This article has been updated to reflect the version that ran in print on Nov. 6.
Surrounded by a sea of upturned faces and fighting back tears, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway stood on the Women’s Table Thursday afternoon before a crowd of more than 200 students to break the administration’s silence on allegations of racial discrimination that shook campus this week.
“It is painful for me — as someone who has a vested interest in supporting you — to hear what you have just told me, but I am glad you did…” he said. “I’m here for you. I do have your back. Please know that I have heard your stories and I’ll leave here changed.”
The speech came after three hours of emotional confrontation on Cross Campus, as hundreds of students of all races encircled Holloway, who remained solemn as he listened to their stories and their calls for him to use his administrative position to advocate for marginalized groups on Yale’s campus. The impromptu gathering, which ballooned out of a chalking event on Cross Campus in support of Yale’s people of color, which Holloway had attended, came days after alleged racist behavior at a Sigma Alpha Epsilon party and an email from Silliman College Associate Master Erika Christakis criticizing over-sensitivity to cultural appropriation. Crowd members expressed their frustrations and anger at the current status of minorities on Yale’s campus. In addition to voicing their outrage and disappointment at the administration’s perceived inaction, minority students asked Holloway a question: To whom in the University administration can they turn for support?
Highlighting Holloway’s historic role as the first African-American dean of Yale College, students called on him to take action in support of racial minorities, especially women of color. They said they respected Holloway and the weight of his responsibilities, but they were disappointed in him both as a black administrator and as a black man. While it is challenging for minority students to make their voices heard by the entire community, they said, it is easy for Holloway to do so simply by sending out an email in his capacity as dean.
Many students burst into tears as they spoke. Holloway, who remained largely silent throughout the three hours he stood in the center of the crowd, was visibly moved, turning to face each student who spoke.
Students’ remarks extended far beyond the incidents involving SAE and Christakis, although they have served as the catalysts for an onslaught of discontent this week. Students called for sweeping administrative change, including the improvement of mental health infrastructure for minority students and the provision of Dean’s Excuses for students suffering from traumatic racial events.
At the end of the gathering, Holloway stood atop the Women’s Table to address the crowd in an emotional speech in which he promised to more fully embrace his responsibilities as a prominent black administrator and professor of African American Studies.
“Professor Holloway has a voice, but it’s harder for Dean Holloway to have the same voice,” he said. “[That’s] probably wrong. And I’ll do better.”
He also responded to students’ criticisms of administrative silence on racial issues, acknowledging that students may not always agree with his decisions.
“It is clear that what I’ve been trying to do quietly and behind the scenes has not been enough, and I acknowledge that,” he said.
Shortly after the gathering on Cross Campus, a crowd of students moved to the Silliman courtyard to continue chalking there. “Our culture is not a costume,” they wrote in bright colors on the ground. Shortly after, Silliman College Master Nicholas Christakis appeared before the crowd. A conversation ensued, in which many in attendance demanded an apology for the email his wife sent last Friday.
They criticized her for admonishing the Intercultural Affairs Council’s discouragement of culturally appropriative Halloween costumes. They also denounced Erika Christakis’ behavior during an open forum at the Afro-American Cultural Center Wednesday night. Students particularly disapproved of her attempt to leave the room before speaking or answering questions directed toward her, although she explained that she had a class waiting for her.
The tone of this confrontation differed markedly from the earlier discussion with Holloway. While the interaction with Holloway ended in applause for the dean, the large gathering around Nicholas Christakis abruptly dissolved when students stormed away in frustration.
“I apologize for causing pain, but I am not sorry for the statement,” Christakis, whose wife was not present, told the crowd, his voice raised. “I stand behind free speech. I defend the right for people to speak their minds.”
The gathering quickly became tense and confrontational after his shouted response. Several students screamed at Christakis, calling him “disgusting” and using expletives. They told Christakis they do not feel welcome in Silliman, noting that students usually look to their masters to advocate for them, but they are now unwilling to even receive their diplomas from him at graduation. Many said he should be removed from his post.
Christakis continued to defend his wife’s email, even jabbing his finger toward the individual students he was addressing. The conversation soon became a shouting match as both Christakis and the students tried to make themselves heard.
Disillusioned, about half of the crowd left the gathering within the hour, finding their demands for an apology from the couple unanswered. Those who stayed continued to express their frustration.
Later Thursday evening, Christakis hosted a Master’s Tea with Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit organization committed to defending individual rights on American college campuses. At the tea, which has been planned since July and is not in response to this week’s events, Christakis said recent discussions have redoubled his resolve and appreciation for the value of free speech.
While the tea was occurring, Holloway, University President Peter Salovey and several other administrators met with student leaders from various cultural groups. After the conclusion of the nearly five-hour meeting, Salovey told the News he is grateful that students have shared their experiences and time to make the University a better place.
“We had a very honest interchange, and I am working now with my leadership team to plan concrete steps for us to take to act up on concerns the students shared with me,” Salovey wrote.
Dean of Student Engagement Burgwell Howard — who was present at the gatherings with both Holloway and Christakis — emphasized that listening before taking action is the best way to advance the current situation.
“Dean Holloway listened,” he said. “He needed to listen and hear people’s pain first, before he is in a position to speak.”
Clarification, Nov. 7: This article has been updated with certain details that were omitted during the editing process, in order to present a more complete picture of Thursday’s events.