Students are demanding that Yale University fire two administrators who failed to speak out against offensive Halloween costumes. This is just one of the grievances of activist students—many of them people of color—who claim Yale is not a safe space for them.
On Thursday, the students surrounded Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway—a black man—in an outdoor space and chided him for failing to take action against a fraternity that had allegedly prevented black women from attending its party. (It's not at all clear the allegation is true, according to The Daily Beast.)
After giving Holloway his comeuppance, they moved on to Nicholas Christakis, master of Silliman College. What was Christakis's crime? His wife, an early childhood educator, had responded to a campus-wide email about offensive Halloween costumes by opining that it was inappropriate for the college to tell students how to dress. According to The Washington Post:
"Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people? It's not mine, I know that," wrote Erika Christakis, an early childhood educator and the wife of Nicholas Christakis, the Silliman College master. Both later took to social media to defend the e-mail, incensing students by tying it to debates about free speech and trigger warnings. At a Wednesday night forum hosted by the Afro-American Cultural Center, Erika Christakis sought to leave the meeting during a discussion of her e-mail, further provoking student anger. …
Students grew distressed, with one shouting at Nicholas Christakis to be quiet and questioning why he took the position at the university. "You are a poor steward of this community," the student said. "You should not sleep at night."
As it so happens, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education President Greg Lukianoff was at Yale on Thursday in order to speak on a panel about free speech [Update: the panel was hosted by Christakis, according to The Yale Daily News]. Lukianoff recorded several videos of the confrontation between students and Christakis. The Post described Christakis as "frustrated," but it's important to keep in mind that he patiently listened to the students' litany of complaints for hours. Toward the end of the shouting session, a student made the following comments:
"As your position as master, it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students that live in Silliman. You have not done that. By sending out that email, that goes against your position as master. Do you understand that?"
When Christakis replied that he didn't agree, the student thundered back, "Then why the fuck did you accept the position! Who the fuck hired you?"
Christakis began to say that he had a different view of his role at the college, but the student cut him off, saying:
"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."
It is not about creating an intellectual space, the students claim; it's about creating safe spaces. This is as clear an articulation of students' desires as they come, and it summarizes everything that's wrong with the modern college campus.
Students should of course feel free to challenge university administrators—this is the essence of free speech. Students have every right to publicize their concerns and work to make Yale a more welcoming place for marginalized people (and administrators should listen). But a great many students, it seems, don't actually desire a campus climate where such matters are up for debate. By their own admission, they want anyone who disagrees with them branded a threat to their safety and removed from their lives.
If these students get their wish to turn Yale and other campuses into zones of emotional coddling, they will succeed only in destroying the very point of college.