Professor Nicholas Christakis lives at Yale, where he presides over one of its undergraduate colleges. His wife Erika, a lecturer in early childhood education, shares that duty. They reside among students and are responsible for shaping residential life. And before Halloween, some students complained to them that Yale administrators were offering heavy-handed advice on what Halloween costumes to avoid.
Erika Christakis reflected on the frustrations of the students, drew on her scholarship and career experience, and composed an email inviting the community to think about the controversy through an intellectual lens that few if any had considered. Her message was a model of relevant, thoughtful, civil engagement.
For her trouble, a faction of students are now trying to get the couple removed from their residential positions, which is to say, censured and ousted from their home on campus. Hundreds of Yale students are attacking them, some with hateful insults, shouted epithets, and a campaign of public shaming. In doing so, they have shown an illiberal streak that flows from flaws in their well-intentioned ideology.
Those who purport to speak for marginalized students at elite colleges sometimes expose serious shortcomings in the way that their black, brown, or Asian classmates are treated, and would expose flaws in the way that religious students and ideological conservatives are treated too if they cared to speak up for those groups. I’ve known many Californians who found it hard to adjust to life in the Ivy League, where a faction of highly privileged kids acculturated at elite prep schools still set the tone of a decidedly East Coast culture. All else being equal, outsiders who also feel like racial or ethnic “others” typically walk the roughest road of all.