Monday, November 09, 2015

In the Yale Halloween Costume Controversy, the Sociologists Are Right

There has been a peculiar controversy at Yale about Halloween costumes. Sociologist Nicholas Christakis and his wife Erika encouraged students who were offended by one another's costumes to 
look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society. 
Some students vehemently objected, calling for Christakis to step down as master of Silliman College. In a videotaped confrontation, a student contended to Christakis that  “In your position as master it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students who live in Silliman. ... It is not about creating an intellectual space! 

On the substance of the issue, I think the Christakises are entirely right.

I was struck by another feature.  Knowledge class homes try to be places of both comfort and intellectual engagement. Learning how to think critically is one of the aims of the homes of most professors. 


Mac said...

Another sad commentary on the "entitlement presumption" so many Americans are developing today. So far as I know, there has never been a legal right in the United States to live a life free from offense. In fact, the 1st Amendment enshrines the right to be offensive, free from governmental control. I am always struck by the complainers' demands that others change their speech/political beliefs/conduct, but none are willing to change their own behavior. Just thinking.....

CJ said...

Attitudes like this have been a problem. I think this is when well-meaning notions of tolerance and respect turn inside-out from too much zeal and fear of harming others. It's unfortunate that some people angrily lash out and treat people with hatred over issues like this, because they essentially become the monster they want to stop.

It's frustrating because I have a hard time seeing this problem becoming resolved. As much as I dislike the attitude and insularity of these so-called "social justice warriors," a lot of their similarly antagonistic and wrongheaded critics don't impress me either - at least here on the Internet. (I'm not talking about the the Christakises - they did a good job arguing their reasonable points in a civil and respectful manner.)