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Erika Christakis, Yale University

October 2015
Yale University (Private college or university)
New Haven, Connecticut, USA

Identity of Speakers

  • Erika Christakis and Nicholas Christakis
    Faculty/Staff
    Other

    Erika Christakis and Nicholas Christakis were scholars-in-residence and professors at Yale University.

Resources

Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
    Rally or protest
    Other
  • Incident Responses:
    Other
  • Incident Status:
    No litigation
  • No protest Occured
  • Did not involve Speech Codes

Summary

In October 2015, an email sent by Yale Professor Erika Christakis prompted protests among Yale students who called for Erika and her husband, Professor Nicholas Christakis, to step down from their responsibilities as faculty-in-residence at Yale’s SIlliman dormitory.

The controversy arose when Yale administrators emailed students to warn them against wearing “culturally unaware or insensitive” Halloween costumes. Erika Christakis then circulated an email of her own, which acknowledged the “genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation,” but asserting that students could make these choices on their own through the exercise of “self-censure” and “social norming.” Her email also quoted her husband Nicholas in saying that “if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society.”

In response, students circulated a petition seeking the Christakis’ resignation from their roles as faculty-in-residence at the Silliman dormitory. The petition, addressing the Christakis’, stated that “You ask students to ‘look away’ if costumes are offensive, as if the degradation of our cultures and people, and the violence that grows out of it is something that we can ignore.” Soon, Nicholas Christakis was confronted by protestors in a campus quad. The protestors demanded that Nicholas apologize, while Nicholas attempted to respond to the students’ concerns. One student told him that it is his job as faculty-in-residence to “create a place of comfort and home for the students who live” in the dormitory, and that the email was inconsistent with that duty.

The response among Yale faculty was mixed. Some faculty members wrote a letter in support of the Christakis’, stating that they were “deeply troubled that this modest attempt to ask people to consider the issue of self-monitoring vs. bureaucratic supervision has been misinterpreted, and in some cases recklessly distorted, as support for racist speech; and hence as justification for demanding the resignation of our colleagues from their posts at Silliman.” Other faculty members criticized the Chrstakises and warned that professors who signed the letter of support would likely face protests.

The Christakises ultimately decided to step down from their roles at the Silliman dormitory. They issued a statement saying “We remain hopeful that students at Yale can express themselves and engage complex ideas within an intellectually plural community.  But we feel it is time to return full-time to our respective fields.”