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11/07/2015 02:47 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2015

Yale Admins' Comments On Offensive Halloween Costumes Spark Protest

They criticized an email warning students to be culturally sensitive.

Some Yale University students are protesting two faculty members who criticized a campus-wide email about potentially offensive Halloween costumes.

A group of about 100 students confronted Nicholas Christakis -- who holds the administrative title of "master" at Silliman College, a residential college at the New Haven, Connecticut university -- on Thursday because he expressed that the school should not police costumes that might offend other students, the Yale Daily News reports. (All undergraduates enrolled in Yale College also belong to a residential college.) 

Erika Christakis, Nicholas' wife and an associate master at the college, sent an email on the topic to all Silliman students last week, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. In it, she quoted her husband as advising students who have a problem with others' costumes to "talk to each other" or simply look away.

"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 wrote. "And the censure and prohibition come from above, not from yourselves! Are we all okay with this transfer of power?"

Her email was in response to one Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee had sent three days earlier, in which the group urged students to be culturally sensitive when selecting their Halloween costumes. The IAC email included a list of bulleted tips for students, including making sure costumes don't mock real people or cultures, perpetuate stereotypes or advance historical inaccuracies.

"I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense," Erika wrote. "I laud those goals. ... But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional ... exercise of implied control over college students."

When approached by students, Nicholas said he was sorry for "causing pain" but would not apologize for what was said.  

 

Junior Rianna Johnson-Levy told the Washington Post that the email "put students in harm’s way" by suggesting that it was the responsibility of minority students to confront others who are wearing offensive costumes. Other students said they’ve experienced violent threats after approaching their peers about ill-advised Halloween attire.

Hundreds of students have signed an open letter calling the email response "jarring and disheartening," and noted that the Christakis' advice was unrealistic:

In your email, you ask students to “look away” if costumes are offensive, as if the degradation of our cultures and people, and the violence that grows out of it is something that we can ignore. We were told to meet the offensive parties head on, without suggesting any modes or means to facilitate these discussions to promote understanding. Giving “room” for students to be “obnoxious” or “offensive”, as you suggest, is only inviting ridicule and violence onto ourselves and our communities, and ultimately comes at the expense of room in which marginalized students can feel safe.

Students this week also asked for support from Jonathan Holloway, the first black dean of Yale College. Their request comes not only light of not only the Halloween comments, but because of what they cite as broader issues that make the campus a hostile place for minority students -- including a Yale fraternity last week allegedly throwing a party stipulating "white girls only" were allowed to attend. The fraternity denied the accusation it held such a racist party.

Holloway sent an email to the student body on Friday, in which he expressed his support for the IAC's email and pledged to "uphold [students'] right to speak and be heard." 

Some students have also worked on a letter calling for both of the Christakises to be removed from their positions, The Washington Post reports.

This article has been updated to include information about Holloway's email to students.

Contact the author at Hilary.Hanson@huffingtonpost.com

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