began late last month when the university’s Intercultural Affairs Committee sent an email to the student body asking students to avoid wearing “culturally unaware and insensitive” costumes that could offend minority students. It specifically advised them to steer clear of outfits that included elements like feathered headdresses, turbans or blackface.
In response, Erika Christakis, a faculty member and an administrator at a student residence, wrote an email to students living in her residence hall on behalf of those she described as “frustrated” by the official advice on Halloween costumes. Students should be able to wear whatever they want, she wrote, even if they end up offending people.
An early childhood educator, she asked whether blond toddlers should be barred from being dressed as African-American or Asian characters from Disney films.
“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?” she wrote. “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.”
Ms. Christakis’s email touched on a long-running debate over the balance between upholding free speech and protecting students from hurt feelings or personal offense. It also provoked a firestorm of condemnation from Yale students, hundreds of whom signed an open letter criticizing her argument that “free speech and the ability to tolerate offence” should take precedence over other considerations.
“To ask marginalized students to throw away their enjoyment of a holiday, in order to expend emotional, mental, and physical energy to explain why something is offensive, is — offensive,” the letter said. “To be a student of color on Yale’s campus is to exist in a space that was not created for you.”
Ms. Christakis’s email also led to at least one heated encounter on campus between her husband, Nicholas Christakis, a faculty member who works in the same residential college, and a large group of students who demanded that he apologize for the beliefs expressed by him and his wife, which they said failed to create a “safe space” for them.
When he was unwilling to do so, the students angrily cursed and yelled at him, according to a video posted to YouTube by a free speech group critical of the debate. On Sunday it had been viewed over 450,000 times.
“You should step down!” one student shouted at Mr. Christakis, while demanding between expletives to know why Yale had hired him in the first place. “It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It is about creating a home here!”
“You’re supposed to be our advocate!” another student yelled.
“You are a poor steward of this community!” the first student said before turning and walking away. “You should not sleep at night! You are disgusting.”
The debate over Halloween costumes comes at a time of escalating racial tension at college campuses across the United States. Last month, the president of the University of Louisville apologized to students after he and over a dozen friends were pictured wearing ponchos, sombreros and bushy mustaches with maracas in their hands as part of Mexican-themed Halloween costumes. And on Sunday, dozens of black football players at the University of Missouri vowed to boycott school athletic activities over the university’s handling of racial incidents unless its president resigned.
The debate has erupted against an increasingly tense racial background at Yale. The campus has seen a long-running debate over a residential college named in honor of John C. Calhoun, a 19th-century South Carolina politician, outspoken white supremacist and member of the Yale class of 1804. His name continues to adorn its graceful Gothic halls.
And one week ago a black undergraduate accused a fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, of denying her entrance to a “white girls only” party on the basis of her race, an allegation that the fraternity denies. Jonathan Holloway, the dean of Yale College, said that his office took the accusation seriously and was investigating.
In an email sent to the student body on Thursday, Mr. Holloway said that he was “fully in support” of the request that Yale students avoid culturally insensitive Halloween costumes and that he regretted the sense among some minority students that Yale had “a poisonous atmosphere.”
“We need always to be dedicated to fashioning a community that is mindful of the many traditions that make us who we are,” he wrote. “Remember that Yale belongs to all of you, and you all deserve the right to enjoy the good of this place, without worry, without threats, and without intimidation.”