As a senior this year, I’m spending a lot more time than before reflecting on my Yale experience. Looking back, I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky to have spent the past three years here. Yale and Silliman in particular have come to feel like home in a way I could never have imagined on my first day of freshmen year. My love for Yale is a big part of the reason I became a freshman counselor — I wanted to share my love for Yale with new students and help them to love it too. Watching my freshmen make new friends and find their place in this incredible community has been one of the greatest joys of my time at Yale.

But as a Black female student on this campus, my love for Yale is complicated. These past few days have been trying times for many students, students of color in particular. Erika Christakis’ email, perhaps unintentionally, trivialized students’ very real concern about the consequences of culturally appropriative behavior. Her argument also privileged the rights of certain students to express themselves through offensive costumes over the rights of other students to feel safe and respected. Like many people, I felt hurt by her message, but even more hurtful were the responses of many students who leapt to her defense without acknowledging the ways in which culturally appropriative and degrading costumes cause real damage to their classmates.

The next night when I heard from friends and read online about a Black freshman girl being harassed and denied entrance to SAE on the basis of race, I felt even more hurt. As even more students leapt to the defense of SAE and denied the veracity of her story of discrimination and numerous others like it, I was heartbroken. But at no point was I surprised.

Yale is not somehow immune to the systems of racism and misogyny that shape our world. My status as a Yale student hasn’t protected me from racist behavior on this campus, and my Yale degree won’t protect me from racism in whatever office I work in or neighborhood I live in after graduation. One of the most important lessons I learned in my time at Yale is that systems of oppression are ubiquitous, and that no combination of good intentions and advanced education will ever make someone immune from the tendency to perpetuate racial biases. As author Junot Díaz once said, “White supremacy’s greatest trick is that it has convinced people that it exists always in other people, never in us.”

But just because oppressive systems are ubiquitous, that does not mean that offensive behavior is unavoidable. Yale as a community isn’t immune to racism or sexism, but I do believe our community is special. We care deeply about one another, and we should hold ourselves and others to a higher standard of behavior. We should recognize that each of us has the potential to perpetuate racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and other forms of oppression in our day-to-day lives. Recognizing that, we should be thoughtful and deliberate about our actions so as not to perpetuate systems of oppression inadvertently. As Dean Burgwell Howard reminded all of us, offensive actions, even when well-intentioned, send a much stronger message than any apology issued after the fact. His message, which responds to years of student activism pressuring the administration to help make Yale a more inclusive place, is itself evidence of the power of our actions.

I love Yale, and because I love it, I want it to do better. I refuse to become apathetic about the ways in which marginalized people are made to feel further marginalized on this campus, and I refuse to become fatalistic about our ability to make things right. When I see the bravery of my classmates who publicly tell their stories of discrimination, who call out administrators who trivialize their concerns, who condemn racism and sexism on campus and off, they inspire me. They remind me why I love this place. Yale isn’t special because it’s free of injustice — it’s special because whenever one of us musters up the courage to call out injustice, we never have to do it alone.

Rachel Wilkinson is a senior in Silliman College. Contact her at rachel.wilkinson@yale.edu .

  • anonymous conservative

    Do college kids dress up on Halloween nowadays?

  • FlameCCT

    “Her argument also privileged the rights of certain students to express themselves through offensive costumes over the rights of other students to feel safe and respected.”

    There is a Right to Free Speech. There is no right to not be offended by someone’s actions or speech. I spent 22+ years protecting everyone’s Rights including Free Speech. Through that time I learned that safety and respect are attained through individual responsibility and action; it is individually earned not bestowed nor taken away by government. Someone wearing a supposedly offensive costume can lose respect however that person cannot take away your self respect. As MLK made clear, it is one’s character that should be judged.

  • Jason Zhou

    Discrimination and racism are insidious and pervasive everywhere in pretty much every society, but fighting against it requires thoughtfulness, forebearance and dialogue – in other words, exactly the opposite of what many Yale students and activists are engaging in now.

    Attacking free speech (and yes, asking for the resignation of the Silliman master and his wife is attacking free speech, as well as a the softer Yale administration’s “admonishment” to students about their Halloween costumes) fosters more divisiveness and hate, – it’s easy to do and it makes people feel good that they’re fighting back and doing something, but tragically it sets back their own cause.

    Think of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, it undoubtedly stifled a lot of offensive speech against Muslims and depictions of Mohammed, and the feelings of many marginalized minorities were perhaps protected, but at what cost? What does the world think of Islam and its prophet after those attacks?

    When these students and social activists at Yale claim to be emotionally traumatized over, on its face, a perfectly reasonable and balanced email from a thoughtful person about HALLOWEEN costumes. The message they’re sending is not just one of intolerance, but also the trivialization of the very real trauma that people everywhere have to suffer, everyday, as a result of discrimination and racism. Their acts deeply offend me, but the right response, as always, is rational debate, not the stifling of speech through either authorized sanctions or cries of personal grievance.

  • river_tam

    > Her argument also privileged the rights of certain students to express themselves through offensive costumes over the rights of other students to feel safe and respected.

    Do you defend “Piss Christ” and Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” music video in the name of artistic freedom? Do you defend the right of Yale teachers to teach James Joyce’s Ulysses or Nabakov’s Lolita or Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses?

    This is America. You’re allowed to be offended. That’s your right. But as a society, we’ve decided that your right to be unoffended doesn’t trump my right to express myself.

    If enough Orthodox Jewish and Mormon and Fundamentalist Christian women at Yale start chanting on campus, does that mean that all the Yalies at Toads have to stop slutting it up? Of course not. This is America.

    If enough Muslim students start chanting that Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses makes them feel unsafe, do we uninvite him from campus? Of course not, this is America.

    • ou812

      I’m surprised there wasn’t a warning against pirate costumes. We don’t want to marginalize one-eyed amputees now, do we?

      • http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/lists/the-10-worst-ways-to-die-in-a-hieronymous-bosch-painting-53872 Hieronymus Machine

        Google playmobil pirate outrage

  • CentralJerseyMom

    You are not experiencing “trying times.” You wouldn’t know a “trying time” if you tripped over it. NEWS FLASH: The people who live two miles outside your ivory tower are actually experiencing trying times. “Injustice” is that 9 year old kids in South America make a living by picking through garbage while you sit at Yale majoring in “gender studies” and whining about halloween costumes. Actually you whine about emails about halloween costumes.

    • Ralphiec88

      It’s a fair point. Even if the email was disrespecful (it’s not), these are first world problems. Just blocks away are people of color who would give anything to be in Ms. Wilkinson’s shoes.

    • Kerryman

      You nailed it, CJM. Gender studies. Is that like navel studies?

  • Mark Chang

    What exactly does cultural appropriation hurt, and what exactly counts as cultural appropriation? As an Asian who has gone through years of childhood being called names and made fun of for my eyes, I personally don’t care when others dress up as Mulan or a geisha, or a Chinese emperor, etc. In fact, I find it flattering that white kids want to dress up as Asian for once, instead of the other way around. And even with cultural appropriation, what exactly is it hurting in this very context? I can understand how whitewashing asian, african, latino movies/roles in Hollywood serves to hurt the careers of many would-be minority actors, etc, but how exactly does a white girl dressing up as Mulan or a white boy dressing up as Michael Jordan hurt anybody?

    Keep in mind that the people you seem to feel so “hurt” by are primarily from a generation that grew up thinking of everybody as equals. Schools, bathrooms, etc have not been segregated in decades, and this generation truly is not responsible for many of the terrible things that happened in the past.

    I shudder to imagine what civil rights leaders, who braved prison, water hoses, and vicious dogs would think that their cause today is reduced to crying over triggers and Halloween costumes. How about fighting about some real injustice, like the criminal justice system and unequal sentencing? How about crying about wage stagnation and rampant unemployment in minority communities? Do you think people who are facing the real injustices of systemic racism and oppression actually have the time or energy to worry about a white girl dressing up as Foxy Brown?

    You are so eager to shout and kick about how oppressed you are, that you are quite literally forgetting the fact that you go to one of the most privileged schools on the face of this planet, and get opportunities most of America (white or black) could only dream of. Cut out this whining, and get you head focused on stuff that actually matters.

    • ImJustSaying

      Well damn, let’s just return to the 60’s and get it over with so those black folk will really have something to complain about. Sounds like a familiar campaign speech to me. Pathetic.

  • Ralphiec88

    I think you’re failing to recognize your own prejudices. You were not there, but you seem certain that SAE turned away a student over race, despite their denial and other witnesses to the contrary. Ms. Christakis’ email in no way trivialized your concerns, and your hair-trigger reaction to her respectful words is indicative of the kind of bias that led to the horrifically disrespectful scene that followed. The battle against racism, discrimination, and disrespect will not be furthered by falling in with those who wield the same weapons for their own ends

  • http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/lists/the-10-worst-ways-to-die-in-a-hieronymous-bosch-painting-53872 Hieronymus Machine

    “Even more hurtful were the responses of many students who leapt to her defense without acknowledging the ways in which culturally appropriative and degrading costumes cause real damage to their classmates.”

    Um, I musta missed those. I dinna see a single Asa Yoelson — er, Al Jolson — or Speedy Gonzalez or, heck, even a Pepé LePew.

    I’mma reappropriate Mizzou’s Jessie Sharon and her fbook posts:

    “Today I learned that the right of a small group to protest is more important than the entire student body’s right to the education they pay for. Today I learned that one man is responsible for the heinous actions of a few campus racists. Today I learned that not supporting one group protesting racism makes you a racist, even though you support the fight against racism–just not that specific group.”

    BTW: Do nose rings, ear gauges and tribal tats equate with “cultural appropriation,” or are those “personal items” (an old OWS joke).

    In other news: Christians to be wiped out of Middle East in as few as 10 years amid beheadings and other atrocities. Keepin’ it real: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3311716/Christians-face-wiped-Middle-East-TEN-YEARS-killed-ISIS-forced-flee-persecution-warn-Catholic-aid-groups.html

    • I Dominguez-Urban

      OWS?

      • http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/lists/the-10-worst-ways-to-die-in-a-hieronymous-bosch-painting-53872 Hieronymus Machine

        Many Occupy Wall Streeters sought to abolish “private property,” excepting, e.g., their Macbooks and iPhones, which were deemed not private property but “personal items” and thus exempt from sharing. (BTW: Whither ONH? Withered, or occupying SM?)

        Perhaps tribal tats et al. will be exempted from cultural appropriation laws in a similar manner?

  • mannewskie

    “Yale is not somehow immune to the systems of racism and misogyny that shape our world. My status as a Yale student hasn’t protected me from racist behavior on this campus…”

    I’m curious, what racist affronts has this woman experienced during her time at Yale? That’s a pretty serious claim to throw around so casually without at least some substantiation.

    • ImJustSaying

      Minorities experience racism every day of their lives. Obviously white privilege reigns supreme in your world.

  • Prg234

    Please do not confuse the difficulties faced by many poor minority individuals in our country with the picayune complaints of privileged Yale students. This focus on individual and group weakness and hypersensitivity is unfortunate and can only back fire. You will never force everyone to like you and to insist on this is a wasted effort. Hold your heads high and tackle the real problems of racism in America. Your current targets are so small as to invite parody and derision. What a shame and wasted opportunity.

  • pleij

    “Her [Erika Christakis’] argument also privileged the rights of certain students to express themselves through offensive costumes over the rights of other students to feel safe and respected.”

    And rightly so. At Yale, the right of students to express themselves, even offensively, IS privileged over the right of other students not to feel offended or disrespected.

    If you have a problem with that, you have a problem with Yale’s policy on freedom of expression: http://yalecollege.yale.edu/new-students/class-2019/academic-information/intro-undergrad-education/freedom-expression

    Yale’s commitment to freedom of expression means that when you agree to matriculate, you join a community where “the provocative, the disturbing, and the unorthodox” must be tolerated. When you 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.

    See also the Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale (Woodward Report) of 1975: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodward_Report

    The conclusions we draw, then, are these: even when some members of the university community fail to meet their social and ethical responsibilities, the paramount obligation of the university is to protect their right to free expression. This obligation can and should be enforced by appropriate formal sanctions. If the university’s overriding commitment to free expression is to be sustained, secondary social and ethical responsibilities must be left to the informal processes of suasion, example, and argument.

    It cannot get clearer or more emphatic than that. The university has an obligation to create what you might call a “safe space” for all speech, including offensive speech. This obligation trumps any “right” of students not to be offended or disrespected. Erika Christakis was correct to stress the importance of free expression, and to urge informal means of resolving any disputes that may arise. This is unambiguously the Yale position. If you disagree, you might have come to the wrong place.

    • Doc1943

      Yes and that is why Yale needs to review its admissions policy to weed out those who cannot tolerate the “diversity” of opinion expressed by others.
      Perhaps they should descend on Harvard.

  • Tim Steele

    Rachel seems like a lovely young lady but my goodness, enough with the pity party. Enough is enough with this victimization culture. You set back your cause more than you can imagine. “Culturally appropriative behavior” and Halloween costumes? Aren’t there more important things to concern ourselves with on college campuses these days?

  • ImJustSaying

    The trump (I won’t even bother to capitalize the man’s name) situation is PRECISELY why you don’t ignore the “little things”. The seemingly trivial things are ALWAYS indicative of an underlying current of “isms” below the surface. When you call people out on it, you force them to keep it in check, within the rights of everyone. I am not always offended by “cultural appropriation” or even cultural mockery, but at what point do you have a right to “clap back”? When you “allow” everything to go unchecked (notice, I didn’t say disallowed), you upset the balance of humanity. You upset the balance of a civilized society. If you step on my toes, I’m going to tell you. Just because you didn’t mean to doesn’t mean I don’t get to let you know. Just because people’s toes get stepped on every day doesn’t mean I’m not going to let you know you just stepped on mine. I think the underlying current of venom spewing from some of these comments is evidence that you don’t feel SHE has the right to her opinion about what other people are doing. Free speech goes BOTH ways.

  • ImJustSaying

    Here’s what I don’t understand after reading ALL of these comments. Why is it that the very right to free speech that most of you are screaming about doesn’t apply to HER? I think the only people running around screaming about the right to be offensive are those who really WANT to be offensive. As far as the comments about her background, none of you know any more about her background than she does about yours, so stop ASSUMING she is privileged and lives in some “Ivory Tower”. Grow a pair yourselves and stop being so intimidated and offended any time a person of color speaks their mind. You don’t need to agree but free speech is ours as well in case you hadn’t heard.