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‘The Atlantic’ on the Yale Halloween Email and Free Speech Controversy

By November 9, 2015

Conor Friedersdorf covers “The New Intolerance of Student Activism” in his front-page article for The Atlantic’s website today, discussing the ongoing controversy at Yale over an email by Silliman College Associate Master Erika Christakis in which she questioned the wisdom of “an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control” over students’ Halloween costumes. FIRE’s Haley Hudler covered the story in detail here on The Torch last Friday.

Friedersdorf begins by explaining why readers should care about what is happening at Yale, saying, “[e]veryone invested in how the elites of tomorrow are being acculturated should understand, as best they can, how so many cognitively privileged, ordinarily kind, seemingly well-intentioned young people could lash out with such flagrant intolerance.” Discussing the video clips of an outdoor meeting in which Erika Christakis’ husband, Silliman College Master Nicholas Christakis, attempts to hold a dialogue about the email with a large number of students surrounding him, Friedersdorf makes this insightful observation:

Watching footage of that meeting, a fundamental disagreement is revealed between professor and undergrads. Christakis believes that he has an obligation to listen to the views of the students, to reflect upon them, and to either respond that he is persuaded or to articulate why he has a different view. Put another way, he believes that one respects students by engaging them in earnest dialogue. But many of the students believe that his responsibility is to hear their demands for an apology and to issue it. They see anything short of a confession of wrongdoing as unacceptable. In their view, one respects students by validating their subjective feelings.

Notice that the student position allows no room for civil disagreement.

It’s particularly appropriate that Friedersdorf’s article appears in The Atlantic, whose September cover story, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” by FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff and NYU psychologist and best-selling author Jonathan Haidt, explores the very real possibility that colleges are doing students a grave disservice not just academically but psychologically by teaching students to think pathologically about disagreement. Indeed, as Friedersdorf points out, the reaction of Yale students to the Christakis email “vividly illustrates that phenomenon.” Head over to The Atlantic to read the article in full.

Schools: Yale University Cases: Yale University: Protesters at Yale Threaten Free Speech, Demand Apologies and Resignations from Faculty Members Over Halloween Email