Well its October and Halloween is just around the corner! This year, instead of worry about razor blades in apples or excessive sugar in the kid’s treats it appears that we are worried about costumes which might offend.
At least at Yale University, that bastion of the eastern establishment forming the elites of tomorrow, where a fight over Halloween costumes last year devolved into an effort to censor dissenting views.
The debate over Halloween costumes began when the university’s Intercultural Affairs Committee sent an email to the student body asking students to avoid wearing “culturally unaware and insensitive” costumes that could offend minority students. It specifically advised them to steer clear of outfits that included elements like feathered headdresses, turbans or blackface.
Quite a few students thought the instructions on Halloween costumes from the Yale administration a bit heavy handed; after all they are adults attending one of the most elite schools in the nation. It was felt that telling them what to wear or not wear inferred that they were irresponsible children going trick of treating with mom and dad.
Professor Nicholas Christakis lived at Yale, where he presided over one of its undergraduate colleges. His wife Erika, a lecturer in early childhood education, shared that duty. They resided among students and were responsible for shaping residential life. And before Halloween, some students complained to them about the Yale administrator’s advice.
Erika Christakis reflected on the frustrations of the students, drew on her scholarship and career experience composed an email inviting the community to think about the controversy through an intellectual lens that few if any had considered. Her message was a model of relevant, thoughtful, civil engagement.
Now I am not picking on Yale. Apparently Halloween advice is now a staple on many college campuses. Erika Christakis was questioning that practice when she composed her email, adding nuance to a conversation that some students were already having.
“This year, we seem afraid that college students are unable to decide how to dress themselves on Halloween,” she wrote. “I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community. I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.”
Apparently thirteen Administrators at Yale gave out written instructions to their students as to what to wear and not wear for Halloween.
“Increasingly, it seems, American universities have become places of censure and prohibition. And the censure and prohibition come from above, not from yourselves! Are we all okay with this transfer of power? Have we lost all faith in young people’s capacity—in your capacity to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you?”
Once upon a time a position of this sort taken by a faculty member would likely have been regarded as a show of respect for all students and their ability to think for themselves. She added, “even if we could agree on how to avoid offense,” there may be something lost if administrators try to stamp out all offense-giving behavior.”
“What does this debate about Halloween costumes say about our view of young adults, of their strength and judgment? In other words: Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people? It’s not mine, I know that.”
That measured, thoughtful pre-Halloween email caused Yale students to demand that Nicholas and Erika Christakis resign their roles at Yale. That’s how Nicholas Christakis came to stand in an emotionally charged crowd of students, where he attempted to respond to the fallout from the email his wife sent.
In a confrontation captured on video students surrounded Nicholas Christakis—husband of Erika, author of the email. One African-American woman, seemingly speaking for the crowd, told him that his wife’s email and his failure to apologize for it made her feel “unsafe.” When Christakis earnestly explained that he would need to consider the matter before apologizing, the woman shouted at him, “Be quiet!”; “Why the f— did you accept the position!”; “If that’s what you think, you should step down!”; and “You should not sleep at night! You are disgusting!” She then turned and walked away.
The Christakis’ were eventually hounded off campus. She gave up teaching all together. He remained an instructor but now longer functions as a house parent. They had to give up their housing on campus.
So much for Halloween costumes..
Meanwhile at Rutgers University, my eldest daughter’s alma mater, apparently there is no longer “free speech.” The Dean of Students official site leads off with a headline reading “Think Before You Speak.” Under that header was a sentence reading, “There is no such thing as ‘free’ speech. All speech has a cost and consequences”.
The sentence has since been taken down. According to the site, types of bias can include: “Verbal, written, physical, psychological acts that threaten or harm a person or group on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, atypical heredity or cellular blood trait, military service or veteran status.”
The university encourages students to report “bias incidents”—which can be done anonymously—using an online Incident Report Form. One can report anyone on campus either as a victim or as an observer of bias. Turn in your roomie.
To which my daughter responded “Oh for f–ks sake!”
The Bias Prevention and Education Committee, according to the university, is a “two-tiered body comprised of the Deans of Students Bias Response Team and the Bias Prevention Education Advisory Panel working in concert to MONITOR, PREVENT, REPORT, RESPOND, and RESTORE environments in the aftermath of BIAS INCIDENTS.”
Rutgers professors are encouraged to prevent bias inside the classroom by using “the syllabus to create ground rules with regard to difference and disagreement.” Professors are also encouraged to ask their students “how they feel about provocative material, especially that which references issues of race, sexuality, gender, class, religion or any of the other ‘protected classes.”
I’m sure that Rutgers will issue detailed instructions on appropriate Halloween costumes.
Now I’ve been called lots of names in my life. WOP. Grease ball. Guinea. Dago bastard. I had a better chance of winning the lottery than going to Yale or Rutgers. I’ve heard every mafia joke there is; told right to my face. I always thought The Godfather and The Sopranos and their spinoffs were demeaning to Italians; problem was Italians were prominent in creating both and some of us were therefore making it in America. We are usually portrayed as buffoons or criminals, sitting around the dinner table with la famiglia and mama, shoveling loads of pasta into our mouths and slapping our children in the back of the head.
When I heard comments demeaning to Italian-Americans I would usually respond with ”We were a civilized people when yours were still living in caves painting their bodies blue!” When I got tired of Baptists in North Carolina asking me “Are you a Roman?” I would respond “Why yes! I am a member of the one true church! Join us and be saved!”
I lived through the time when men and women, black and white, Christian, Jew and atheist, got their heads busted or died so that young black woman could go to Yale.
Those brave souls would be shaking their heads in disbelief at her hysteria at the possibility of potentially seeing some idiot in a Halloween costume she might possibly find offensive and feeling “unsafe”.
With millions in this country working two jobs at minimum wage to put food on the table she is concerned she might potentially have her feelings hurt. She is quickly adopting the attitude of a privileged elitist.
Wait till the real world.