On Fri., Nov. 6, the Yale Herald published an opinion piece titled “Hurt at home,” which articulated an individual’s feelings of discomfort in the aftermath of an email from Silliman College’s associate master. On Sat., Nov. 7, we removed that article from our website at the author’s request.
I recognize that we published the article with only a Yale audience in mind and that many readers outside of Yale took issue with the article’s perspective. In the following paragraphs, I hope to provide context helpful in understanding the events of the past week and “Hurt at home.”
Many readers interpreted “Hurt at home” as a direct and unreasonable response to Associate Master Erika Christakis’ email to students in the college. In considering this issue, it’s also important to acknowledge that Associate Master Christakis’ email was itself a response. It rebutted an email from Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee, which is made up of many of Yale’s religious and cultural group leaders. That email urged students to be culturally sensitive in choosing Halloween costumes.
Associate Master Christakis’ email articulates her faith in the Yale students’ ability to dress themselves without administrative mandates. The IAC, however, threatened no disciplinary measures for cultural insensitivity. In rebutting an email urging simple mindfulness, Associate Master Christakis’ message, intentionally or not, was “don’t be mindful.” It is this aspect of her email that has proven most troubling, especially in light of a master’s unique role at Yale.
The role of master is distinct from that of professor. While each residential college has a dean, who functions as the college’s chief academic advisor, the master’s role is one of community leader. The Yale College website reads, “[The master] is responsible for the physical well being and safety of students in the residential college, as well as for fostering and shaping the social, cultural, and educational life and character of the college.” The University touts the communal environment enabled by masters as a major draw for prospective students.
Students in Silliman expressed their discomfort and pain at Associate Master Christakis’ decision to write her email. Instead of first trying to understand students’ concerns, both Associate Master Christakis and her husband, Silliman Master Nicholas Christakis, took to Twitter, posting articles that they felt justified Associate Master Christakis’ point of view. Master Christakis even went so far as to retweet an article he had posted on his personal account from Silliman College’s own Twitter account, falsely representing it as the position of the college.
Masters are individuals, and as such have a right to voice their opinions. But Associate Master Christakis’ message is tainted by her decision to email it directly to all Silliman students—an email list to which she has access through her administrative role in the college. She could have published these thoughts on a personal blog or in a publication. She chose not to.
This incident has become an issue of free speech. The term was introduced into this conversation when Master and Associate Master Christakis asserted that in opposing the recommendations of the IAC, they were defending a right to free speech. Readers unfamiliar with the nuances of this situation believe that students have censored Master and Associate Master Christakis; they haven’t made that argument themselves.
Nicholas and Erika Christakis have an undisputed right to free speech. No one has argued that they, as individuals, should not. But students have exercised their own free speech in speaking against the way Master and Associate Master Christakis have treated their office. This incident is not analogous to a professor offering an unpopular view, or a controversial speaker coming to campus. “Hurt at home” addresses a failure to perform the duties of a defined role: nurturing the Silliman community.