It’s been a bad week for Yale.
It all began with an email sent to the student body by Yale Dean Burgwell Howard and the university’s Intercultural Affairs Council. The note, sent on Oct. 28, discouraged students from wearing culturally appropriative or insensitive Halloween costumes including ones that featured feathered headdresses, turbans, blackface and “war paint.” It read:
Yale is a community that values free expression as well as inclusivity. And 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.
The email was quickly met with a response from an Associate Master at the school, Erika Christakis, also a child development specialist. In it, Christakis argued that students should be encouraged to dress in whatever costumes they chose, regardless of whether the costumes were offensive:
“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?...Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people? It’s not mine, I know that.”
Christakis’ husband, Master of Yale’s Silliman College Nicholas Christakis, defended his wife’s e-mails, according to Yale Daily News, telling a crowd that he stands “behind free speech.” Their sentiments were met with backlash from much of the student body, who have been gathering in large crowds to protest on campus this week. Students confronted Nicholas Christakis on campus on Thursday:
More than 700 Yale undergraduates, graduate students, alumni and faculty have signed an open letter saying that Christakis’ email equated “old traditions of using harmful stereotypes and tropes to further degrade marginalized people, to preschoolers playing make believe.” Others have called for both Christakis’ to apologize or resign. The protests on campus have gotten decidedly heated.
The situation has garnered attention on Twitter, with commenters criticizing the Christakis’ handling of the situation.
Demanding the resignation of a college administrator who complained about a request that students avoid blackface is also free speech.— Nicolás Medina Mora (@MedinaMora) November 7, 2015
The timing of the incident is important, too — a week earlier, on Oct. 31, allegations were made against a Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brother, saying that he turned away women of color from a Halloween party on Saturday night, saying they were admitting “white girls only.”
I’d just like to take a moment to give a shoutout to the member of Yale’s SAE chapter who turned away a group of girls from their party last night, explaining that admittance was on a “White Girls Only” basis; and a belated shoutout to the SAE member who turned me and my friends away for the same reason last year.
On Friday Dean Holloway wrote an email to Yale students regarding the protests and their surrounding events, saying he “will enforce the community standards that safeguard you as members of this community.”
Yale University’s president also reportedly spoke to students in a closed-door meeting on Thursday night, apologizing to minority students at the school for failing to make them feel safe on campus, The Washington Post reports.
“I think we have to be a better university,” said President Peter Salovey. “I think we have to do a better job.”
This post has been updated to include more details.