Halloween Costume Controversy

In this blog post I examine and discuss an incident that occurred at Yale University in late October 2015. Here is my disclaimer, I am purely looking at the implications that social media had on this incident, and not the actual facts/or issues of contention. That being said let me break down what happened. On October 27th 2015, the Intercultural Affairs Committee at Yale University sent out an email to all Yale students more or less stating that if students dress up for Halloween they should try make sure that the costumes are politically correct. Meaning that they should be culturally and religiously inoffensive.  The full email can be read here: https://www.thefire.org/email-from-intercultural-affairs/.

This email was more or less uncontroversial.  However in response to this email Erika Christakis Associate Master of Silliman College at Yale sent out an email to the student in her college more or less saying it is not her beliefs or job the police what people wear for Halloween. I think the biggest sentences people had an issue with is the following : “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? 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 full email can be read here : https://genius.com/Erika-christakis-dressing-yourselves-email-to-silliman-college-yale-students-on-halloween-costumes-annotated. Being that Yale is pretty progressive/liberal this was met with a lot of pushback.  While this email was on sent to a particular college at Yale, it went viral on social media. Within days students organized outside the Silliman college building demanding that Mrs. Christakis come talk to them and apologize. She did not go out and meet the crowd, but her husband Nicholas Christakis the Master of Silliman College did go out and confront the students. This is really where the story explodes as far as notoriety on a national level, especially due to social media.

Because everyone has a smartphone it is extremely easy to recorded videos and update your social media on the goings on in your life. There numerous videos of Nicholas Christakis trying to talk to the student. Take what you will from the videos, but the digital age we live in makes it very easy to make people accountable. These videos get retweeted on Twitter and people then comment. Following this people publicly demand that Yale take action.  It just becomes a huge public forum of rage on both sides. The crazy thing is, that universities have their own social media handles. So you can just Tweet @ such and such university. I think its almost too easy to cause public outrage just because social media is such an easy conduit. Even then people can say whatever they want because they can be anonymous or there are almost no repercussions about what people say.

I don’t think social media is going to go anywhere, but I do not think that universities or any public institution should have one. I would also even advise faculty to make their profiles or accounts private. There should be a degree of separation, or at least not a conduit directly into your personal life. I will say this is something I never really thought much about. I realize now that one must be very careful as a faculty member when it comes to social media. I would also caution people to not overstep their boundaries when it comes to posting in a public forum. Once something is on the internet it is more or less there forever.

The outcome of this incident was on  May 25, 2016, Nicholas and Erika announced that they resigned from their Silliman College duties.  Let’s all safeguard our private social media accounts and remember not to overstep our duties as faculty members.