This article has been updated to reflect the version that ran in print on Nov. 18.
On the same day that University President Peter Salovey announced policy reforms responding to demands from Next Yale, a coalition of students calling for greater attention to racial issues on campus, Salovey and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway also sent a joint email to Silliman College students affirming their support for Nicholas and Erika Christakis as the master and associate master of the college — a stance that directly opposes one of Next Yale’s demands.
In the email, which was sent to members of Silliman shortly after the University-wide email Tuesday afternoon, Salovey and Holloway wrote that they have met with Nicholas Christakis and “fully support” his and Erika Christakis’ commitment to serving the college. Additionally, Salovey and Holloway thanked Silliman students for generating discussions about how to make the college a respectful and inclusive community. The administration’s decision to back the Christakises comes amidst some student activists’ call for the couple to be removed from the Silliman mastership, following backlash generated by an Oct. 30 email from Erika Christakis defending the students’ rights to wear culturally appropriative Halloween costumes.
“Dean Holloway and I have spoken with Master Christakis a number of times in the last two weeks,” Salovey told the News. “We know he feels quite badly about the distress experienced by the Silliman community, but I know he in good faith wants to work closely with that very same community to make it a wonderful place to live.”
The subject line of the joint email read “Moving Forward Together,” and its content praised the Christakises as exceptional teachers and scholars with a “longstanding and deep dedication to undergraduates.” The email also reiterated Nicholas Christakis’ call for the Silliman community to exhibit “a spirit of generosity and a willingness to assume the best in others” — a request Christakis first made in an open letter to the Silliman community last Friday.
Holloway told the News that many faculty, alumni and students have urged him and Salovey over the past weeks to support the Christakises. He said there was never a doubt, from his standpoint, that the administration would send a statement in support of the Silliman master and associate master.
Christakis told the News that he is glad the administration has expressed its confidence in him and his wife after the tumultuous events of the past several weeks — many of which were sparked by the Oct. 30 email, though students have since emphasized that the demonstrations are not solely about her message.
“I think my wife has been subjected to an extraordinary and shameful vilification for the last two and a half weeks, overlooking the subtlety in her email and the confidence it actually had in Yalies, and I’m glad to see that, despite this response, the administration has expressed its confidence in our ability to provide a good education to undergraduates,” he said. He added that he looks forward to working with Silliman students to create a stimulating and welcoming community of which they can all be proud.
But some Silliman students remain steadfast in their resolve to replace the current college master and associate master. At around 1:30 a.m. last Friday morning, students began to circulate a petition calling for the removal of Nicholas and Erika Christakis from their respective positions. The petition came hours after Next Yale submitted a list of demands — including the removal of the Christakises — to Salovey last Thursday night.
Silliman students interviewed expressed mixed feelings about the administration’s support for the Christakises
“I have heard from friends that because the Christakises will remain as master and associate master of Silliman, the chance of them transferring to another college is high,” Michael Fitzgerald ’19 said. “I personally love that [the Christakises] are staying.” He added that the Christakises’ Friday open letter laid out how the couple will approach improving their relationship with the college, and he said he believes the steps will be effective.
Two Silliman students interviewed said they want the Christakises to remain in the college, but called on them to be more visible and accessible.
A letter delivered to Salovey yesterday before the Silliman email was sent urges him to maintain the current mastership of the college. This particular petition has garnered around 700 signatures from students, alumni, faculty, staff, alumni and others.
Others, however, felt that Nicholas Christakis failed to do his job as master. They said an email apology Nicholas and Erika Christakis sent on Nov. 6 acknowledging that they had caused students pain came too late.
“There should have been more discussion on the master’s part to acknowledge the degree to which he might have hurt certain students,” a Silliman sophomore said. He added that he supports the Christakises’ removal and has signed the petition that calls for it.
In a separate email also sent Tuesday, Nicholas Christakis invited Silliman students to a follow-up meeting this weekend that will focus on substantive steps in moving the college forward.