An old acquaintance from my hometown watched footage of the student confrontation last Thursday with professor Nicholas Christakis. He posted it on Facebook, mocking participants for their outbursts: “The idea that such smart people can be so dumb is really comforting!” When I pointed out that it might be more productive to ask what led bright 20-year-old students to sob and scream in the middle of a courtyard, he derided them for using curse words. To him, the students were “doing an injustice to their movement;” to him, their yelling undermined the foundation of their anger.

There is an unjust burden on students of color to express their thoughts on recent events, and on their experiences more generally, in a dispassionate and academic way. Furthermore, not everyone shares this burden equally. The onus of rational justification never seems to fall on those who dismiss the protesters as “hysterical.”

Yet, there is good reason for marginalized students’ fear and outrage. Students at the University of Missouri were forced to stay home from class in the wake of racialized murder threats. Yale student organizers, too, have had to seek protection after receiving death threats. More generally, students of color live in an environment where attempts to discourage blackface and other belligerent displays of racism are met with thundering declarations of “free speech.” And when they leave the university, their status as Yale graduates will not magically eliminate material race- and gender-based dangers to their lives and livelihoods.

Students are not just being criticized for having “disproportionate” reactions. Critics also police their emotional reactions in racialized and gendered ways. The vocabulary of “shrieking” and “whining,” when applied to concrete arguments by Black, Latino, Native and Asian-American women, unmistakably evokes tropes that were built to silence them. The easiest, laziest way to disregard a Black woman’s argument is to make her the “angry Black woman” — no matter how reasoned and articulate it might be. In addition, this tactic tastelessly overlooks how easy it is to be “calm” when the students chanting “white power” at Mizzou are not directly threatening you.

Furthermore, the people who question these students’ pain are not subject to the same degree of scrutiny. Where were the tone police when Christakis likened students chalking in Silliman to a “mob,” or when he shouted a student down to tears? Where are they when students don war bonnets as Halloween costumes? Are those choices not plainly tone-deaf?

The regulation of anger is intentional here. It derails the conversation from the racism and misogyny that run deep in our communities.

Calls to facilitate discussion sound great, but dialogue means little when students must underplay the ways they’ve been hurt in order to participate in it. Media outlets continue to use the word “coddled” to describe students who openly express frustration at the way they’re treated. What about the “free speech” crowd, who have coddled themselves into only accepting the so-called “level-headed” language they find palatable? What about the responses we’ve received from the highest levels of Yale’s administration, vaguely encouraging students to “engage in discourse?” They fail to address the inherent unevenness of a discourse that has, until now, forced students of color to intellectually justify their feeling unwelcome here. Dehumanization is, by nature, emotional. To ignore that is to coddle students who haven’t come to terms with their role, their complicity, in white supremacy.

To be sure, raw anger has never been and can never be a social movement’s final objective. Neither is it the be-all end-all of student activism here on campus. The Black Student Alliance at Yale has already laid out a concrete list of demands to the administration. Other cultural centers have begun to articulate policy changes that would help afford all students the dignity and institutional recognition they deserve. No administrative response would have occurred this week without an outpouring of emotion and anger from our community. The hearts and the minds of students of color cannot be dissociated from these projects — they are inextricable from each other. What critics of the emotional response are missing is not evidence of concrete action. It is basic empathy.

Students and faculty who have called for a “civil” discussion of these issues have not “elevated” our discourse, but couched it in the language of respectability politics. They have not merely limited the scope of acceptable perspectives to those that omit real emotional trauma. They have also ignored the ugly truth that the fears of marginalized students are perfectly rational.

Shyamala Ramakrishna is a junior in Davenport College. Contact her at shyamala.ramakrishna@yale.edu .

  • dzmlsience

    “There is an unjust burden on students of color to express their thoughts on recent events, and on their experiences more generally, in a dispassionate and academic way.”

    Can you say “soft bigotry of low expectations”?

    • vincent

      Completely agree. If a straight white male student (1) shouted down and cussed out a professor to his or her face; and/or (2) spat on students leaving a lecture, what do we think would happen? Would people be bending over backwards to excuse such uncivilized behavior or would people be calling for the student’s expulsion?

      Excusing minority students from the consequences of objectively unacceptable behavior because you think it is unreasonable to hold them to the same behavioral standards applied to other students is racism and a far more harmful form of racism than dressing up in a possibly “culturally appropriative” Halloween costume.

  • germ_16

    The formula seems to be, lets have a contrived crisis, then once people react to that, it makes it appear as if it’s White vs Black and now we have proven our point, see? It’s becoming more and more clear that you cannot reason with this ideology. This is article is a glimpse into their mind. A mindset that justifies every criticism leveled against their ideology with the outrage that they feel, but with no true hard evidence to back it up. Free speech is merely a distraction against the “real” issue. Maybe that’s true, because the real issue is that you want more power.

    • jesse_a

      No so much “more power” as “less death threats” is, I think, the main point.

      • Joe Hansem

        The Christakis email, filled with complacent liberal platitutes, was a death threat?

      • vincent

        Death Threat: “I am going to kill you.” (To the hyper literalists out there: This is an example of how an actual death threat would be worded and is not itself a death threat or any kind of threat to anyone).

        Not a Death Threat: “I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community. I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.”

        See the difference?

  • philosonista

    Emotional outbursts are not good PR. It doesn’t matter what you think of it, that will be the public reaction. And this movement will have to deal with that if it wants to get anywhere.

    And there is nothing “elevating” about calling someone who has voiced a reasoned opinion “disgusting.”

  • Ralphiec88

    This is a shallow attempt to defend the indefensible. You do not surround a professor and scream expletives at him, period. And some claims, such as students being afraid to sleep in their rooms because of an email about halloween costumes, are simply not rational. Babble like “the language of respectability politics” can’t cover up the fact that many of the prominent claims are hyperbolic bordering on ridiculous, and many demands have little to do with justice. Occupy collapsed under its own hubris and excesses, and these protests are well on their way down the same path.

    • picardythird

      The same things were said about many an activist movement.

      • Ralphiec88

        I cited specific behaviors and claims. Do you really endorse them?

    • yaleyeah

      The left is always 100% emotion based. God help us if they do finally achieve their bullet-proof federal majority.

  • NYAttorney

    A week later and the writer remains unable to recognize what the rest of the world recognizes. Don’t try to defend the indefensible — the notion that feelings are a sufficient warrant for the unreasoned hatred unleashed on the professor is as wrong as the effort to portray the hateful students as the victims here.

    • picardythird

      The students aren’t “hateful,” they’re angry. You would be too, if you were black in America. Calling them “hateful” is an easy way to wriggle out of the discomfort of facing racism and prejudice in this country.

      • martin k

        You are living in the 1940s, right ?

      • andy 123

        They looked pretty hateful to anyone who saw the video.

      • cheeflo

        You have just made your critics’ argument — hate is a word bandied about an awful lot by the social justice warriors. By their standards, hate amounts to disagreeing with them.

  • Phil Ostrand

    Might I suggest that you study how MLK and Gandhi led their movements rather than embracing anger and hatred, Embracing anger and hatred never further your cause, they will only harm it. Also, you provided some examples of what has caused some students emotional trauma. It also might help your demands if you provide concrete examples to the rest of the Yale family.

  • peachesorangesapples

    Did people not see Nicholas Christakis shouting down at students as well, especially when his voice and the voices of students are not unequal? Have we all just decided to erase that from memory?

    Instead of focusing on the student’s swearing and volume of voice, did anyone hear the pain, suffering, and anger in her voice? It’s these distractions that white people focus on to detract from the larger themes here.

    Most white people are hopeless.

    • Ralphiec88

      Um, no we didn’t. Got a link for that? We saw respectful comments even while he was surrounded and being screamed at. We certainly heard the anger in her voice while she tried repeatedly to make him out as racist, first for not knowing her name, and later for refusing to accept claims she was making about his wife. Based on her unhinged reaction, I wouldn’t doubt that she is suffering and in pain, but not due to the Christakises.
      What’s troubling is how easily you diagnose as racist the reaction of so many to this verbal assault on another human being. If you define racism as challenging your worldview then you will find “racism” everywhere.

      • cheeflo

        And the grievance mongers do find racism everywhere.

    • Larry Bartholomew

      You made the claim elsewhere that diversity training via ethnic studies courses is not about “white people are bad.” I am curious how “white people … detract from the larger themes” and “white people are hopeless” would fit into such training. How would we teach white people to stop detracting from the larger themes and stop being hopeless through such courses?

    • Joe Hansem

      Give us a link to him doing that. Thanks.

      • Elliewho

        Here is a link describing how the protestors “saw” the events in the Silliman courtyard.
        http://downatyale.com/post.php?id=528

        Notice how the language used to describe Christakis is overtly negative and adversarial: as students were chalking affirmations, Dean Christakis “encroached” upon the group; the students heard condescension in his statement, “I’m so glad you are excercising your right to free speech”; and, here’s the kicker, “Christakis bent over and placed his hands on his knees, similar to a dog owner regarding his pet.” I do not see what the Down at Yale writer sees as “confrontational demeanor,” or hear him shouting down any students, although I do hear him raise his voice to be heard above the din. I do not have the YouTube link for the video we have all seen many time, but Google “shrieking girl yale” to see it again

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

      Maybe it’s hard to see from so far away?

      To the Class of 2019: The Lowdown on Camp Harvard
      peachesorangesapples 3 months ago
      “It’s just sad because Harvard supposedly attracts very intelligent and intellectual students but once I got here, there’s a whole bunch of “basic b****es”. ”

      Students confront Christakis about Halloween email
      peachesorangesapples 8 days ago
      “At a university like Yale, I think we can do better than wear costumes that denigrate students of color.”

    • andy 123

      What do you mean, “his voice and the voice of students are not unequal”? Did you attend college? Do you speak English as a second language?

    • cheeflo

      What a tolerant and open-minded remark. No racism there, huh?

  • Publius

    You can defend the students all you want. What you CANNOT do is change the minds of the people who read the news, saw the videos, and drew their own conclusions. Unfortunately for this author, the majority of people viewing these events from afar have taken Christakis’ (and Holloway’s) side. Even the Yale alums feel that way, based on the comments I’m reading on this very website. The reason, mostly, is that we are mature adults. We know what is appropriate behavior and what is not. We were raised by parents who taught us to respect authority.

    In all that I’ve seen and read, there is a huge paradox. The aggrieved students demand to be heard and demand respect, but then are unwilling to hear a contrary opinion and unable to respect their adversaries. They’ll never get the former if they don’t give the latter.

  • Bob

    “Yet, there is good reason for marginalized students’ fear and outrage. Students at the University of Missouri were forced to stay home from class in the wake of racialized murder threats.”

    “In addition, this tactic tastelessly overlooks how easy it is to be ‘calm’ when the students chanting ‘white power’ at Mizzou are not directly threatening you.”

    The students chanting “white power” at Mizzou were not directly threatening you either. Describing two racist incidents at another college does not bolster your claim that pernicious racism exists at Yale. Especially when compared to your only concrete example of actual racist behavior at Yale concerns Halloween costumes.
    ______________

    “The regulation of anger is intentional here. It derails the conversation from the racism and misogyny that run deep in our communities.”

    Actually, the many expressions of anger this week appear intended to divert attention away from the paucity of racist and misogynist incidents allegedly fueling the student mob.

  • martin k

    You really think that “shrieking” girl was making a” concrete” argument? Really?

  • Bulstrode

    “the free speech crowd”???

    • Mnz3

      You know. The people who support free dialogue and challenging of views. They have no place in a University v

  • Caroline

    Anyone who criticizes or questions the movement is racist. It racist to expect students to engage in intellectual discourse. It racist to prefer discussion to mobs of students surrounding, shouting at, and insulting faculty members. It is racist to use any negative term at all to refer to such immature and pathetic behavior. (Clearly, my use of the word “mob” demonstrates that I am attempting to “silence” and “marginalize” students by evoking racist tropes.)

    Apparently, everyone who doesn’t do exactly as these students demand, exactly when they’re told to, is racist.

    I sure am glad I don’t go to Yale, where any deviation from the accepted radical stance is met with spitting, shouting, and calls for people to lose their jobs.

    • Jawaralal_Schwartz

      How are things at Shimer, Caroline?

  • marcedward

    “There is an unjust burden on students of color to express their thoughts on recent events, and on their experiences more generally, in a dispassionate and academic way”

    No, it’s called “acting like an adult, behaving in a civil manner”. If you cannot do that, you don’t belong at any university, nor even a community college. People who act like tantrum throwing toddlers should be ignored. Don’t reward childish behavior.

    • Jawaralal_Schwartz

      Marc: this is somewhat excessively harsh, don’t you think? Please calm down and try it again, softly.

      • andy 123

        Jawaralal, Marc seems spot on. What is so harsh, or better yet, what was untrue about what was said?

        • Jawaralal_Schwartz

          Hey, guys, in a moderately swift Ivy League campus, there’s lots of screaming and hollering–about sports, the opposite sex, good and bad courses, the administrations lousy rules and regulations. When someone’s got a point to make, it is unacceptable to demand civility (as defined by who?). There is constant incivility. And the good part is: s/he who flames out by getting heated or hurling F bombs vastly dimities his/her argument. Just let them roll on, eh?

      • David

        It’s harsh and justifiably so.

      • marcedward

        Too “Triggering”? I guess a life of earning participation ribbons hasn’t prepared some people for differing opinions.

      • cheeflo

        Harsh? Surely you jest. Wait until they graduate and have to contend with the real world. Now that’s harsh.

  • JT Davis

    totally agree Publius.

    They will either create a fascist atmosphere or cannibalize themselves. Maybe you’ll get a person of colour with a different view than theirs. Like a Somali woman I heard give a talk denouncing Islam. Her background story was growing up in and how extreme Islam hurt her and Somalia. You certainly can’t have that on campus because some may get offended!

    Dissent and free speech is a good thing people. So is creating a good atmosphere for students and staff but also realizing that once in a while something may come up that they don’t agree with and that should be dealt with in a rational and open manner which those who are attacking free speech don’t seem to get.

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/13/ban-germaine-greer-universities-free-speech

    “In all that I’ve seen and read, there is a huge paradox. The
    aggrieved students demand to be heard and demand respect, but then are
    unwilling to hear a contrary opinion and unable to respect their
    adversaries. They’ll never get the former if they don’t give the latter.”

    • cheeflo

      “They will either create a fascist atmosphere or cannibalize themselves.”

      Either? They are doing both.

  • dvmg

    The author seems confused. Christikas was advocating free speech NOT being racist. Apparently being a proponent of free speech, and frankly encouraging college students to think for themselves is sufficient justification for the “hurt, angry and unsafe” mob to feel victimized and attack.

  • freespeechgal

    I am a female with several advanced degrees, and I completely disagree with Ms. Ramakrishna’s article. To point out that a student was screaming her head off and verbally attacking a school professor with the “F bomb” is simply stating the facts; it doesn’t matter that she was female or Black. She (and the other students surrounding Mr. Christakis) were creating a violent, volatile, disrespectful, frightening, and bullying situation. He was the victim, and Ms. Ramakrishna is blaming the victim. The idea that a college should censor students’ Halloween costume choices is an idea that can be debated either way. First Amendment/Free speech advocates will say that the college has no business censoring costumes, and politically-correct liberals will say the college should coddle certain groups and go all out for censorship. Mr. Christakis was merely pointing out, in a polite and logical way, that there are two sides to every opinion. And you folks think that is a crime? For that he should be berated and sworn at? I don’t know who deserves more blame: the parents who brought up these Yale children so poorly and without any manners, the school system that never taught them about civics and the First Amendment, or the foolish administrators who give in to thuggish mob rule instead of insisting on the freedom of all people on campus to express their views in safety.

    • cheeflo

      The operative word is “children.” They do not think or behave like adults. And the parents, school systems, and administration are all equally responsible for this sorry state of affairs.

  • HarborBeach

    This is the problem. Shyamala’s article doesn’t articulate ONE thing that is a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed. If you’re such a fragile flower, you should not even be on your own in college. I also want to point out that Yale bends over backwards in terms of admissions, financial resources and institutional support for minorities and it just never seems to be enough. If Yale is so uncomfortable and feels so unsafe for you, Shyamala, you are more than free to find somewhere else to go to college that is more to your liking.

  • Kaedwon

    “It derails the conversation from the racism and misogyny that run deep in our communities.” Except I don’t hear any conversation, only petulant and increasingly outlandish demands to redress fictitious grievances

  • bwayjunction

    I
    had my DNA analyzed. Based on the results, please tell me which costumes or admixtures of costumes would
    be inappropriate: Ashkenazi, West African, East African, South Asian, Middle
    Eastern, West Asian, Eastern Mediterranean, Western Mediterranean, Atlantic,
    North Central Europe, East Europe and South Baltic. And don’t say Native American. My aunt was a Wampanoag.

  • Zack Y.

    White supremacy?

    Tell me, where on this campus is there is any “white supremacy” or “white privilege”? It isn’t white students who have the privilege of extorting university leaders & others into giving them things with thinly veiled threats of violence. It isn’t white students who are told they can blame all their problems on some evil ‘other’, and scream “RACISM!” every time their latest demands aren’t met. They have the ‘privilege’ of walking on eggshells and censoring their own thoughts, lest they “offend” somebody with their disagreement or even presence.

    Frankly, why SHOULD others have empathy for you? Why should I have empathy for people who basically claim that their racism is of the virtuous sort, who act like their claims of victimization & entitlement are above debate? Empathy, like respect, is something you EARN. You are not entitled to my affection, my sympathy, or my support. You’re being mocked because you are are pushy, obnoxious totalitarians trying to pose as powerless victims. The sheer mental disconnect & farce of it all is amusing, and we damn well reserve the right to laugh.

    • dzmlsience

      Affirmative action has created a hostile environment. White and Asian students on campus know that they are the best of the best. The “diversity” cases know that they are not as accomplished nor as well prepared as their peers. Yale is competitive. Those differences show through immediately and often grow larger over time. Not surprisingly, the less competent students find their way to the less serious academic departments and, ultimately, political activism. Just like in the real world.

      End affirmative action and you will end most of the racism on campus.

      • bwayjunction

        Well, a little homework
        would help here. While African-Americans have taken the heat for the
        ‘Affirmative Action’ (a program instituted by the Nixon administration) far and
        away the biggest beneficiaries have been White Middle Class and White Upper
        Middle Class women. By all means let’s rid ourselves of ‘Affirmative Action’;
        that way we can get rid of all those pesky Gender Studies programs.

        • dzmlsience

          A little MORE homework would be even more helpful, bwayjunction. The Nixon administration had nothing to do with Yale’s implementation of affirmative action in admissions. Nothing. Zip. Nada. You could have googled that.

          Since female applicants have, on average, higher grade and test scores than their male counterparts, some explanation would be needed for how white women could be the big winners in the affirmative action sweepstakes. Your call to close down gender studies programs, presumably to re-focus resources on more legitimate disciplines, is a winner however.

          • bwayjunction

            I wasn’t talking about its implementation at Yale but it’s implementation in general general. https://www.ncsu.edu/project/oeo-training/aa/beneficiaries.htm

          • dzmlsience

            That isn’t very helpful because we’re talking about it’s implementation at Yale. It’s Yale’s use of the affirmative action that has ushered less qualified and resentful students onto campus. It’s Yale’s use of the policy that has generated hostility in both directions.

            Next time, before suggesting that “a little homework would help” try to focus on the topic at hand. And you will have to do a lot better than your swipe at admitted female students. Affirmative action is meant to yield more blacks and hispanics (the current politically attractive minority groups) to the detriment of whites and Asians. Does anyone dispute this?

  • matt10023

    The student who did the most screaming has a 1%er family background, going to a 1%er school.

    So one has ask – how much of her angst was adopted from the experiences of others?

    When she leaves Yale, with her degree, and leverages her school and family connections to get that next step on her comfortable upper middle class dream, how much will she really be doing for the common person of color? How much does she even understand what it means?

    Since this article asks us to look deeper into the reasons for the protests, doesn’t it follow that we look to the credibility of some of the actors?

    Time will tell, but I expect that like most of her peers, she will find herself a nice home in either a doorman building, or nice suburban enclave where she can ensure she’s segregated from the very people she’s so concerned about today.

  • yaleyeah

    Unbelievable someone is still defending what happened in that courtyard. This student clearly violated the undergraduate code of conduct pg. 11-H. She is lucky that she is not being disciplined for it, and it is a safe bet that the only reason for that is that she is a “woman of color”. The protestors doubled down on that and used up a lot of their political capital with the administration trying to get a faculty member fired. Was it worth it, folks? These protests are 100% emotion and zero wisdom.

  • cheeflo

    I’m waiting for a “reasoned and articulate” argument from this crowd.