Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut.
In today’s New York Times, Yale University professor Nicholas Christakis adds a post-mortem to last fall’s controversy that put him and his wife Erika Christakis—then also a faculty member at Yale—at the center of a national conversation over the role that free speech plays at colleges and universities.
— Nicholas Christakis (@NAChristakis) June 23, 2016
The piece, “Teaching Inclusion in a Divided World,” provides both recognition and encouragement to historically marginalized students who say some of America’s most cherished values—like free expression—have not been afforded to them. Nicholas Christakis said he struggled earlier this year with a Native American student’s question about embracing a system that has so often betrayed her people:
Why should she put any faith in institutions in our society—including our judicial system and universities—when those institutions had clearly betrayed her people in generations past?
“The same Constitution with its protection of the rights to free expression and assembly that you revere,” she said, “was previously of no use to people like me.”
He said finding the answer to that question was “[o]ne of the most difficult intellectual and emotional challenges I faced,” but he ultimately concluded: “I wish I had told her … that her generation could make those [Enlightenment] values more true, not less. These institutions could be hers, and I believe she should want them to be hers.”
Nicholas Christakis says students must understand that their demands for inclusion are predicated on First Amendment values like free speech and freedom of assembly. He warns against the “illiberal (even if permissible)” impulse “to use these traditions to demand the censorship of others, to besmirch fellow students rather than refute the ideas that they express and to treat ideological claims as if they were perforce facts.”
He also issues a call to action for faculty:
[T]he faculty must cut at the root of a set of ideas that are wholly illiberal. Disagreement is not oppression. Argument is not assault. Words—even provocative or repugnant ones—are not violence. The answer to speech we do not like is more speech.
You can read Nicholas Christakis’ full piece over at The New York Times.