The students of Yale University used their voices to speak out against several instances of racial injustice on the Ivy League campus, leading to a heavy debate about free speech, lack of respect for women of color, and cultural appropriation.
The University of Missouri’s recent protests were an inspiration for the student body, but the New England school has faced its own share of racial tension in the past and present.
Last year, swastikas were drawn on old campus halls and Sigma Alpha Epsilon was recently accused of denying Hispanic and Black women entrance into a Halloween party. That same week, an email was sent out by Yale Dean Burgwell Howard and Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee asking students to refrain from wearing insensitive costumes like blackface during Halloween.
The email ruffled a few feathers, including those of Erika Christakis — an early childhood education researcher. Christakis is also the head of the school’s Silliman residential college with her husband and sociologist professor, Nicholas Christakis.
Christakis sent her own email to Silliman residents, telling them to be open-minded about those who choose to wear blackface and culture-appropriated costumes.
The New York Daily News reports:
“Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society,” she wrote as she remembered a conversation with her husband. “Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other.”
A combination of the school’s avoidance of racism and discrimination led to Monday’s “March of Resilience.” Students claim Dean Jonathan Holloway, the first African-American to hold the position, was mute about the tension. They added that University President Peter Salovey gave a four-hour forum after the SAE controversy, but Christakis’ emails were never addressed.
In an op-ed for Medium, Senior Aaron Z. Lewis reported that conversations took place with president Salovey on campus. Holloway also listened to Black students, who voiced their disappointment and their stories of discrimination on campus, moving the dean to tears. Women of color also opened up about their treatment on campus.
“For starters: the protests are not really about Halloween costumes or a frat party,” Lewis writes. “They’re about a mismatch between the Yale we find in admissions brochures and the Yale we experience every day. They’re about real experiences with racism on this campus that have gone unacknowledged for far too long. The university sells itself as a welcoming and inclusive place for people of all backgrounds. Unfortunately, it often isn’t.”
Lewis says nearly a week after the Halloween emails, the SAE incident and the now-viral video of a student screaming her frustrations to Christakis, Holloway sent another email to students promising change on campus. Via Medium:
“I write too late for too many of you, I freely admit, to make it clear that I heard every word that was spoken and I watched every tear that was shed, whether on Cross Campus or in Woodbridge Hall,” Holloway writes. “This week’s conversations don’t affect only some of us; they affect and include us all. As you talk to one another, listen to one another, and sometimes disagree, do this knowing that I will uphold your right to speak and be heard and that I will enforce the community standards that safeguard you as members of this community. I do this as I hold us all, including myself, accountable to give what we seek: respect.”
Now that an open dialogue has been brought to campus, time will tell if behavior towards cultural appropriation will change. Take a look at moments from the protests below.