Scholarship News

Yale Lecturer Quits Over Halloween Email Backlash


December 8, 2015
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
Erika Christakis sent a controversial email questioning whether there was any room left for the nation's youth to be a little obnoxious, inappropriate, and even offensive when dressing for Halloween and it was NOT well-received.

Erika Christakis sent a controversial email questioning whether there was any room left for the nation's youth to be "a little obnoxious, inappropriate, and even offensive" when dressing for Halloween and it was NOT well-received.

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A week before Halloween, students were advised to avoid party themes and costumes that have "racial and ethnic overtones" so as to avoid offending minority students. In response to the initiative, Associate Master Erika Christakis wrote an email encouraging the community to consider the issue through an intellectual lens: a day "traditionally used as subversion for children and young adults is also an occasion for adults to exert their control." In American universities, free speech and tolerating offense have diminished substantially - replaced by censure and prohibition, she claims. Christakis pinpoints blame not on the students but on those who have "lost faith" in young people's capacity to self-censure through social norming.

Using her expertise on early childhood, Christakis uses the example of a "blonde-haired child wanting to be Mulan for a day." Is pretend play not a form of imaginative expression? There is a distinct difference between playing dress up and appropriating culture, according to the associate master. When did it become unacceptable to do the things you did when you were eight years old? In her email, she supports the university's goals to avoid "hurt and offense" - the question is: how do you do this without controlling college students?

Que the backlash. In a responsive open letter, "concerned Yale students, alumni, faculty, and staff" claimed her comments were "jarring and disheartening" because she "failed to distinguish the difference between cosplaying fictional characters and misrepresenting actual groups of people." Those responding claimed that "Yale's history is one of exclusion" - from blackface to the Eurocentric courses and lack of diversity among faculty.

Christakis' husband, Silliman Master Nicholas Christakis, will continue teaching at Yale. 70 faculty members expressed their "strong support of the right of Erika and Nicholas Christakis to free speech and freedom of intellectual expression." That number of signatures is still overshadowed by the number of faculty who "express solidarity with students' concerns." Many students have praised her courses, including: The Growing Child in Global Context and Concept of the Problem Child. Students feel her leave will be a "very big detriment [to students] interested in these issues, and the class could have been getting better."

Christakis will return to working with children and families because she worries that Yale's climate is not "conducive to the civil dialogue and open inquiry required to solve urgent societal problems."

What do you think about Christakis' approach to the issue and how people responded? How is Halloween dress on your campus? Leave us your insightful comments below to start a discussion.

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Faith S  on  12/10/2015 4:30:09 PM commented:

By the way I did not read about everything going on at this university so people can definetly correct me or disagree with me. If these people are purposefully making stereotypes of trying to discriminate that is rude.

Faith S  on  12/10/2015 4:16:59 PM commented:

Society nowadays is sometimes oversensitive and takes things easily as racist. I really don't want to be looked down that way when I am wearing a Halloween costume. Does anyone? I understand Yale's concern they don't want anyone to be offended either. I simply want everyone to understand one another and act like we are all equal. For the most part I think no one wants to discriminate you. If they do, well, that is mostly from their lack of sympathy.

Tee  on  12/10/2015 10:49:50 AM commented:

We are talking about "Halloween"... an event for children to pretend. So why in the Hell does a Yale University Associate Master spend precious time and energy on the subject. I will tell you why...Halloween is the mask that covers her racist thoughts and now the mask can't be worn so she's left to just being herself... A Racist!

Kimberly A  on  12/9/2015 11:48:40 PM commented:

We all have the right freedom of speech and if the professor wants to voice controversial opinions that's totally fine. No one ever said you had to agree. If you don't like what someone has to say you don't have to listen, just continue dressing up however you choose on halloween because we also have the right of freedom of expression. People nowadays get upset over little thing that others might be doing or saying. The thing that we shouldn't do is try to tell others what they can't and can do. If it's not hurting you or anyone else there is no need to get involved, just look the other way and focus on you. It's honestly that simple.

Kai Smith  on  12/9/2015 10:47:18 PM commented:

I'm sooo excited!

Chicky G  on  12/9/2015 1:23:07 PM commented:

i dont see why the professor found it nescessary to comment on the tradition of Halloween like let people do what they want and you do you

Cornelius F  on  12/9/2015 7:30:53 AM commented:

Why is it that the immediate response to a professor challenging the accepted norms of academia results in them being automatically fired, or asked to quit? It is nonsensical. School should be where accepted notions are challenged and debated, not where the opposition is automatically censored.

NP  on  12/9/2015 6:59:57 AM commented:

How ridiculous. Why do people insist on looking to take offense where none is intended? It's Halloween for crying out loud. It's for fun! Remember that? Make believe. I know I usually picked a character/costume that I liked, admired, or just liked the looks of. No deep thoughts or subliminal messages of hatred or discrimination-just dress up and fun! Sheesh

Josue C  on  12/9/2015 3:50:36 AM commented:

The only victim here is Christaskis - as an American (American Constitution). I read nothing about a death. In reality, Dudca, there should be no day where "the nations youth can be "a little obnoxious, inappropriate, and even offensive" when dressing for Halloween" (Christaskis). What we should focus on is on our common goal. If we continue to confront social issues directly we will never fully commit to our common goal. Spam our common goal in the mind because in the end our common goal fights for our freedom. Until we reach the new age out of the Enlightened era, obsession is not an option.

Kirill Neko  on  12/8/2015 11:52:22 PM commented:

What a load of bullocks..... P.S.: Disgust by Susan's regressive Left bias on the topic. Wonder if she if a journalist? #GamerGate

Gwen  on  12/8/2015 10:27:44 PM commented:

I'm so sick of the overly sensitive, self-entitled, holier-than-thou, ignorant mentality of today's society. First amendment...what happened to it?

Adam U  on  12/8/2015 9:53:38 PM commented:

Give the students freedom to do as they please for such occasions we aren't a socialist or communist country, so quit trying to control people.

Kylen W  on  12/8/2015 9:46:09 PM commented:

I think that it's ok for them to dress up but I still respect how they said nothing real cultural or offensive or maybe some big in religion but I wouldn't be to deep with it because you still want them to have fun , but you just want it to be respectful so everyone could have fun without any problems

Lauren G  on  12/8/2015 9:44:27 PM commented:

I understand that she has the freedom of speech, so I don't think she should have been fired for expressing her opinion. However, her opinion is wrong, and it completely understandable that a university would ask it's students to be responsible and respectable towards minority cultures.

Devon Maloney  on  12/8/2015 8:34:15 PM commented:

The professor's thoughts are pretty scholarly, and don't seem that hostile. Students and people in higher education just want a reason to be upset with everything these days.

Allen H  on  12/8/2015 8:28:06 PM commented:

Kathy and Nova K. illustrate the blog's central point. As Judge Andrew Napolitano correctly pointed out, we DO NOT have a right to be offended. Political correctness has so ruined political, social, and other forms of discourse that civil debate can no longer be held. The college campus was taken over by the hipster (hippies) generation and they turned most them into training grounds for liberal dreams and fantasies, most of which have no basis in reality and have begun to ruin this country's culture. Liberals usually argue from a position of hysteria with little or no basis in fact. When they attempt to use factual statements, they play fast and loose with those "facts". They also tend to argue from hyperbole, not to prove or illustrate a point, just as gross exaggeration. Nova K. y'all is a contracted form of you all so you spell it as I did earlier in this sentence. Also, the form of it's you used is a contracted of it is therefore spelled with an apostrophe. Having said all that, what do I know. After all, I am just a dumb ole firefighter/paramedic, Captain, Fire Inspector.

Jennifer S.  on  12/8/2015 7:04:35 PM commented:

I don't do Halloween, don't believe in it.

Lori M.  on  12/8/2015 6:24:56 PM commented:

How is telling this story being biased?

Dot K.  on  12/8/2015 6:20:43 PM commented:

I believe being from the Bay Area and going to a high school with many different cultures, prevents me from seeing any of these questionable costumes. However, most girls tend to wear the more scandalous costumes which I think is fine. If you feel the urge to dress like that once a year then power to you.

Kathy  on  12/8/2015 5:03:17 PM commented:

I am sick of blogs like this, biased towards the person being prosecuted. I am deleting this app. Please try to be more neutral in your attempts to make conversations about recent events.

Nova K.  on  12/8/2015 5:01:58 PM commented:

I'm really sick of yall making posts like this, supporting someone talking about "how dare we not be able to be offensive anymore!!". After all the horrible outfits I've seen on Facebook alone of people wearing blackface, dressing up like "mexicans" by painting their face brown and wearing a sombrero, and girls putting on kimonos and painting their faces yellow, I absolutely don't blame the college for reminding students to avoid such themes. There's nothing wrong with reminding students its not in good taste to be racist. Its not controlling or brain washing them, its reminding them not be jerks and perpetuate stigma toward other races.

Jonathan Cooper M  on  12/8/2015 4:33:35 PM commented:

To be honest I'm a highschool student and there were no Halloween decorations in my school (very depressing) I myself am president of the anime club at my school so I'm very pro cosplay and culture differences. So what if the out fit is a little crude it's worse to bottle up the problem and censer it completely. I see the problem as a generation gap with the professors not getting with their young students who embrace racial differences and accept them. For instance my friends and I range from all ethnicities and economic backgrounds, we make jokes on each other's stereotypes and laugh about it together NOBODY is hurt but everyone is having fun. From my perspective the professors wish to be 21st century scholars, but their ACTIONS are of 20th century scholar's.However I beliefs they themselves are wearing a mask, perhaps one made of acceptance and tolerance. While we embrace the simplicity of costumes and face paint...??

Lorenzo M.  on  12/8/2015 4:00:28 PM commented:

I belive that students should be able to show there creativity for Halloween, it only comes once a year. So why not have fun and go all out, it's the only time of the year to dress up.

Ralph. w  on  12/8/2015 3:57:10 PM commented:

She is correct. The school better wake up fast I would not allow Anyone to go to this so called College. It is the laughing Joke of the week the cry babies of the world who need to grow up quickly.

Gary H  on  12/8/2015 3:32:30 PM commented:

Typical liberal institution - the need to be outraged never ends!

Ian B  on  12/8/2015 3:21:48 PM commented:

This is so retarded and is getting out of hand. There needs to be a boundary where students and persons are told no and to just deal with things they don't like that someone says. No one is probably going to read this, but she is TOTALLY correct in saying basically that dressing up (for gatherings) isn't reflective of the population/people such a character is associated with. If you cant decipher that character in this comment is referring to a story element that acts physically... you need help.

Sean M  on  12/8/2015 3:13:27 PM commented:

I completely agree with her. It reminds me of a recent thing that happened in Oklahoma where a girl was dressed up and had "black face" at a costume party for Halloween. She wasn't trying to start any commotion from it or offend anyone. She was dressed up as rapper jay-z for a party. Not just colleges, but the entire nation has gotten so pc lately. Being native American I'm not gonna get upset if I see someone wearing an Indian costume. I'm going to laugh and move on.

Ian b  on  12/8/2015 2:56:31 PM commented:

Shes right. The "concerned students faculty and staff" have a systematic approach to silencing their opposition that is not random, but seems to be anonymous. This format of coercion is encouraged by students civil rights groups who recommend that you write letters to your congressman that include more names than just your own. Even if you are a lone writer, you are encouraged to add more "clout" to your policy recommendations by saying/cc, other "concerned citizens", or fraudulently increasing the apparent parties involved . In this case, the claim that "halloween costumes can be offensive" is probably being pushed by a small, vocal, organized minority. Free speech and expression need to be defended. Humor is a universal mode of cultural interaction, through which sensitive issues can be brought to light and discussed in a safe place (college campus' really ought to fit this criteria). The demonization of humor (and therefor expression) is a fascistic mode of control over our society. It should be alarming that this is occuring in a prestigious school like Yale, which should be full of intellectuals willing to defend free speech, expression, and ultimately american freedom. Sad to see universities falling prey to sensationalism... Even if there are problems with our social institutions, eliminating our ability to express them eliminates our ability to evaluate them. An offensive halloween costume is merely an indicator that our society can still mae progress. Only where ignorance is revealed can it be remedied!

Justin J  on  12/8/2015 2:47:08 PM commented:

Things have gotten so PC at colleges that I, a black man, made a joke about stereotypical hardships that I have actually gone through, and people told me to stop being racist and oppressing myself.

Ruth A.  on  12/8/2015 2:14:01 PM commented:

I think it's a clear statement but for college students they like to do whatever they want because they feel as if they have freedom after being stuck at home for 18 years. When it comes to Halloween people especially college students likes to be creative with their costumes. Universities always have Halloween costumes parties and contests to show who has the best costumes, that's one of the reasons why you see college students dressing however they want, they will think of the most inappropriate, indescribable costumes to wear. College students like to show off and yes it's only for a day or a couple of hours.

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