Yale admin. may leave to teach preschoolers who 'don't try to get you fired'
A Yale University administrator who has gone on sabbatical to avoid the opprobrium of students who object to her defense of free speech says she isn’t sure she wants to return to the school.
“I’m toying with going back into an early childhood classroom in some capacity,” Erika Christakis told The New York Times Sunday, joking that preschool students “don’t try to get you fired.”
Christakis, a lecturer and associate master at Silliman College, came under fire in October for sending a critical response to a mass email from the school’s Intercultural Affairs Committee reminding students to avoid potentially wearing offensive Halloween costumes, ultimately leading both her and her husband to cancel their courses at the university this semester.
In her response, Christakis complained that “we seem afraid that college students are unable to decide how to dress themselves on Halloween,” musing “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?”
Christakis argued that while she “[doesn’t] wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community,” the initial email raised concerns that the drive to avoid offense has begun to supersede the more important principle of free expression.
The email prompted student protests on campus calling for Erika to resign, leading at one point to a confrontation caught on video in which her husband, Silliman College Master Nicholas Christakis, was surrounded by a mob of hostile students demanding that he apologize for defending the content of his wife’s missive.
Mr. Christakis explained that he unequivocally supports freedom of speech—“even when it’s offensive” and “even when I don’t agree with the content”—but failed to mollify the students, one of whom complained that Erika’s email had made her feel that Yale is no longer a “safe space” for her.
Although more than 70 faculty members later signed an open letter supporting the Christakis’ right to free speech, an even greater number chose to side with the aggrieved students, leading to their decision to cancel course offerings, though both will remain in their administrative roles at Silliman College.
“It was a painful experience,” Ms. Christakis recounted to The Times, adding that she was particularly disappointed to see that so many students would actually defer to Yale on the question of how they should dress.
“Should we be talking more transparently about when it’s appropriate for administrations to insert themselves into issues that arise in students’ lives?” she asked. “I think students are more capable than we give them credit for being to manage social norming.”
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