In this Big Think video, Nicholas Christakis, who of course was involved in the Yale Halloween Kerfuffle in 2015, resulting in him and his wife Erika resigning as heads of Silliman College, discusses why the clash of ideas—as clash guaranteed to make people uncomfortable—is not only an inevitable part of being in college, but it a required part of being in college. Like many who have suffered at the hands of vociferous and invidiously woke students, Christakis has become an eloquent defender of free speech.
The fact is that if you have an idea, or a personal set of guiding ideas and beliefs, you are going to take it personally when people attack them. This is only human. Indeed, you might regard pushback against your beliefs as “hate speech”, because you feel your persona is under attack. Your ideas are, after all, yours.
In science we constantly face this kind of criticism, and most of us are inured to it. We get critical reviews of our papers, and even rejections, we face hard questioning when we give a seminar, and we’re always asking ourselves, “What flaws could there be in my study? Did I analyze the data properly? Is the interpretation sound?” For we have learned that this kind of professional captiousness is the only way to move science forward.
As it is in science, so it should be in college. You never know whether your ideas are flawed until someone who disagrees with you goes after them with hammer and tongs. You can, of course, shut up your critics by calling them racists or purveyors of hate speech or simply “haters.” But then you don’t get to test the mettle of your beliefs.
Here, Christakis eloquently conveys this point of view. It contravenes those pusillanimous and craven college administrators who tell their students, “Yes, you can have your free speech and your inclusion too.” For, in the end, if your ideas are attacked or refuted, you don’t feel “inclusiveness”—unless you’ve inured yourself against taking the battle of ideas personally.