A twisted string of allegations about racism on the campus of Yale University led hundreds of students to protest Monday, just days after a conference on the future of free speech was disrupted by allegations of racism and two weeks after protests against alleged racism and cultural insensitivity were held over student Halloween costumes.
According to the New Haven Register, the “March of Resiliency” blocked traffic on Chapel Street in New Haven, as students demanded inclusiveness with respect to race, ethnicity, and gender identity. During the march, students chanted, “We out here! We been here! We ain’t leaving! We are loved!”
Protesters disrupted a forum about the future of free speech held by Yale University’s William F. Buckley, Jr. Program on Friday over an alleged remark about a previous alleged racist comment on campus.
During the fifth annual private Buckley conference on “The Future of Free Speech,” student Gian-Paul Bergeron posted on the Facebook group “Overheard at Yale” a quip by Buckley Program speaker Greg Lukianoff: “Looking at the reaction to [lecturer and Yale associate master] Erika Christakis’ email, you would have thought someone wiped out an entire Indian village.”
The quote referred to Christakis’ email response to Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Council, which warned students against wearing potentially racially and culturally insensitive Halloween costumes.
According to Zachary Young, president of the Buckley Program—writing at the Yale Daily News—the disruption at the conference began when a student rushed to the front of the lecture hall during a panel and began taping posters across the wall of the room. When a Yale police officer asked the student to leave, he replied, “You’re going to have to carry me out,” and was promptly removed.
Once news of Lukianoff’s remark hit Facebook, student protesters lined up outside the lecture hall, reports Young. He continued:
Some demanded that we immediately add speakers of their choosing to the conference. Others tried to get into the lecture hall, which was oversubscribed and required preregistration. Police stood guard at the doors to ensure our symposium could go on as planned…
For nearly two hours, the crowd outside grew in size and volume. Social media attacks on our organization intensified. When I offered the protesters leftover cookies — intended as a nice gesture — I was called a “white colonizer” and told to stay in the hallway to be “educated.” As audience members exited the lecture hall, protesters chanted, “Genocide is not a joke,” called attendees “traitors” and “racists” and, in at least one instance, spat on an attendee affiliated with the Buckley Program.
Our entire conference on free speech had come under attack.
According to Yale Daily News, Erika Christakis defended students’ rights to wear the costumes of their choosing. She wrote:
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? 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.
In response to Christakis’ comment, over 740 Yale students, alumni, and faculty signed an open letter that referred to her email as “offensive” and one that dismissed the rights of minority students. Student Ryan Wilson—lead writer of the letter—said accepting obnoxious or offensive Halloween costumes would prevent students who feel marginalized from feeling safe.
“Your email equates old traditions of using harmful stereotypes and tropes to further degrade marginalized people, to preschoolers playing make believe,” the letter to Christakis reads. “This both trivializes the harm done by these tropes and infantilizes the student body to which the request was made.”
Christakis, who asserted she was “misquoted and misunderstood by some people,” has stood by her letter and even tweeted a link to an article in The Atlantic titled, “The Coddling of the American Mind.”
ICYMI Campus censorship culture contradicts best practices for mental health; may produce more anxiety/depression https://t.co/jqXm3RHE5L
— Erika Christakis (@ErikaChristakis) October 30, 2015
Yale student Nickolas Brooks—who takes a class with Christakis—defended her, noting that, because of the allegations, many students now have an inaccurate perception of her.
“Her view that universities are overly censored is one that everyone can agree with, Brooks said,” reports Yale Daily News, “emphasizing that just because she addressed both censorship and racial insensitivity does not mean she endorses the latter.”
The unrest at Yale comes as the chancellor of the University of Missouri’s campus in Columbia stated he will resign, just hours after the university’s president, Tim Wolfe, also said he was stepping down in response to allegations about racism on campus.
“What good is the First Amendment when people are shamed for holding dissenting views?” asked Young at Yale. “Those protesters who called me a ‘white colonizer’ and posted on Facebook ‘unfriend me if you disagree’ are creating a campus culture that is hostile to free expression and the exchange of ideas.”
“It is a culture in which students and faculty are afraid to voice their opinions,” he added. “It is a culture of conformity, intimidation and silence.”