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Yale Expresses Support for Faculty at Center of Halloween Email Controversy

November 18, 2015

NEW HAVEN, Conn., November 18, 2015—In an email sent to students yesterday, the president of Yale University and the dean of Yale College affirmed their support for two faculty members at the center of a free speech controversy over Halloween costumes.

On October 30, Erika Christakis, associate master of Yale’s Silliman College, responded to an email from the school’s Intercultural Affairs Council that asked students to be thoughtful about the cultural implications of their Halloween costumes. In her response to the Silliman community, Christakis questioned what she and some Silliman students perceived as an intrusion into the expressive rights of college students that compromised their autonomy.

In response to her email, some Yale students accused Christakis and her husband, master of Silliman College and Yale professor Nicholas Christakis, of failing to create a “safe space” for Silliman residents. (Nicholas Christakis defended his wife’s email in a heated public confrontation with protesting students.) Other students demanded they resign or the university remove them from their positions. However, Yale President Peter Salovey and Dean of Yale College Jonathan Holloway said yesterday that they remain committed to keeping the Christakises in their current roles at Silliman College.

“Both Nicholas and Erika Christakis remain committed to serving the college, and we fully support them in these efforts,” wrote Salovey and Holloway in an email to the Silliman College community. “They are exceptional teachers and scholars, with a longstanding and deep dedication to undergraduates. … We have met with Master Christakis, and we reaffirm our desire to have him lead Silliman College, making it a stimulating and inclusive place.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) called for Yale leadership to publicly affirm support for the Christakises last Friday.

“We were beginning to see some progress at Yale after President Salovey and Dean Holloway issued a welcome reaffirmation of the necessity of freedom of expression at the institution last week,” said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff. “I am pleased to see that Yale’s top administrators have now delivered on those promises by publicly supporting the Christakises’ free speech rights. I hope that both the Yale community and the Christakises can move forward with a renewed respect for the importance of freedom of expression and dialogue.”

Since the controversy began, Yale students have made use of the rights afforded to them by the university’s strong commitment to free expression. Last week, Yale students organized a “March of Resilience” and a forum to discuss race and diversity on campus. Both events brought together over 1,000 students, faculty, and administrators.

“Yale students have answered speech with more speech,” said Lukianoff. “While FIRE vehemently rejects any continued demands for the Christakises to be removed from their positions for expressing support for expressive rights on campus, many students and administrators at Yale are engaging in productive discussions and demonstrations regarding race on campus—exactly the type of activism FIRE defends on campuses nationwide every day.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

CONTACT:

Nico Perrino, Associate Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; nico@thefire.org

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