Yale Students Have Lost Their Collective Marbles

If you haven’t yet heard about the madness taking place at Yale, by all means read this article by Conor Friedersdorf published on The Atlantic: The New Intolerance of Student Activism

Here’s the summary: Nicholas and Erika Christakis live at Yale, where they preside over one of its undergraduate colleges. Nicholas’ wife Erika, who is a lecturer in early childhood education, sent an email responding to concerns from students that administration was “offering heavy-handed advice on what Halloween costumes to avoid.” In the email, Erika suggested, among other things, that perhaps it was okay to be a bit “provocative” with Halloween costumes, observing that “American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition.” She added, quoting Nicholas, “if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are hallmarks of a free and open society.”   (The full text of the email is here.)

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Turns out, it isn’t.  At least, not according to a contingent of hundreds of supposedly free-thinking Yalies.  Indeed, the response among these future leaders at Yale has been to collectively hyperventilate and call for the Christakis’ resignation. One Yale student declared, “I have friends who are not going to class, who are not doing their homework, who are losing sleep, who are skipping meals, and who are having breakdowns.”

At one point, as I read this article, I felt compelled to check my address bar to ensure I wasn’t on The Onion.  You can’t make this stuff up – and who would want to – it’s too tragic to be funny.

It’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around the notion that an email could wreak such havoc.  I’ve received a lot of emails in my life.  In the good folks at Google’s Gmail are to be believed, I have approximately 35,000 as I type this (and that doesn’t count the thousands I’ve deleted).  In those tens of thousands of emails, I’ve received some zingers.  But not one has caused me to have a breakdown, skip class (or work), or otherwise become incapacitated.  Yet these Yalies are apparently undone by the thoughtful encouragement to demonstrate a “capacity ­ to exercise self­censure, through social norming,” as well as a “capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you?”  At this point, it’s pretty clear that Erika’s exhortation to adulthood fell flat.

I reviewed Yale’s website, looking for a historical explanation to the present hysteria, and I learned that in “1779 . . . past-president Naphtali Daggett led more than half of the student body to take on British troops when they attacked New Haven.” If the current catastrophizing is in any way indicative of the fortitude of today’s Yalies, then I doubt Yale’s current president could convince half the student body to attack a British boy-band, out of fear the group would break into some harmonious, choreographed number with lyrics that offended their delicate sensibilities.

Yale pledges to offer students a “diversity of perspective” and “diversity of thought.”  At least for some Yalies, the offer is one they’d rather refuse.

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