It’s hopeless: Yale’s grown-ups can’t educate hate-spewing students like these
by Ben Bullard
It’s fitting that the children are now getting the adults in trouble. In a decadent society in which the left gains de facto control over cultural institutions, ignorance and lack of worldly experience always trump earned intelligence and principled circumspection. In every cautionary tale against totalitarian, leftist regimes, it’s always the kids who convert most fully, who serve as the state’s most eager and reliable spies.
Watch Yale faculty member and residential administrator Nicholas Christakis fall silent and submit to the abuse of a student, after meekly trying to put up a rational protest to the student’s outrageous accusations and demands. Yes, there are bad words in this clip, so you’ve been warned:
As you can see, getting shouted down Jerry Springer-style shuts Christakis up for good. He’s probably thinking about the inevitable and mindless social media trial that awaits him, and how he’ll be found guilty by the social justice idiots who commandeer the Internet court of public opinion. Someone in the crowd has a phone, and this thing is going to go viral. He knows he has no chance and that the best thing he can do is let this foolish girl do her rant. Pearls before swine, and all that.
This girl caps her tirade with a crescendo of petulant verbiage that would be more appropriate for a child whose birthday toy just broke, or whose parents decided, once and for all, that for the first time ever they really do mean “no.” She tells Christakis his conscience shouldn’t allow him to sleep at night, that he’s disgusting.
This isn’t another campus rape story, so what on Earth could have caused this kind of anger?
Halloween costumes — what else? Christakis’ wife Erika, also a member of Yale’s faculty, had sent out a pre-Halloween email that sounded too level-headed and circumspect. She argued that allowing offensive speech isn’t the worst thing a university campus can be accused of and that very young people, especially, might actually benefit from knowing the freedom to be “provocative” and “transgressive” in their choice of costume. She fondly recalled a time when universities were bastions of free speech. Something as innocent as a Halloween costume, she argued, shouldn’t nourish a culture of “censure and prohibition” on campus.
In the process, Mrs. Christakis offended all the right people. The New York Times gives a synopsis:
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.”
Of course, this is a forbidden opinion among the very, very, very aware; and the race to throw a Jonah overboard was on.
As it turns out, the person who recorded the encounter wasn’t a social justice warrior. It was Greg Lukianoff, a man so passionate about free speech on campuses that he’s made it his career. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) — where Lukianoff is president and CEO — came to the defense of the Christakis family and of free speech in general:
Are the students’ protests against the Christakises protected speech? Of course.
But the students’ demand that the Christakises lose their jobs for their dissident opinions represents another strong example of the phenomenon Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt talked about in their September cover story for The Atlantic, “The Coddling of the American Mind.” In their article, Lukianoff and Haidt argue that students are increasingly engaging in a culture of “vindictive protectiveness” that seeks to control campus speech in a way that not only limits free expression and chills candor, but that can also promote distorted ways of thinking.
This morning [Nov. 6], Dean Holloway wrote an email to all Yale students addressing the week’s controversies. In that email, he wrote that he “will enforce the community standards that safeguard you as members of this community.”
Among those standards FIRE hopes Dean Holloway will enforce is the university’s standard for freedom of expression, which demands that when student and faculty members “encounter people who think differently than you do, you will be expected to honor their free expression, even when what they have to say seems wrong or offensive to you.”
As always, the best response to speech one disagrees with is more speech, not censorship.
But “more speech” is an intolerable concept for the left — especially when it cuts both ways.