Remember when Yale University students lost their minds over offensive Halloween costumes in the fall of 2015 and a school administrator had the nerve to remind them that college is a place for free expression — and students should find the strength to deal with offensive stuff like adults do?
Students responded by demanding that Erika Christakis — then associate master (or head) of Yale's residential Silliman College — resign over her offensive free-speech reminder. When her husband Nicholas Christakis — a renowned professor and master of Silliman — tried to talk to students about related issues in an outdoor common area, he was verbally shredded and cursed at by students who converged upon him in a circle.
Here's a clip. (Content warning: Strong language):
When some graduating seniors reportedly refused to accept their diplomas from Nicholas Christakis, the couple resigned from their Silliman posts last year.
As it happens Erika Christakis had already told the New York Times she was thinking about returning to her work in early childhood education since preschool students “don’t try to get you fired.”
After the embarrassing episode — widely considered a direct assault on free expression at what's supposed to be the bastion of it — Yale not only didn't turn red faced, it just gave awards to a pair of students the Wall Street Journal called "two of Yale’s most prominent Christakis critics."
At Class Day ceremonies Sunday, Yale bestowed its Nakanishi Prize upon Alexandra Zina Barlowe and Abdul-Razak Mohammed Zachariah. The prize is given “to two graduating seniors who, while maintaining high academic achievement, have provided exemplary leadership in enhancing race and/or ethnic relations at Yale College.”
Barlowe's citation calls her "a fierce truthteller who illuminates the challenges affecting her communities, rooting them in history and context in order to promote a deeper understanding of them. Her peers say of her 'Lex never fights for just one issue. Her moral imagination operates with the knowledge that issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. are all interconnected.'”
Zachariah's citation says he has "explored the topic of 'respectability politics' in mentorship organizations for Black male teenagers in New Haven in the first of his two senior essays; in his second, he examines multiculturalism and racial representations in children’s literature."
Barlowe appeared on Democracy Now! in November 2015 saying Erika Christakis' email defending free expression actually communicated '... Do whatever you want. The university is trying to control you. They’re trying to tell you what to do. If you want to be culturally appropriative, it’s OK if you really like it. You can do whatever.'"
After the term "master" was dropped at one of the school's residential colleges, Zachariah was quoted in the Yale Daily News as saying when he had to speak the term out loud, it made him “extremely uncomfortable.”