Last fall, Yale joined the University of Missouri, Princeton, Occidental College, and several other campuses in a frenzy of protests over campus “racism.” Press descriptions of the “racism” were fragmentary and contradictory, but Yale soon announced sweeping plans to promote “diversity,” sensitize whites, and coddle “students of color.” There were no comprehensive reports of what had prompted these changes, but it all had the smell of hysteria.
So it was with great interest that I read the cover story of the latest issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine, which claimed to explain “what really happened at Yale.” I should have known better. The article glosses over the misbehavior of blacks and breathlessly reports the tiny slights–real or imagined–that set the campus on its ear. “What really happened at Yale” was exactly what I suspected: hysteria followed by capitulation.
Things came to a head quickly, and started with an e-mail message from Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Council. This is an organization that “challenges bias” wherever it may be found, and it sponsors sessions on such things as “Black Trans Awareness.” On October 27, it sent out a message to the campus reminding students that “we are one Yale,” and warning against Halloween costumes that involved “wearing feathered headdresses, turbans, wearing ‘war paint’ or modifying skin tone or wearing blackface or redface” because this “disrespects, alienates or ridicules segments of our population.”
This was too much for Erika Christakis, who taught early childhood education and was the associate master of Silliman College, one of Yale’s dormitories. She sent an e-mail message to Silliman students, asking, “Is there no room for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious, . . . a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?” She suggested that if somebody’s costume offends you, tell him so.
SJWs quickly ginned up a letter accusing Mrs. Christakis of “inviting ridicule and violence onto ourselves and our communities,” and by late November the letter had more than 1,000 signatures from Yale-connected people.
On the same day as Mrs. Christakis’ message, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity held a Halloween party. Second-hand reports the next day claimed that SAE brothers turned away black girls, saying the party was “for white girls only.” This led to fury and national press coverage, but there is good reason to think those claims were false. At the start of the party, SAE let in members and their friends, first-come, first-served, including several black girls. But the party got crowded and noisy, with swarms of people in front of the frat house trying to get in. The police warned SAE to cut the noise and thin the crowd.
SAE then stopped letting people in. One brother says that when he turned away some black girls they complained that it must be because they were black. The Yale dean’s office later investigated the “white girls only” claim and concluded that SAE mismanaged the crowd but was not guilty of “racist” behavior. SAE was not sanctioned. In a sidebar to the article, the Yale Alumni Magazine (YAM) concedes that there was no “white girls” policy. The most detailed independent accounts suggest the charge was bogus.
YAM did report that black members of SAE–yes, it has black members–were called “Uncle Toms” for joining a frat that allegedly keeps black girls out of its parties, and that someone spat at the feet of the SAE’s president, Grant Mueller. YAM was shy about specifying the race of the spitter.
On November 4, 350 people met at the Afro-American cultural center to condemn Mrs. Christakis’s “racism” and the later-discredited SAE incident, but the next day was especially exciting. About 200 students surrounded Yale’s Dean Jonathan Holloway–who is black–outside the library and berated him for two hours for not being “sensitive” to the oppression of “students of color.” Some students were belligerent; others were crying.
A number of those students, fresh from tormenting one administrator, then went to Silliman College and surrounded Nicholas Christakis, husband of the already anathematized Erika Christakis and likewise an associate master of Silliman. When Mr. Christakis defended his wife’s e-mail, a black woman screamed at him to “be quiet.” He did as he was told. She continued to scream at him, telling him that he completely misunderstood his job: “Why the f**k did you accept the position? . . . Who the f**k hired you? . . . You should not sleep at night. You are disgusting.”
This was all captured on video, and the screamer has been identified as Yale senior Jerelyn Luther from the high-toned town of Fairfield, Connecticut. Her mother is white and runs a PR and marketing company. Mom used to list her as an associate of the otherwise apparently all-white company, but Jerelyn’s page has been removed and is now accessible only through the Wayback Machine.
That same evening, November 5, 50 non-white students met with Yale President Peter Salovey to badger him about how insensitive the college is to their needs. He groveled nicely, saying, “I take personal responsibility for that and I consider it a failure.”
The next day, Yale hosted a conference in support of free speech, where speakers defended Mrs. Christakis’ right to express her views. This attracted 100 protesters. YAM reports that two students were spat on as they left the conference, but is again shy about the race of the spitters. The Yale Daily News also reported on the spitting and was equally shy.
There followed a number of protests, including a teach-in for 1,000 people, where panelists complained about discrimination, systemic racism, and, of course, SAE and Mrs. Christakis. A group of 200 students calling themselves Next Yale–composed mostly of black women–marched to President Salovey’s house at midnight on Nov. 12, where they peppered him with yet more demands to fire Mrs. Christakis, spend more money on non-whites, and require all students to take ethnic studies.
Then came capitulation. On Nov. 17, President Salovey wrote a letter to “Members of the Yale Community,” which began as follows: “In my thirty-five years on this campus, I have never been as simultaneously moved, challenged, and encouraged by our community . . . as in the past two weeks.” As a result of being moved, challenged, and encouraged, he announced that:
- Yale will create a “center” to study “race, ethnicity, and other aspects of social identity.” The center will absorb professors from other departments and get four brand-new faculty positions of its own.
- Yale will hire yet more teachers in these areas and “will launch a five-year series of conferences on issues of race, gender, inequality, and inclusion.”
- Yale will spend $50 million to “to enhance faculty diversity,” and will appoint a deputy dean for diversity to help spend the money.
- Yale already has four very swanky “cultural centers,” or clubhouses, for blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians. Their budgets will be doubled.
- All members of the Department of Mental Health will get “multi-cultural training” so as to better treat minorities who go nuts from being oppressed at Yale. Each of the cultural centers will have visiting hours for mental-health consultations so non-whites can be treated for oppression without leaving their clubhouses.
- There will be mandatory training in “recognizing and combating racism and other forms of discrimination” for the president and for “vice presidents, deans, provosts, department chairs, directors of graduate and undergraduate studies, masters and deans, student affairs staff, and others across the university.” For now, students appear to be exempt from training.
- Yale will establish “robust and clear mechanisms for reporting, tracking, and addressing actions that may violate the university’s clear nondiscrimination policies.” Every hint of micro-aggression can now be recorded and processed, and offenders identified.
- Yale will make sure that non-whites are increasingly represented in all the artwork and portraits on campus.
Finally, just in case President Salovey missed something, he announced he was “creating a presidential task force representing all constituencies to consider other projects and policies.”
Yalies apparently like all this. A poll of 1,485 undergraduates found that 61 percent thought President Salovey got it just right. Twenty-three percent said he should have done more (one wonders what), and 16 percent said he should have done less.
Erika Christakis may think he should have done less. She has withdrawn from teaching, noting that “the current climate at Yale is not, in my view, conducive to the civil dialogue and open inquiry.” Nicholas Christakis will conveniently take a sabbatical.
The Christakises were not entirely without defenders. One professor wrote a public letter expressing “strong support” for the couple’s right to speak their minds, and 89 teachers signed it. Yale has 4,410 faculty members. Yalies noticed that most of the signers were in science and technology, and sniffed that this “just shows how far removed from reality these people are.”
The YAM article is clearly happy about the capitulation, noting that US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called President Salovey to congratulate him. Nevertheless, YAM seems to recognize that the grievances that prompted this landslide of sensitivity and spending may sound a bit thin to alumni. The article quotes President Salovey as saying that the Christakis e-mail and the SAE party were only a part of the “accumulated experience” of oppression of non-whites at Yale. So what else have they suffered? YAM did its best to dig up dirt.
One chubby black student told YAM she has been mistaken for a custodian and claims that the gates to her dormitory have been closed in her face. One black student says that when he beat a white freshman in a video game five times in a row, the white said “Ahh, you nigger”–and immediately apologized. A black student says a white girl asked to borrow a pair of his basketball shorts to wear to a “gangsta-themed” party. “It was horrifying,” he said. One mulatto student says a fellow freshman told her it was her “white blood” that made her smart. A Chinese student complains that people expect Asians to study science and are surprised to find out she is an art history major.
Let’s assume these things happened exactly as describe. There is not one part of President Salovey’s capitulation package that will have the slightest effect on any of them. Does he really think $50 million in diversity spending and a center to study race and ethnicity will change anything freshmen do?
In his letter, President Salovey says he wants to “reinforce our commitment to a campus where hatred and discrimination have no place.” Hatred? YAM doesn’t report a single thing a white person ever said or did that could remotely be called hatred. But what about Jerelyn Luther cursing the master of Silliman? What about the students–probably black–who spat on people? What about the blacks who are bitter to this day that Erika Christakis has not been fired? What about the people who marched down to the president’s house at midnight to yell at him? Whatever slights blacks and anyone else claim to have suffered at Yale are nothing compared to their own viciousness.
And, of course, it is this very viciousness that has produced a golden harvest in handouts, groveling, and self-flagellation. The more blacks scream the more they are coddled. Blacks have certainly figured this out, even if college administrators haven’t.
In his letter, President Salovey bragged that Yale “has shown a steadfast devotion to full freedom of expression.” His capitulation package is designed to stifle freedom of expression! Presumably, the white freshman who said, “Ah, nigger”–assuming there really is such a person–was never identified. But we can be sure that if he were fingered through Yale’s new “robust and clear mechanisms” for tracking “racism” he’d be in deep trouble.
President Salovey adds that “no one has been silenced or punished for speaking their minds, nor will they be.” That means Jerelyn Luther and the spitters needn’t worry. But we can be certain that any white student who swore at a black teacher over a racial incident would immediately get the boot.
One thing Yale’s “steadfast devotion to full freedom of expression” absolutely forbids, of course, is any discussion of racial differences. The chubby black student complains that “Even though I’m here . . . I’m still perceived as not really supposed to be here.” The harsh truth is that most blacks shouldn’t be there. Most of them got into Yale with SAT scores that would mean automatic rejection for whites or Asians. Everyone knows this. At some level, blacks themselves know this, and they flock together in their misery and inadequacy.
None of the millions President Salovey promises to spend will change this. Yale’s campaign against “racism,” is a fight against an imaginary problem in the hope of an impossible solution. I can promise President Salovey that all his money and programs and task forces and assistant deans will not make better or happier black Yalies. Capitulation will only feed ever-more creative forms of grievance.
Judging from the reader comments on the YAM story, I suspect I’m not the only alumnus who has decided that if that’s the way Yale spends money, it won’t ever get a dime from me.
There is a coda to this story. One of Yale’s dormitories is called Calhoun College in memory of John C. Calhoun, Yale alumnus and South Carolina political theorist, congressman, senator, secretary of war, secretary of state, and vice president. For years, blacks have complained that because Calhoun called slavery “a positive good,” his name oppresses them and perpetuates “systemic racism.” President Salovey has as much as promised that the college will be renamed, and the search for a new name is on.
The leading candidate is Roosevelt Thompson. Never heard of Roosevelt Thompson? He was a student in Calhoun College who would have graduated in 1984 if he hadn’t been killed in a car crash coming back from spring break. He was the valedictorian of Little Rock Central High in 1980, and had been awarded a Rhodes scholarship before he died. And, just incidentally, he was black.