Yesterday’s New York Times had an article (“Yale college dean torn by racial protests“) about Yale’s first black Dean of the College, Jonathan Holloway, who’s apparently been doing a good job, but—according to some students—not nearly good enough in light of the recent tumult on campus ignited by two incidents. The first is the reported refusal of the ∑AE fraternity to admit a black woman to a party because of her race, an incident that, according to the Washington Post, may not have happened. The other is the fracas about Halloween costumes, and I’ve written about that before (see here, here and here). I take the side of Erika and Nicholas Christakis on that one, but the students called for their resignation or firing after the Christakises refused to condemn all Halloween costumes that could potentially be offensive. Instead, they stood up for free speech and the right of students to make their own decisions about what to wear.
There were also incidents at Yale’s Buckley Forum, in which disaffected students protested a free-speech symposium and reportedly spat on some attendees. Following that, Yale’s President and Dean Holloway co-wrote a temperate letter to the University community, affirming the University’s commitment to free speech as well as to diversity.
Following the onerous “demands” of Amherst College students that I mentioned yesterday, now Yale protestors have issued a set of equally onerous demands that I reproduce below. These are from “Down Magazine,” come from a group called “Next Yale” (self described as “an alliance of Yale students of color and our allies”), and are appended to a letter addressed to President Peter Salovey, Dean Jonathan Holloway, and senior members of the Yale administration. You can read the letter at the site, which argues that the climate at Yale is one of blatant and hurtful racism, and then ends with the list of demands, insisting that “We expect Peter Salovey [Yale’s President] to publicly announce his intention to implement these demands by November 18, 2015.” Good luck with that!
Here’s what the protestors want (their own words and emphases):
1) An ethnic studies distributional requirement for all Yale undergraduates and the immediate promotion of the Ethnicity, Race & Migration program to departmental status
a. The promotion of Native American Studies, Chicanx & Latinx Studies, Asian American Studies, and African Studies to program status under the ER&M department.
b. Curricula for classes that satisfy the ethnic studies distributional requirement must be designed by Yale faculty in the aforementioned areas of study
2) Mental health professionals that are permanently established in each of the four cultural centers with discretionary funds
a. More mental health professionals of color in Yale Mental Health.
3) An increase of two million dollars to the current annual operational budget for each cultural center.
a. Five full-time staff members in each of the cultural centers
b. Additional emergency and miscellaneous funds from the provost’s office to support the needs of first-generation, low-income, undocumented, and international students
4) Rename Calhoun College. Name it and the two new residential colleges after people of color.
a. Abolish the title “master”
b. Build a monument designed by a Native artist on Cross Campus acknowledging that Yale University was founded on stolen indigenous land.
5) Immediate removal of Nicholas and Erika Christakis from the positions of Master and Associate Master of Silliman College
a. The development of racial competence and respect training and accountability systems for all Yale affiliates
b. The inclusion of a question about the racial climate of the classrooms of both teaching fellows and professors in semester evaluations.
c. Bias reporting system on racial discrimination and an annual report that will be released to the Yale community.
6) The allocation of resources to support the physical well-being of international, first-generation, low-income, and undocumented students, in these ways, at these times:
a. Stipends for food and access to residential college kitchens during breaks
b. Dental and optometry services implemented as part of the Basic Yale Health plan
c. Eight financial aid consultants who are trained to deal specifically with financial aid application processes of international and undocumented students
What we have here is students trying to dictate a specific curriculum that must be taken by all Yale undergraduates, as well as new departments—all designed to promote views ideologically compatible with those of the protestors. I see this as a form of fascism.
If there are indeed disproportionately few resources going to poor or minority students, as seen in demands 3 and 6, I am sure Yale will look at that. Item 4a, abolishing the antiquated term “Master” for the residential head of colleges seems reasonable to me, but the rest of item 4 does not.
Finally, asking Yale to fire Nicholas and Erika Christakis is odious and reprehensible: it’s an attempt to punish two good residential college heads for speaking their minds. Yale will not do this, as is clear from the letter of President Salovey and Dean Holloway, but this demand discredits the students. How dare they try to punish a woman who wrote an email that could only be seen as offensive only by those looking hard for offense? (Her husband, who had no hand in the email, is apparently complicit as well.)
I am a bit torn about all this, as when I was in college I was involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement, and we asked (not demanded) that individual faculty cancel classes on one day so we could go to demonstrations in Washington. They didn’t, of course, but I remember the passion with which we opposed an unjust war, and I so try to understand the Yale students’ passion against racism, and to understand what form that racism could take at Yale. And when, at graduation, my college (William and Mary) asked a conservative state representative to be the official speaker, we didn’t demand a more liberal speaker, but organized a “counter commencement” with Charles Evers, a civil rights activist and brother of slain activist Medgar Evers. The idea that we could issue “demands” to the College didn’t cross our minds. Still, if racism is as blatant at Yale as some black students maintain, I’d be with them in trying to change things.
So why, given my “radical” past, am I critical of these lists of student demands that are sweeping the country? For one thing, the demands at Yale go beyond the pale, calling as they do for mandatory indoctrination of all Yale students as well as the firing of ideological opponents. They are bullying, violations of free speech, and fascistic in nature. And too many of the demands deal with individual offense, like a call for more psychological help and repression of open debate. That seems a bit solipsistic.
What has created this generation of overly-entitled students, who have spawned movements spreading to many campuses? According to Brendan O’Neill at Spiked, it’s my generation. In his new piece “The ‘Yale snowflakes’: who made these monsters?“, this all is the natural outcome of the adoption of college speech codes, trigger warnings, and a “therapeutic outlook” created by, well, my contemporaries:
It is indeed interesting, and worrying, that students are so sensitive and censorious today. But I have a question for the hand-wringers, the media people, academics and liberal thinkers who are so disturbed by what they’re calling the ‘Yale snowflakes’: what did you think would happen? When you watched, or even presided over, the creation over the past 40 years of a vast system of laws and speech codes to punish insulting or damaging words, and the construction of a vast machine of therapeutic intervention into everyday life, what did you think the end result would be? A generation that was liberal and tough? Come off it. It’s those trends, those longstanding trends of censorship and therapy, that created today’s creepy campus intolerance; it’s you who made these monsters.