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The Milton Measure

Racial Tensions High at Mizzou & Yale

by Hannah Nigro on Friday, November 20th, 2015

Recently student protests against racial discrimination have swept college campuses. These protests started at the University of Missouri, where students were reacting to a longstanding series of discriminatory events including the scattering of cotton balls outside of the campus Black Culture Center by two white students in 2010. Payton Head, Mizzou’s Student Government President, posted on Facebook to inform peers of an incident in which students drove by, hurling racial slurs at him. According to libertynews.com, Payton added, “for those of you who wonder why I’m always talking about the importance of inclusion and respect, it’s because I’ve experienced moments like this multiple times at this university.” This post sparked protests in reaction to the lack of an administrative response.

Days later, a white student interrupted the school’s Legion of Black Collegiates meeting, using racial slurs when asked to leave. Almost a month after Head’s facebook post, Missouri chancellor finally issued a statement saying, “racism is clearly alive at Mizzou” and subsequently ordered diversity training for all members of the school for 2016. These actions all came to a boiling point when protesters blocked University President Tim Wolfe’s car in order to express their frustration. Wolfe neglected to respond to the complaints and his car tapped a student. These events prompted the Mizzou activist group called ConcernedStudent1950 to compile a list of demands, one of which being the removal of Wolfe. However, their demands were not met until members of the football team, backed by their coach and the rest of the players, announced they would boycott all practices and games until Wolfe was removed. A day later, he announced his resignation.

Yale University has also come under fire for promoting a hostile environment for students of color. One of these events concerns Yale fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) who hosted “white girls only” Halloween fraternity party in Yale’s residential Silliman College. According to a November 2nd article published this year in the Washington Post, Sofia Petros-Gouin, a freshman of color at Columbia University, came to Yale for the weekend to visit some friends. During her visit, she experienced a white fraternity brother turning away all girls who weren’t white—including herself—as he continuously said, “White girls only.” Though the fraternity negates these allegations, Yale students have begun to voice their opinion about the perceived injustices at their Alma Mater on social media.

In an October 31st Facebook post this year, Neema Githere, a current Yale undergraduate, said, “I’d just like to take a moment to give a shoutout to the member of Yale’s SAE chapter who turned away a group of girls from their party last night, explaining that admittance was on a “White Girls Only” basis; and a belated shoutout to the SAE member who turned me and my friends away for the same reason last year.” Many comments on the post revealed that this incident was not isolated; other students of color had experienced similar discrimination by the fraternity in the past.

The second and more widely discussed issue regards emails sent within the Yale community. According to a November 6th article posted this year by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), on Wednesday, October 28th of this year, Yale’s Dean Burgwell Howard sent an email asking undergraduate students to—as they gear up for Halloween—carefully consider how their costumes might propagate stereotypes and offend people of different cultures.

Two days later, Erika Christakis, the Associate Master at Yale’s residential Silliman College, sent a follow-up email to the Silliman community. According to a Huffington Post article published on November 7th, 2015, she quoted her husband Nicholas Christakis, the Master of Silliman College, when she advised students to hash out issues themselves regarding their peers’ costumes or to turn the other cheek. In a November 6th article of this year, the Yale Daily News writes how Christakis emphasized freedom of speech and freedom of expression, positing that Yale should not be responsible for regulating their students’ costumes: “Is there no room anymore for a…young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? 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.”

The Yale community’s response to the email was varied. Some believed this email rightly argued for people’s right to free speech, while others found the message completely insensitive. According to the aforementioned FIRE article, over 740 members of the Yale community—students, alumni, faculty—as well as students from other institutions of higher learning, signed an open letter to Christakis, asserting that her email “invalidates the voices of minority students on campus.”

The conversation was not over yet. On November 5th, around 100 students gathered in the Silliman College courtyard to voice their dissent to and demand an apology for Erika Christakis’ email. Nicholas Christakis listened to the students’ concerns and said, “I apologize for causing pain, but I am not sorry for the statement. I stand behind free speech. I defend the right for people to speak their minds.” Students were not satisfied—not satisfied at all.

In a November 7th Facebook post, Milton alumna (‘14) and current Yale sophomore Titania Nguyen claims that freedom of speech isn’t what this debate should be about at all. Titania says, “We are angry at people who insist that our dignity is about ‘freedom of speech.’ Because we, as a society, do not treat all ideas equally, and that’s okay…we deserve to be loved by the university that promised us a home. This isn’t about free speech. This was never about free speech.”

Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=7453

Posted by Hannah Nigro on Nov 20 2015. Filed under Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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