The “Real” Problem At Yale

Avoiding the compulsion to make a cheap pun out of the word “Sillimanders,” the name given the residents of Silliman College at Yale university, a post by senior Aaron Z. Lewis tries to clear up the misunderstanding reflected by outsiders, like me.

By now, you’ve probably seen the video of a Yale student yelling at a professor, the Facebook post about a “white girls only” party, or the email about offensive Halloween costumes. Unfortunately, the short YouTube clips and articles I’ve seen don’t even come close to painting an accurate picture of what’s happening at Yale. I’m a senior here, and I’ve experienced the controversy firsthand over the past week (and years). I want to tell a more complete story and set a few facts straight.

For starters: the protests are not really about Halloween costumes or a frat party. They’re about a mismatch between the Yale we find in admissions brochures and the Yale we experience every day. They’re about real experiences with racism on this campus that have gone unacknowledged for far too long. The university sells itself as a welcoming and inclusive place for people of all backgrounds. Unfortunately, it often isn’t.

It’s good that Lewis wants to tell a more complete story. I want to learn a more complete story. It appears that the “complete story” is that Yale is a hotbed of racism and its administration didn’t admit its failing fast enough.

Students should not have to become community organizers just to receive acknowledgement and respect from their administrators. It’s disheartening to feel like so few people in power have your back. Yes, we are angry. We are tired. We are emotionally drained. We feel like we have to yell in order to make our voices heard.

They are, apparently, a deeply feeling bunch.

I hope it’s obvious now that Yale students are concerned about far more than just an email or a frat party. In the petty debates about these two specific incidents, people have lost sight of the larger issue: systemic racism on campus. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t acknowledge both the value of free speech and the reality of the prejudice that students of color face every day. It saddens me that this has gotten to the point where people feel like they have to take sides. We should all strive for a future where, at the very least, people feel physically safe and confident in their own humanity. Let’s focus on the goals we share, not the unproductive debates that divide us.

As it happens, FIRE president Greg Lukianoff happened to be there to film the hissy fit because he was to present at the 5th Annual William F. Buckley program on free speech. That didn’t go too well either.

“Looking at the reaction to [Silliman College Associate Master] Erika Christakis’ email, you would have thought someone wiped out an entire Indian village,” Lukianoff said, according to Gian-Paul Bergeron ’17, who was present at the event and posted the quotation online just after 4 p.m.

Greg’s joke violated at least a dozen politically correct Yale norms, which provides some insight into what Lewis describes as “systemic racism.”

According to Buckley fellows present during the conference, several attendees were spat on as they left. One Buckley fellow said he was spat on and called a racist. Another, who is a minority himself, said he has been labeled a “traitor” by several fellow minority students. Both asked to remain anonymous because they were afraid of attracting backlash.

That students called other students names is, well, the way speech works. That a Buckley fellow was spat on?  As I said, they are a deeply feeling bunch, and it appears that feelings got the best of someone, and he just couldn’t control himself.  Had someone spit on a protester, it would have proven Lewis’ point. That a protester spit on a conference participant means only how horrible the racism must be, to push a student to engage in such disgusting conduct.

A Yale Herald op-ed, quoted in my earlier post, entitled “Hurt At Home,” is no longer available.  The paper decided to take it down, and the Editor-in-Chief, David Rossler, “explains” in a Facebook post:

On Fri., Nov. 6, the Yale Herald published an opinion piece titled “Hurt at home,” which articulated an individual’s feelings of discomfort in the aftermath of an email from Silliman College’s associate master. On Sat., Nov. 7, we removed that article from our website at the author’s request.

I recognize that we published the article with only a Yale audience in mind and that many readers outside of Yale took issue with the article’s perspective. 

He goes on to provide “context,” starting with the intent that the article never be viewed with a critical eye, but only with sympathy. He’s going to be one heckuva journalist someday.

This incident has become an issue of free speech. . . .  But students have exercised their own free speech in speaking against the way Master and Associate Master Christakis have treated their office. This incident is not analogous to a professor offering an unpopular view, or a controversial speaker coming to campus. “Hurt at home” addresses a failure to perform the duties of a defined role: nurturing the Silliman community.

“Nurturing” is a word that is typically used with regard to infants, providing their basic necessities because they are too young to do so for themselves. Infants, coincidentally, tend to spit too, though not with purpose.  It was, if Lewis is correct, a particularly apt word.

By encouraging students to behave better than infants, Master and Associate Master Christakis made a terrible error in judgment. They viewed Yale students as sufficiently adult to engage in mature discussion of a Sillimander issue.  In return, the students spit on the notion that they were intellectually suited to being students at an elite university.  There is no context that will change what Yale students have proven conclusively.

H/T Dan Hull

20 thoughts on “The “Real” Problem At Yale

  1. Max Kennerly

    Minor correction: the removed op-ed was in the Yale Herald, not the Yale Daily News. FWIW, the YDN holds itself out as meeting the standards of any news organization (and it generally does). The Herald is meant to be more of a “student voice” type paper.

    1. SHG Post author

      As it turns out, there was also a chunk in the middle that somehow failed to make it to the screen on publication, and which I’ve since recreated. Thanks for the heads up, Max.

  2. paul

    Perhaps we should call the tuscaloosa cops on them. They are making an awful lot of noise after all. Maybe experiencing some real problems would provide perspective.

  3. LTMG

    I’ve added the name of Aaron Z. Lewis to the list I keep of those who would never survive in any operation I was leading. If I ever see his resume, I’ll dispose of it. If I ever become aware that he is interviewing at my company, I’ll have a chat with the hiring manager. Lewis doesn’t realize it, but he has burnt some bridges already in his young and passionate life.

    1. Mike G.

      I imagine Mr. Lewis is most likely angling for a job in the public service sector, ie. government service, where a person’s rantings and political opinions won’t have any bearing on the hiring process, unless of course they are of the “wrong kind.”

  4. John S.

    Above all else, I can’t wrap my mind around two things at once:
    * students feel they aren’t safe and are under systemic oppression
    * the students who claim this students feel secure that they can disrespect students, administrators, and campus guests without fear of consequences

    Am I alone in this? Is there some third bullet point that wraps this into a coherent thesis?

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