Yale admin hopes to move beyond Halloween costume controversy
- The new Head of Silliman College at Yale University is organizing a haunted house this Halloween, just one year after the college was engulfed in controversy over politically correct Halloween costumes.
- The previous Head of Silliman was forced to resign after students objected to an email suggesting that free speech entails the right to be "a little bit offensive."
Th new Head of Silliman College at Yale University is organizing a haunted house this Halloween, just one year after the college was engulfed in controversy over politically correct Halloween costumes.
According to The Yale Daily News, psychology professor Laurie Santos plans to revive a heretofore defunct Silliman tradition by putting on the haunted house as part of a weekend-long Halloween celebration, and is apparently undaunted by the prospect of wading into the very issue that led to her predecessor’s resignation.
The previous Head of Silliman, Nicholas Christakis, was driven to resign last year after his wife, Erika, then-Associate Head of Silliman, ignited a national debate over political correctness and “cultural appropriation” last year with an email to students responding to an admonition from the school’s Intercultural Affairs Committee reminding students to avoid wearing potentially offensive Halloween costumes.
“This year, we seem afraid that college students are unable to decide how to dress themselves on Halloween,” Mrs. Christakis observed in her email, asking, “is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?”
Mrs. Christakis went on to suggest that instead of encouraging students to dress only in politically correct costumes, students could, if offended, simply choose to ignore it, or even tell the person wearing the costume why they find it offensive.
Both Christakises quickly became the focus of student protesters, who deemed Mrs. Christakis’ email “offensive” and began circulating a petition demanding their resignations.
At one point, Mr. Christakis was even confronted by a mob of angry students on campus who insisted that he apologize for his wife’s statements. Christakis gave a commendable response, calmly explaining that he supports free speech unequivocally, even when it offends, but failed to mollify the activists, who eventually drove both him and his wife to step down from their administrative positions at Silliman.
“I think given what happened last year, students just need some time to have some fun in Silliman,” Santos told the Daily News. “One of my goals is to build a community that everyone can call home.”
Santos told Campus Reform via email that the controversies are “so last year,” to steal a phrase from her students, opining that there is little more to discuss at this stage, but declining to say whether the issue of politically correct Halloween costumes would be explicitly addressed this year.
She did, however, tell the Daily News that she is “a huge Halloween aficionado,” and that the Halloween weekend will be filled with “lit” activities, which Campus Reform is given to understand does not refer to either lighting or literature.
Santos added that she wants Silliman to move beyond the controversies of last year, but also indicated that she might weigh in on issues of political correctness, should any arise during her tenure.
“I’m aware of all the subtle influences that make spaces and conversations feel not inclusive,” she noted, referring to her background in psychology. “I’m familiar with the work on stereotype threats. I know how environment shapes these subtle feelings of not belonging.”
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