Yale faculty members rally behind the administrator whose email sparked racial tensions

Erika Christakis
Erika Christakis Yale College

A faculty member at the center of a racially charged debate at Yale received the support of colleagues who wrote an open letter defending her, the Yale Daily News (YDN) reported.

Forty-nine faculty members at Yale signed the letter asserting that an email lecturer and administrator Erika Christakis sent to Yale students was not racist and that her words have been distorted.

Her email asserted that students should be able to wear offensive Halloween costumes and that universities have become places of “prohibition.”

“The email … did not express support for racist expressions, but rather focused primarily on the question of whether monitoring and criticising such expression should be done in a top-down manner,” the letter read.

Christakis — an associate master at Yale’s Silliman College — sent the now-notorious email
in response to an Intercultural Affairs Council email that called on students to be sensitive about the cultural implications of their Halloween costumes, as Inside Higher Ed reported. Silliman College is one of 12 residential colleges, also known as dormitories, at Yale.

Christakis supported students’ right to dress in any costumes they liked, offensive or not.

“Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious … a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?” she wrote.

Yale Students march of resiliency
Yale students protesting racism on campus. Philipp Arndt Photography

Her comments immediately drew the ire of some students in Silliman, and elsewhere on campus, who claimed they invalidated the voices of minority students.

Some students called for Christakis to apologise or be removed from her position. Her husband, and the master of Silliman College, Nicholas Christakis, defended his wife’s position.

“We have an obligation to say something reasonable about this,” physics professor Douglas Stone, the author of the letter, told the YDN.

“The silence of so many people in terms of really defending the Christakises has solidified the narrative that they did something wrong.”

Dozens of other Yale faculty members agreed with the letter but didn’t sign it for fear that it would spur more controversy, according to Stone.

Nicholas Christakis defended his wife’s position and that of free speech earlier this month during an angry confrontation with students, according to the YDN.

Tension escalated when a group of students confronted Nicholas Christakis, shouting expletives, and demanding an apology for his words and those of his wife. The students have since called for the removal of the Christakises from their positions in Silliman, according to the YDN.

That tense incident preceded weeks of student-led protests on Yale’s New Haven campus as students rail against what they say is the pervasive marginalization of people of colour at the university. There have been repeated calls for the Christakises to step down from their positions.

It seems that will not be the case for either administrator. Yale President Peter Salovey and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway sent an email to students affirming their support of the Christakises earlier in November, YDN reported.

The email indicated that Salovey and Holloway “fully support” the administrators.

NOW WATCH: A teacher perfectly explained what teachers do all day