Tag Archive: Christakis

  1. YANG: Coloring the margins

    Leave a Comment

    Anxiously awaiting my Yale admissions decision in early spring 2015, I was ecstatic to receive a letter of admittance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The college was relatively close to home, offering in-state tuition to Minnesotan students and a well-established pre-med program. It was everything I could ask for. However, as I opened an invitation to the “UW Day for Students of Color” a week later, I felt an unexpected jolt of confusion. Me? A student of color? Sure, I was a proud first-generation Chinese American, but I didn’t strictly identify as a person of color and certainly not as “yellow.” After a week of staring at the enthusiastically-worded invitation on my desk, I dropped the packet in the trash.

    Weeks later, I eagerly responded to my acceptance to Yale, where I would be free of such identity crises. As someone who had attended predominately white public schools in both Pennsylvania and Minnesota, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity on campus and by the familiarity and comfort with which people seemed to host and partake in cultural events. Here, I wasn’t a token “person of color;” I was a uniform piece of the student body, just another mind in a sea of brilliant ones. For many months, I felt a sense of community that made me feel safe and finally at peace with my skin color.

    The Halloween Christakis email incident struck in my second quarter at Yale — not just campus-wide, but nation-wide. Suddenly, I felt intensely aware of my cultural background, of my skin color, of my quiet Asian voice in a torrent of angry ones. “Safe spaces” were declared the fantastical product of spoiled elitist children unprepared for the “real world,” and college students as a whole were labeled “cry-bullies” for speaking out against problematic language and behavior. In this flood of conflict, many black students stood together as an inspiring wall of solidarity. They spoke out, and they spoke out proudly. Questions about the name of Calhoun College, highlighted by President Salovey at the class of 2019 freshman assembly, came to the forefront of campus discussion. Black Lives Matter fought for a platform in a siege of national dissent, police brutality and unearthed racism. Meanwhile, the Asian community, including myself, stood in support of “people of color.”

    Even so, our voices were mostly lost in the crowd. Standing at the center of these racial tensions, I became intensely aware of issues that I had happily buried and ignored since coming to Yale. Even in this haven of cultural diversity, I felt as lost about my status as a woman of color as I had a year before. Was I truly a POC? Could I call myself “yellow” with the same pride as the black community? Did I even want to — and was it wrong not to?

    Even now, one year after the Halloween email incident transpired, I stand with one leg in the box and the other lifted in suspense. If I step out, I sever myself from the pride of my identity; if I step in, I lose a piece of myself to the stereotypes of my skin color. I am afraid of enclosure, but in this pivotal time for race relations in the United States, I am even more afraid of exclusion. These issues have burned deep into my sophomore year, ignited by presidential debates and troubling news segments. The “Watters’ World: Chinatown Edition” Fox News segment galvanized a surge of Asian American solidarity on campus, bringing students together for social media campaigns and discussions. In these moments, it feels as if all the sides of me — the side that loves my culture, the side that fears racial conflict, the side that wants to be heard, the side that wants to hide — have been mobilized in a battle around the yellowness of my skin.

    Do I take on a label? Do I wear it with pride? Perhaps the decision isn’t mine to make. Perhaps it was made already by the color of my hair and my eyes and by the UW-Madison flyer proudly inviting me to celebrate myself — a person of color.

    CATHERINE YANG is a sophomore in Trumbull College. Contact her at catherine.yang@yale.edu .

  2. ELECTION 2016: Conservative views considered unwelcome at Yale


    Despite ongoing campus discussions about free speech, Yale remains deeply unwelcoming to students with conservative political beliefs, according to a News survey distributed earlier this month.

    Nearly 75 percent of 2,054 respondents who completed the survey — representing views across the political spectrum — said they believe Yale does not provide a welcoming environment for conservative students to share their opinions on political issues. Among the 11.86 percent of respondents who described themselves as either “conservative” or “very conservative,” the numbers are even starker: Nearly 95 percent said the Yale community does not welcome their opinions. About two-thirds of respondents who described themselves as “liberal” or “very liberal” said Yale is not welcoming to conservative students.

    “Anybody who supports Donald Trump or is a Republican is just hated,” said one respondent, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of backlash from liberal students. “I just get the general vibe that Republicans aren’t respected for their beliefs as much as maybe the liberal people are.”

    More than 60 percent of the 103 Yale students supporting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said they are “uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” discussing their political beliefs at Yale.

    The 2,054 respondents make up 37.58 percent of Yale’s undergraduate population, and results have not been adjusted for bias.

    By contrast, more than 98 percent of respondents said Yale is welcoming to students with liberal beliefs. And among students who described themselves as “liberal” or “very liberal,” 85 percent said they are “comfortable” or “very comfortable” sharing their political views in campus discussions.

    In an interview with the News, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said the results of the survey were lamentable but unsurprising. Holloway attributed conservative students’ discomfort at sharing their views partly to the pervasiveness of social media.

    “So much of your generation’s world is managed through smart phones. There’s no margin anymore for saying something stupid,” Holloway said. “People have been saying dumb things forever, but when I was your age word of mouth would take a while. Now it’s instantaneous, now context is stripped away.”

    Holloway added that Yale is one of many liberal arts universities where conservative views are highly unpopular, noting that in election years the political environment can become especially heated.

    According to a 2015 article in the Harvard Crimson’s weekly magazine, many conservative students at Harvard College feel like their political opinions are neither respected nor appreciated. And in a recent article in The College Fix, a right-leaning online news outlet, a student at Columbia said that he feared he would be “physically assaulted” if he displayed conservative images or slogans on his clothing.

    Still, Karl Notturno ’17, an outspoken Trump supporter, said he feels comfortable discussing his beliefs, even though he agrees that overall Yale is unwelcoming to conservative viewpoints.

    “I have been very honest for most of my life. I’m not going to change myself to what others want me to be,” Notturno said. “I’m a little bit of an anomaly, but most Trump supporters I know don’t feel comfortable talking about it.”

    Kevin Olteanu ’19, a member of the conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. Program, said his views make him a “rebel in the crowd” who keeps conversations in his friend group interesting.

    Scott Smith ’18 said that while he would be considered a liberal outside of Yale, he is more conservative than most students on campus. Smith said his views have grown more conservative over the course of his time at the University.

    “I think on social issues I’ve become somewhat less liberal mainly because of how incredibly liberal Yale is,” Smith said. “I’m not a fan of going along with the majority on everything. I think I’ve been pushing back against all of that mainly because it’s just frustrating to see only one viewpoint being expressed, and expressed loudly.”

    But not all conservative Yalies feel as comfortable outside of the majority. Grant Richardson ’19 said it sometimes feels “intimidating” to voice conservative opinions during discussion sections.

    Claire Williamson ’17 said it became harder to express conservative viewpoints during the controversies surrounding Calhoun College and the title“master” last fall. Students who did not hold the “popular vocal opinion” of renaming the college and changing the title were seen not only as wrong, she said, but as bad people.

    “I would say it’s a frustrating Catch-22 to be a conservative-leaning moderate or conservative on campus,” Williamson said. “You’re sort of airing your own political views and trying to talk about them with the risk that someone disagrees with you to the point of assuming you’re an immoral person because of them. You either stay silent or you risk alienating some of your friends and groups around you.”

    Still, political science lecturer Jim Sleeper ’69 said unwritten rules about when one should and should not share controversial opinions have existed for decades and are “woven into the fabric” of the University.

    “Some of what we call self-censorship is necessary and good,” he said. “What you disagree about productively depends on certain things you agree not to disagree about. Civility requires self-restraint.”

    Clarification (Oct. 27): Describing the statement he initially provided the News as unintentionally unclear, Dean Jonathan Holloway issued the following: “In no way did I intend to imply that the views of any student or faculty were stupid or should be dismissed. I meant to lament the fact that meaningful conversations were too often reduced or misconstrued in the shortened messages of social media, leading to a lack of understanding. I apologize if my words were misconstrued and taken to mean anything otherwise.”

  3. Free speech report sees little impact

    Leave a Comment

    Yale was featured prominently as one of three case studies in a report on freedom of speech at American universities, but the report went largely unnoticed on campus.

    The 100-page report, titled “And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Freedom of Speech at U.S. Universities,” was released on Oct. 17 by the PEN American Center, an association of writers and editors dedicated to promoting free speech and freedom of the press.

    One chapter of the report focuses on Yale and the events surrounding former Silliman College Associate Head Erika Christakis’ controversial Halloween email last fall. The report used the events at Yale to delve into the complexities of discussing controversial issues in a campus setting.

    Still, Yale students and faculty interviewed were largely unaware of the report, and some said free speech issues were no longer as central to campus discourse. Furthermore, some students felt the report’s chapter on Yale only summarized last year’s events and thus did not receive much attention among Yalies because it added little information to a year-old discussion.

    “Yale is a pretty insular campus,” said Alejandra Padin-Dujon ’18, a former spokeswoman for the activist organization Next Yale and one of two undergraduates quoted in the PEN report. “I don’t think students are terribly interested in what the outside world has to say about us in terms of placing us in the larger scheme unless that’s to support some sort of political agenda. … We know what Yale is like better than anyone who wrote about us would know.”

    The report’s chapter on Yale — “Chilling Free Speech or Meeting Speech with Speech?” — examines the campus outcry over Erika Christakis’ email, which responded to an Intercultural Affairs Committee memo about appropriate Halloween costumes. The report also discusses other campus controversies, including the ongoing debate over the name of Calhoun College and allegations of racism at a Sigma Alpha Epsilon party last October.

    In particular, the study addressed the Yale community’s response to former Silliman Head Nicholas Christakis and his wife, who left their roles in Silliman in July. While Nicholas Christakis did not respond to request for comment, he addressed the PEN America report in an Oct. 21 tweet. Christakis originally released a statement to PEN America in September while it was preparing the report.

    “I retain my hope that my confidence in Yale students is not unfounded and that they will come to see these issues more clearly,” Christakis wrote to PEN America. “I believe in our common humanity and in the capacity of people engaged in open discussion to acquire a better understanding of each other. And I remain unsure that administrative intrusion into students’ forms of expression is beneficial to real, moral learning. The answer to speech we do not like is more speech.”

    History professor Glenda Gilmore, a member of PEN America, said she thought the report balanced PEN America’s commitment to free speech with an accurate description of the events last fall. Gilmore added that she had not heard of any response to the report from the Yale community, except for Nicholas Christakis’ Twitter posts.

    Students are not as vocal about freedom of speech issues this year as they were last year, Padin-Dujon said, because they are emotionally exhausted from the public scrutiny they received last fall. Padin-Dujon added that conversations about free speech occasionally emerge but are generally avoided because people are “sick of hearing about it as much as people are sick of explaining themselves again and again.”

    “Even when the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming was going around, a lot of us were just too exhausted to contribute more to this when we spent last year on it,” Padin-Dujon said. “All I want right now is to be a student, and I recognize there are a lot of people who don’t really see any value in what we worked for last year. But it’s not my job to sacrifice my Yale education to make them see a little bit of sense in that regard.”

    Padin-Dujon said that while she is proud of what student activists accomplished last year, she doesn’t think their work has changed the campus environment beyond “a few token admissions from the administration.” She added that despite the hard work of student activists, there is more stigma surrounding issues of free speech than ever before.

    The PEN report is not as relevant to students this year because it is an “archive” that does not call anyone to action and is neither “vicious” nor provocative, Padin-Dujon said.

    English professor David Bromwich said he is not aware of any attempts at censorship or of “provocative and controversial speech” on campus this year.

    Bromwich said that pressure for censorship came mostly from political conservatives in the 1950s through 1970s but has come from the “left-liberal side” in more recent decades. He added he has not heard much about the PEN report but attributed this to how recently it was released.

    Gilmore said the report is valuable as a straightforward account of the campus controversy.

    “The organization that came on campus and taped student protests prior gave the public an erroneous impression of what happened here,” Gilmore said, referring to the civil liberties group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “While I do differ with it on some issues, the report does a good job of setting the record straight.”

    The two other case studies in the report were from UCLA and Northwestern University.