By Isaac Stanley-Becker at The Washington Post
NEW HAVEN, CONN. — A crowd of hundreds stopped traffic on city streets surrounding the Yale University campus Monday in a march to show solidarity with minority students who say they are barred from full participation at the Ivy League school.
Winding their way past the university’s four cultural centers — and the Yale chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, where brothers have been accused of turning black women away from a party last weekend — students displayed signs urging the university to support women of color, faculty of color and ethnic studies. One sign read: “Your move Yale.”
The march concluded outside the main library, where protests late last week prompted top-level discussions at the university and vows from the president to change Yale’s culture. On Monday, as concerns about racism and bigotry on the campus of the University of Missouri led to the resignation of that school’s president, students at Yale implored the university to better serve its minority population.
Ivetty Estepan, a Yale sophomore, announced through a bull horn that she wants the school to be “not just integrated but inclusive.”
The event made little mention of SAE — the fraternity’s president has denied that students were barred from a party because of their race — or of an incident involving a Yale official urging students not to be offended by Halloween costumes that play on minority cultures. Senior Eshe Sherley said the march aimed to display student power and resilience, and that marchers want to force the administration to act on a broad range of issues related to race relations.
The university’s president, Peter Salovey, who last Thursday told minority students in a closed-door meeting that the university had “failed” them, greeted students after the march on Monday. Salovey said he welcomes students’ efforts to improve the university and clarified his view that Yale has failed its minority students.
“What I said on Thursday is if there are students who don’t feel welcome here, we need to accept that as an area where we can do better,” Salovey said in a brief interview. “And we must do better.”
Salovey pledged at the end of last week to unveil a series next steps before Thanksgiving in a university-wide effort to improve the experiences of students of color. He said that might come through “formal committee processes” but also extensive “informal interactions.”
“People really have to feel like they can express themselves, whatever their views are, in an environment that is open to them,” he said.
That question — of the right to free expression — has come into sharp focus in Silliman College, one of Yale’s 12 residential communities, which has been a focus of the racial tensions here. Nicholas Christakis, the Silliman master at the center of a campus debate over speech and sensitivity, spoke with students on Sunday in the living room of his home at the college.
Christakis apologized for his role in a controversy that erupted the day before Halloween when his wife, Erika Christakis, the associate master at Silliman, challenged a campus-wide request that students be sensitive when considering costumes that could be offensive. An early childhood educator, she advised Silliman students either to “look away” or to voice their discomfort, counsel that drew a sharp rebuke from minority students. The pair defended the e-mail on social media last week, suggesting that the uproar was emblematic of “campus censorship culture.”
I have disappointed you and I’m really sorry,” Nicholas Christakis told about 100 students gathered in his living room on Sunday for a meeting also attended by Jonathan Holloway, the dean of Yale College, and other university administrators. Christakis said his encounter on Thursday with students in the college’s courtyard, in which numerous black women upbraided him for being inattentive to them, broke his heart, according to a voice recording of the conversation provided to The Washington Post.
“I mean it just broke my heart,” Christakis said. “I thought that I had some credibility with you, you know? I care so much about the same issues you care about. I’ve spent my life taking care of these issues of injustice, of poverty, of racism. I have the same beliefs that you do … I’m genuinely sorry, and to have disappointed you. I’ve disappointed myself.”
Christakis, who is traveling this week for a conference, did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. He opened the meeting on Sunday by casting it as discussion about a clash of ideas, but students wanted to discuss more immediate concerns, including video clips of the encounter in Silliman that were posted on YouTube by the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Filmed by the organization’s CEO and president, Greg Lukianoff, who spoke in Silliman on Thursday evening on the topic of free speech on college campuses, the videos have garnered hundreds of thousands of views. Cole Aronson, a sophomore, said the sort of discourse the videos display is anathema to an academic culture where all views are respected, not just those who “believe or feel the most strongly.”
At the meeting with Christakis, students asked administrators to address threats that have been directed at individuals portrayed in the clips cursing and shouting at Christakis; some comments were comparisons of the students to animals and suggestions that they should be beaten, shot and strangled.
Holloway said he has been in touch with the university’s general counsel’s office about the videos, as there is a university rule that prohibits filming without prior permission within Yale’s gates, he said.
“I honestly don’t know what to do in our smartphone culture with this,” Holloway said. “And so I’ve posed that as a question to the attorney to figure out what can we do.”
FIRE disabled comments on the videos after students wrote to the organization about the presence of threatening messages, according to a spokesman, Nico Perrino. He said FIRE has not been contacted by Yale’s attorneys.