What the Yale Shame Should Teach Us

John offers a copious summary of the embarrassment of Yale students protesting against an email that suggested they lighten up about Halloween costumes. Will this constitute a tipping point against this campus silliness? Of course it won’t.

Much of the justly deserved criticism directed at the perpetually aggrieved concerns their rubbishing of free speech and dissent from leftist orthodoxy. (One student actually wrote in the Yale Herald that “Christakis needs to stop instigating more debate.” Imagine—debate and disagreement on a college campus! Can’t be tolerated! [UPDATE: This letter seems to have been taken down from the Yale Herald website, but the text is captured at Legal Insurrection.])

The people who ought to be most offended by this reaction are . . . women and minorities, because the phenomena of “microaggressions,” “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” “cultural appropriations,” and deeply politicized and ideological constructs about “patriarchy” have the effect of trivializing the legacy of genuine oppression.  It makes impossible serious discussion the history of racial and gender oppression as well as discussion of what remedies and changes should be pondered today. This prevention of serious discussion is on purpose, of course, because most of this shallow ideology would collapse under rigorous discussion. Hence the necessity to suppress open debate.

Is having to put up with a potentially offensive Halloween costume really the equivalent of Rosa Parks being sent to the back of the bus? Does disagreement and open discussion about racial frictions make life at Yale as “unsafe” as it was for Jews in Germany in the 1930s, or, for that matter, blacks in Selma in 1963? Anyone who thinks the answer to these queries is Yes (and there seem to be quite a lot of them) is unfit for a university education.

Blacks and women (and others—like the Chinese immigrants once called “coolies” for example) have a just claim of oppression in America’s past, and deserve recognition of this legacy. Of course, when I hear someone raise the general claims about oppression and injustice, I like to ask where they got these ideas from, and where the energy for reform came from. The inconvenient answer is that it came from the self-same “dead white males” who blazed the way for the liberal reform tradition like John Locke and (gasp!) Thomas Jefferson that today’s left deplores (but typically refuse actually to study with any care). But most of the students caterwauling about “safe spaces” and “oppression” aren’t the least interested in a serious conversation about any of this, for which serious liberals ought to be offended most of all.

By the way, here is an annotated version the complete text of the offending email from Erika Christakis. Read it and . . . Weep? Laugh? Snort derisively at the reaction? It would be hard to overreact against the overreaction about this message. A couple of expulsions would do the trick nicely I think. I’m sure they’ll all be admitted to “Safe Space University” (two minutes long: