Yale students are poorer than their parents. Poorer sense of humor. Poorer tolerance. Poorer judgment.
It’s a scene that stirs a mixture of adrenaline and nostalgia: irate college students surround a faculty member, peppering a few choice expletives among demands for an explanation, the prickly crowd mixing it up on a grassy quad with a background of old trees and ivy-covered buildings. This time, however, the message is spit-take atypical: The students are passionate in their petition for less, not more, freedom of speech.
It is Yale University, founded in 1701 and alma mater to five American presidents and countless activists devoted to civil rights and other causes. One might be forgiven for thinking that Yale was and likely still is a bastion of reflexive Northeast knee-jerk liberalism. The event in question occurred around Halloween, and the students in question undoubtedly opted for the trick over the treat. It is unclear whether they were members of Skull and Bones.
In its September 2015 issue, The Atlantic neatly presaged the Yale incident with an article by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, called “The Coddling of the American Mind.” The article asserts that a pandemic of hyperpolitical correctness, like chlamydia, has spread to campuses nationwide. Young people seem intent on becoming the caricature of political correctness often ridiculed by the right, whose members actually are emotionally unable to discern political correctness at all. In fact, some sociologists believe that the students’ hypersensitivity may be reinforced when they, consciously or not, adopt behaviors precisely because they hope to aggravate conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.*
Lukianoff and Haidt write:
“In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. ‘I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,’ the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses… Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.”
By now, you’re probably asking, “So what the hell happened at Yale?” Well, on Oct. 27, about 35 years after Jerry Rubin spoke on campus, rallying support for the Black Panthers, Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee sent an email to all students, asking them to be nice—to give some thought to the messages that might be conveyed by their Halloween costumes. “While students, undergraduate and graduate, definitely have a right to express themselves, we would hope that people would actively avoid those circumstances that threaten our sense of community or disrespects, alienates, or ridicules segments of our population based on race, nationality, religious belief, or gender expression.” In other words, don’t dress up like Caitlyn Jenner, unless you are Caitlyn Jenner. And, oh yeah, think twice about the blackface.
In response to the be-nice memo, on Oct. 30, Associate Master of Silliman College (a Yale residential college) Erika Christakis sent her own email, reminding the kids to have fun. “As a former preschool teacher…it is hard for me to give credence to a claim that there is something objectionably ‘appropriative’ about a blonde-haired child’s wanting to be Mulan for a day. Pretend play is the foundation of most cognitive tasks, and it seems to me that we want to be in the business of encouraging the exercise of imagination, not constraining it.”
On Nov. 5, students gathered on campus to protest Christakis’ email. For reasons that aren’t clear to me, Christakis’ husband, Nicholas, ended up taking most of the heat. Here’s a short video on YouTube.
The history of the United States, which actually can be studied in undergraduate and graduate levels at many colleges and universities, is replete with student protests, as the important issues facing our nation and the world come into focus and are diligently examined by bright, young minds developing a moral framework that likely will influence their thinking for the rest of their lives. These powerful themes gain moral weight compounded by the very act of working together as a group. The depth and breadth of complex causes come into full realization among people of like minds, with each participant understanding, perhaps for the first time, that such a combined force has the power to change the world.
The Nov. 5 protest quickly became acrimonious, as it was apparent that Nicholas, like his wife, believed that the students should have fun and maintain a sense of humor. The students adamantly refused to accept the idea that they should express themselves freely.
Here is an excerpt from a transcript of the video:
Student C: Be quiet! … For all Silliman students. Do you understand that? As your position as master, it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students that live in Silliman.
Christakis: I hear you.
Student C: You have not done that. By sending out that email, that goes against your position as master. Do you understand that?
Christakis: No I don’t agree with that.
Student C: [Yelling.] Then why the fuck did you accept the position!
Christakis: Because I have a diff…
Student C: [Yelling.] Who the fuck hired you?
Christakis: I have a different vision than you.
Student C: [Yelling.] Then step down! If that is what you think about being a [inaudible] master, then you should step down. It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here! You are not doing that. You’re going against that.
Student in crowd: You’re supposed to be our advocate!
Student C: You should [inaudible] be at the event last night when you hear [inaudible] say that she didn’t know how to create a safe space for her freshman at Silliman! How do you explain that? Because freshman come here and they think this is what Yale is? You hear that? They’re gonna leave! They’re gonna transfer because you are a poor steward of the community.
Student in crowd: Retweet!
Student C: You should not sleep at night!
Students in crowd: We out. We out.
Student C: You are disgusting.
I believe that this is the first time in U.S. history that I have agreed with YouTube sensation Alex Jones. However, I think he’s trying to make the point that the students in this case were typical, and perhaps behaving in accordance with CIA or NSA mind-control techniques. I was unable to listen to the whole thing. I hope he doesn’t swear or anything; if he does, I apologize.
Whether the CIA or NSA is overseeing this particular campaign to transform students into politically hypersensitive assholes, Alex Jones’ bottom line is sure to be, and always is: It’s Obama’s fault.
As a penultimate footnote to the footnote below, it’s interesting that the students feel justified in swearing at Christakis (using the F word, no less) and calling him disgusting. For them, good taste in language obviously is something completely different from good taste in Halloween costumes. And what costume was Christakis (or his wife) asking them to wear? Did they offer a limited selection of equally objectionable alternatives? There is much we can never know about this mystery. We can only hope that such a thing is rare; that in fact, it occurs as the raven suggested: “Nevermore.”
*I totally made this up; however, it sounds vaguely possible.