Masking our culture

To whom it may concern,

On October 30, 2015, Associate Master of Silliman College at Yale University Erika Christakis sent an educated, analytical email addressing Halloween costumes to her residents and faculty. Christakis acknowledged the concern from students about Halloween costume guidelines and stated that there is no easy answer to address culturally or morally offensive costumes on Halloween. Is there an age limitation to when a costume is offensive or not? Is it offensive solely based on the fact that you’re not from the background/creed/race that the character represents? Where is the line drawn? The answer is that it cannot really be drawn. In the United States of America, where freedom of speech is one of the most significant founding ideals, the only solution is to tell those that are dressing offensively how you feel. Building upon this ideal, Christakis suggests that the administration should not be the ones to dictate what students are supposed to wear. Students demonstrate emotional intelligence and strength in character when they tolerate offense and meet it with a level head.

And what kind of reaction does this elicit from Yale University, a research university, and one of the leading education institutions in the United States? Outrage. Outrage from more than 750 students, alumni, and faculty in an open letter telling her that her response was wrong. This was followed by an attempt by Master of Silliman College at Yale University Nicholas Christakis to seem personable and explain the motives behind his wife’s statement. After hours of engaging with students, Christakis stated, “I apologize for causing pain, but I am not sorry for the statement. I stand behind free speech. I defend the right for people to speak their minds.” Thereafter, angry students confronted him and demanded an actual apology. They complained that the college was not providing a “safe place” for the students by not censoring Halloween costumes and called for both Christakis’ resignations. One protestor expressed that being Master is “not about creating an intellectual space,” but “creating a home.” When students realized he was not going to give an apology, they began to leave.

The whole situation seems too surreal. How could people that attend a research university be so narrow-minded? College institutions encourage self-growth and maturation; clearly those Yale students could not understand the ideals of emotional strength, and need the administration to tell them what to do. They do not understand that by desiring these Halloween restrictions, they are calling for restraints on their right to free speech. By demanding the Christakis’ resignations, the students are embodying the characteristics and points analyzed in The Atlantic’s story, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” which they ironically denounced in their open letter. It seems that they do want to be coddled along and told what to think. What happens when they graduate and realize that the rest of America just doesn’t think like they do?

We all have a right to free speech, and the Master of the college only looks to uphold that right. To call for censorship and resignations only displays conservative and weak ideals. Strength lies in meeting offensive ideals with understanding and resilience which, as a result, will make the individual well-rounded and reasonable. I value the growth of emotional intelligence and inner strength, and the idea of actively repressing this vital development infuriates me. I admonish anyone reading this letter to understand what being American truly means: to embrace the ideals of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the inherent fortitude it instills.

Hubert J. Lecuyer ’16