By now you’ve probably seen this video from last fall in which a Yale student screams at a professor, insisting that a college campus ought not be an intellectual space, but a space to make students feel safe and at home. Now, newly resurfaced videos show what happened just before the aforementioned altercation took place.
“You should not sleep at night!” a female student shrieks at Yale sociology professor Nicholas Christakis in that video which has since gone viral. “You’re disgusting!”
To recap, her cries are in objection to an email Nicholas Christakis’s wife, Erika Christakis (who is also a professor at Yale), sent to the student body last fall in response to the administration’s insistence that students ought to avoid dressing up for Halloween in ways that could be “culturally unaware or insensitive.”
“Have we lost 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?” Erika wrote. “What does this debate about Halloween costumes say about our view of young adults, of their strength and judgment? Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people? It’s not mine, I know that.”
The email spurred a firestorm of outrage from the student body — particularly among minority students living and attending classes at Yale’s Silliman College where the Christakises served as “master” and “associate master,” a title for professors who reside at one of Yale’s colleges and are responsible for its academic and social life. The title has since been changed to “head of college” in the wake of last year’s protests, as many students thought the term was racist.
In response to the email, a mob of nearly 100 students from Silliman College surround Nicholas and took turns berating and screaming at him — demanding an apology for saying things that hurt their feelings. One of these exchanges between Nicholas and these students is what resulted in that 1:20-minute-long video that got so much attention last year.
This week, Tablet Magazine’s James Kirchick wrote about the incident and included four videos capturing the exchange, which he obtained from a source at Yale. Altogether, the footage is nearly 25 minutes long — during which Nicholas manages to keep his cool in an attempt to rationally discuss his wife’s email with a cluster of impassioned students. The scene is chaotic — students verbally attack Nicholas, demanding he apologize for his wife’s “racist” comments. Ultimately, he does not decry the content of Erika’s email, but he emphatically and repeatedly apologizes for any pain her words caused.
The first female student he speaks to individually, whom he calls on after noting that she had her hand raised, demands that he call her by her name before she will speak to him.
“Sorry, what’s my name first?” she says with a smirk.
“See, that’s the thing, I have over 500 students,” Nicholas says.
“I was in your class freshman year,” she continues. “You were my sophomore year advisor. . . I live here, I eat in the dining hall for all three meals. And you should know my name. My name is Mikayla.”
She goes on to demand an apology for the email and during their exchange, another student who identifies herself as Lisa interjects before eventually storming off in tears.
“So then apologize!” she screams before bursting into tears. “I don’t understand the issue!” Lisa says between sobs.
“First of all, I would like to apologize for hurting your feelings,” he said. “In addition I will acknowledge that comes from a very deep and legitimate source of complaint. I understand it. I understand to the extent that I can some of the struggles that many of you have had.”
This apology did not satisfy this group of students who demanded he call wife’s words racist.
“Let us define our own experiences,” a student says. “Let us tell you if you’re being racist.”
“No, no,” Christakis says.
“Actually, that is how it works, okay?” shouts another student.
After another student gets in Nicholas’s face, he tries to calm tension by embracing the student, who responds nastily.
“The situation right now does not require you to smile,” he says.
“This is my home, and you came in here!” a hysterical female student says.
“You have created space for violence!” another shouts.
“I do not respect you,” a female student wearing a black headband says after refusing to shake Christakis’s hand. “I’m looking at the smirk in your face and I’m disgusted.”
“I want your job to be taken from you,” she continues. “I don’t want you to have this job. I’m disgusted knowing that you work at Yale University where I will get my degree — where I will look back and think I had to argue with you!”
After several minutes of shouting, the student finally says he will leave the courtyard to go watch TV when it becomes apparent Nicholas will not say what she wants him to.
“I’m going to live my life knowing that you’re going to be the disgusting man you were 20 second ago, a minute ago, 30 minutes ago,” she says, before she walks out of the camera frame. “This is sick. I’m done!”
As Kirchick points out in his summation of the footage, it’s apparent that the video that went viral last year was not taken out of context like a fellow Yale professor claimed. Based on this footage, it’s clear the students at Yale were incapable of having a rational discussion with another individual who dared to push back against their hasty accusations of racism. Despite what others have tried to claim, it’s plain as day many of those students who loudly disrupted the campus with their protest really were crybabies that threw tizzies over an email about Halloween costumes.
The Christakis stepped down from their residential positions at Silliman College this May.