Yale Gives Graduation Prizes To Two Students At Center Of Controversial Confrontation With Professor

ChristakisYale has been the focus of rising concerns over academic freedom and the treatment of faculty after the appearing of a disturbing videotape showing Yale students abusing Professor Nicholas Christakis who sought to have a civil conversation over an email written by Christakis’ wife.  Two of the students who were most vocal in this controversial confrontation have now reportedly been honored with the Nakanishi Prize selection committee deemed most deserving of a prize for “enhancing race and/or ethnic relations” on campus.  Various cites have stated this year’s recipients Alexandra Zina Barlowe and Abdul-Razak Mohammed Zachariah were featured prominently in the controversy.  However, the protests are not mentioned in the citations.

Lecturer, Erika Christakis is an expert in early childhood education and she wrote a good faith email discussing the effort to bar students from wearing Halloween costumes deemed offensive.  The Intercultural Affairs Committee at Yale had issued an over-bearing warning to  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.  Erika Christakis questioned the implications of having students surrender “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 . . . a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?”  It was an honest effort to explore the issue of regulating Halloween costumes (an issue that we have explored on this blog — here and here).

Erika Christakis eventually resigned from the university.

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.  The result was a firestorm as students accused her of being racist and that anger was vented at her husband as he crossed the campus.

The videotape is striking familiar to other such confrontations across the country, including the recent confrontation of a professor who merely criticized a plan to force all non-minority students and faculty off campus for a day.

Barlowe is featured in an interview where she said that Yale was not safe for minority students.  In the interview, Barlowe radically misconstrues the point of the email and says that the incident is an example of the dangers at Yale for people of color.

I expect (and hope) that these students are being recognized for more than just this controversy.  This confrontation is, in my opinion, not worthy of recognition (let alone celebration).  I felt that the university showed little concern for the uncivil and abusive treatment afforded to the faculty member.  One of the most important lessons that we should teach on our campuses is the need for both free speech and civil discourse.  I would not have wanted these students disciplined for such an encounter but I also hope that it played no role in this official recognition.

115 thoughts on “Yale Gives Graduation Prizes To Two Students At Center Of Controversial Confrontation With Professor

    • Best to go to the audited financial statements. As I understand it (page 9 from the link below), financial gifts from donors (as opposed to say, donated artwork) are classified as “contributions”. Contributions are split into two buckets. Contributions to support ongoing operations and contributions to grow the endowment.

      Contributions to support ongoing operations declined substantially in 2016 relative to 2015. However, contributions to grow the endowment increased by an even greater amount. (go to page 25 of the Consolidated Statement of Activities to see the accounting).

      I only skimmed it, but I don’t readily see an explanation for why contributions declined substantial in one bucket and increased substantially in the other. Maybe that is what the NYT article you read tried to explain. I did not read it so I don’t know.

      Add the two buckets together and overall contributions by donors increased.


  1. And if elected school president, I will reduce classes to three, no two, days a week. I will make sure that pizza and lots of ice cream is served free in the school cafeteria. I will make sure that chocolate milk comes out of the water fountains…….

    The problem is that these students will probably gravitate towards professions that determine that kids pointing a finger in a game of some sort, will have their lives ruined.

  2. The “shrieking girl” in the video does this with her parents & boyfriend when she doesn’t get her way……Trust me on this.

  3. (music to the tune of the Armour Hotdog Song)

    Snowflakes. Call em Snowflakes!
    What kind of people are the Snowflakes?
    Fat kids, skinny kids…
    Kids who climb on rocks!

    Dumb kids, weeny kids…
    Even kids with chickenpox…
    Are Snowflakes.
    Call em Snowflakes!
    The kids which dogs , like…
    To Bite!

  4. Mao, Stalin, Chavez and Hitler would also be proud to give an award to these students for their efforts at cleansing of the population. Nice job Yale!

    Sadly our next generation is already the automatons of this type of group think, and peer pressured repression of civil rights.

  5. Awards for racism? Any tolerance or promotion of racism oif any kind spoken, written, overt or reverse racism or approved and promoted any goveernment bodies national, state or student is itself not to be tolerated as it onlly serves to promote, and maintain racism. Chief among them are government forms with a polyglot hodge podge of colors, ethnic, cultural, and racial yes and gender oriented and bigotry.

    When offered such a form write across it words to the effect. “The question is racist (or sexist etc) and you should be deeply ashamed of yourself for asking it.

    The only way to get rid of such unacceptable behaviors is non-tolerance . Making flip answers or excuses instead of confronting the promoters only adds to and prolongs this stain on society.

    There is a world of difference between Benson whose responses were and are DOA and Schulte’s “This is just wrong.” A flat statement of rejection versus one of weak acceptance .

    It is wrong and it is not just.

    • Will those two students proudly disguise this recognition of their support of racism on the office wall for their clientele to see? Probably. Will they run for office waving the accolade with pride? Probably. Wil Yale accept it’s shame?

      NO. Yale will not accept it’s shame for they are not part of society.

  6. Young children don’t pick their own costumes, the adults in their life do and many of the inappropriate costumes, as outlined in the memo from Yale, are based on racist stereotypes. By the time these children reach college age, their racial biases are set and need to be unlearned. The professor doesn’t seem to understand that such stereotypes are basic racism. If the students are not aware of their own racial biases, Yale is helping them to understand that such behavior is not acceptable. Many of us with white privilege just don’t understand how hurtful it is to have ones family betrayed in such a manner.

    I recommend the movie Dear White People. It’s a comedy that explores some of these ideas.

    • White privilege? *Anyone* living in the Western world is privileged by default compared to most other parts of the world, including these kids and proffessors (good luck with these shenanigans in Pakistan, Iraq, or China, for example). If I remove the buzzwords from your comment, there isn’t anything left. Can you state your opinion without resorting to them? Imagining a monster around every corner has only to do with the one believing that the monsters are there, it doesn’t pull them from the ethers into existence. Rewarding delusional thinking does nothing to solve the legitimate problem that exists on the other side of crying ‘wolf’.

    • Many of us with white privilege just don’t understand how hurtful it is to have ones family betrayed in such a manner.

      Do you have a mouse in your pocket? Speak for yourself. If you have guilt because your life was made easier solely because you lacked the imagination to succeed without leaning on your race, then own it; don’t try to project that guilt on others. Many people don’t accept the victim excuse for their circumstances. They double-down on their efforts and will find a way to succeed despitewhat society throws at them. That’s what this country provides, an opportunity to succeed. That’s the privilege many, many people around the world do not have.

      Only to prove this point, look at the privileges these foreigners are seeking. Your white guilt now has illegal aliens demanding things actual citizens cannot. How is this just?


      • We are preached to not to paint all blacks or Muslims with the same brush because of the bad acts of someone their same religion or race. Yet, whites as a group are repeatedly maligned and the hate is growing simply because they were born melanin challenged. Hypocrisy is rampant.

    • The Onion like views expressed by bettykath DOMINATED the comments here back in 2012 when I arrived. And, the people who were weekend bloggers were just like these “award winners” at Yale, intolerant and nasty.

  7. Student- “It’s your job to provide comfort and a home for students”.

    Professor- “I agree with that”.

    Excuse me, what happened to Higher education?
    Generations before have doubled up in bunk beds and slept in vans to partake in the privilege of affording the honor to go to these Universities.

  8. Is it hard to predict to where faculty abuse will lead? The culture divide between the students and the general population will just grow.

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