By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS DEC. 7, 2015
A Yale lecturer who came under attack for challenging students to stand up for
their right to decide what Halloween costumes to wear, even to the point of
being offensive, has resigned from teaching at the college, the university said
The lecturer, Erika Christakis, an expert in early childhood education,
wrote an email in October suggesting that there could be negative
consequences to students ceding “implied control” over Halloween costumes
to institutional forces. “I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is
there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit
obnoxious,” she wrote, “a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes,
She wrote the email in response to a directive from the Intercultural
Affairs Committee at Yale that warned students that it would be insensitive to
wear costumes that symbolized cultural appropriation or misrepresentation,
or both, like feathered headdresses, turbans, war paint, blackface or redface,
or costumes that made fun of people.
Ms. Christakis has made a “voluntary decision not to teach in the future,”
according to a statement from the university on Monday. Her husband, Dr.
Nicholas Christakis, a physician and a professor of sociology at Yale, will take a
one-semester sabbatical, the university said. The statement said the
administration hoped Ms. Christakis would reconsider.
“Erika Christakis is a well-regarded instructor, and the university’s
leadership is disappointed that she has chosen not to continue teaching in the
spring semester,” the statement said. “Her teaching is highly valued and she is
welcome to resume teaching anytime at Yale, where freedom of expression and
academic inquiry are the paramount principle and practice.”
Ms. Christakis’s email, combined with an overheard “white girls only”
remark at a fraternity party, helped touch off protests over racial insensitivity
at Yale, as well as a debate over whether the protests and efforts to legislate
forms of expression like Halloween costumes were making students and
faculty afraid to speak out if they disagreed.
After the email, a group of students confronted Dr. Christakis. One
student was shown in a video posted on YouTube confronting Dr. Christakis as
he clasped his hands. “It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not!”
the student was heard yelling. “Do you understand that? It is about creating a
Dr. Christakis is the master of Silliman College, an undergraduate
residence at Yale, and his wife is associate master. They will continue in those
posts, the university said. The Christakises did not respond to email and
telephone requests for comment.