Last week, a real-life South Park episode somehow took place within the very prestigious confines of Yale University.
In the lead-up to Halloween, Yale Dean Burgwell Howard sent out an email requesting that students not engage in “cultural appropriation” when it comes to costume choice. That message prompted a very mild rebuke from the Associate Master of Silliman College Erica Christakis.
Can Students Be a Bit Obnoxious?
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Christakis took issue with the tone of Howard’s email that implied the school was trying to impose control over students’ choices and restrict free expression. She found that idea troublesome.
Additionally, she asked, “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? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition.”
Hundreds of students responded with a resounding, “There’s no room for that, you bigot!” to Christakis’s question. This is where South Park-style absurdity enters the story.
‘Oh. My—Pain-Causing Costumes’
More than 740 Yalies and offended allies signed a letter that declared Christakis’s opinion somehow suppressed the viewpoints of minority students. Many of those same signatories refused an invitation by the associate master and her husband, Master of Silliman College Nicholas Christakis, to discuss the matter over a Sunday lunch.
On Thursday, 100 students confronted the husband and demanded a bended-knee apology from Mr. Christakis for supporting his wife’s views. The professor tried to apologize for any “pain” the email might’ve caused, but he stood by his support for free speech.
That didn’t suit his inquisitors, and they proceeded to engage in something that resembled an improvised show trial. Christakis was belittled for eliminating the pretense that his college was a “safe space” and was cursed at as students cheered on. When trying to speak, he was shouted down by his chief accuser, ensuring he never got a good chance to defend himself.
Here’s the clip showing the worst part of the interrogation:
The mentality of these students was encapsulated in a Friday column for The Yale Herald. A female Sillimander excoriated the college master for “instigating more debate” and valuing free speech over making her home “less threatening.” Apparently, the safety of all minority students is put into jeopardy by questioning the wisdom of a school controlling costume choices.
The implication here was that free speech could be easily discarded when so many students were in “pain” over one milquetoast email.
Whiny Babies, Hurt Feelings
Over the last few years, a growing media theme — particularly within conservative media — is that college kids are slowly transforming into whiny babies who need constant coddling. The Yale incident proves that this well-covered meme is no exaggeration.
It’s one thing to disagree with the Mr. and Mrs. Christakis over the issue of restricting “culturally insensitive” Halloween costumes. It is quite another to act like that opinion threatens your safety.
The aggrieved Yale students who demanded the heads of the Silliman masters perfectly embodied the type of young adult detailed by Judith Shulevitz’s expose on safe spaces for The New York Times. According to Shulevitz, students no longer object to speech they disagree with on political or moral grounds — they simply say it jeopardizes their emotional well-being to have it aired and urge for its censorship to protect them from harm.
This safety argument has allowed these precious snowflake totalitarians to suppress speech on campus. Free speech means nothing to them when it comes at the price of exposing their fragile little minds to ideas they don’t like. Thanks to spineless administrators that rush to appease each and every need of designated minority groups, activists are able to get away with this inane rationale for censorship.
Get into Yale, Be a Victim
The funny thing about the Yale case is how it shows young people at one of the most prestigious universities in the world — with all the opportunities imaginable available to them — are able to think of themselves as victims of society. This is the creme of the meritocracy we’re talking about here, the ones who have reaped the rewards of America.
More importantly, these are the kids who could very occupy the highest halls of power someday.
And they think a nicely-worded email and Halloween costumes oppress them.
It’s disturbing that America’s best institutions are churning out individuals who have no desire to uphold free speech.
What’s worse is that these same kids could be the leaders of tomorrow. Imagine the insanity of watching a president demand the arrest of dissidents for violating his/her/xyr’s safe space. Or diplomacy conducted via hysterical sobbing over how minor faux pas made a diplomat feel marginalized.
That’d be the world we live if we gave these nincompoops power. And it could very well happen if universities like Yale continue to coddle these students and give them what they want.
The man who videotaped the show trial of Christakis, FIRE president Greg Lukianoff, co-wrote a much discussed-article for The Atlantic about how the safe space mentality is literally damaging the brains of students.
If that’s true, then administrators coddling students is not only bad for free speech, it borders on abuse.
What happened at Yale last week should make everyone concerned about the gelding of free speech from campus. It’s not just about making sure different viewpoints get heard at colleges everywhere — it’s about the kind of future we want to have as a country.
While South Park may be an entertaining show, the prospect of its absurd storylines becoming daily life in America — all without the happy endings — is not a reality we want to have.
Scott Greer as an associate editor at The Daily Caller