Footage from a confrontation at Yale University reveals the true extent of the infantilisation of today’s students
If you do nothing else today, watch and listen to this Yale student shouting at a college administrator.
Some context: the university administrator in question is Nicholas Christakis, the Master of Silliman College. When the university sent a campus-wide notice asking people to be “culturally sensitive” when choosing Halloween costumes this year, Christakis’s wife (repeat: not Christakis, his wife) – who also works for the university – had the temerity to send an email saying that as an educator, what her students choose to wear is none of her damn business.
This didn’t go down at all well with Yale’s coddled population of Stepford Students, for reasons which are now depressingly familiar to many of us. And so it led to a confrontation between some angry young protesters – indignant that the safety of their Safe Space had been compromised – and a harried Nicholas Christakis.
Here is the transcript of the one-sided student tirade:
Student: You have created an unsafe space here for all – BE QUIET! – for all students, do you understand that? As your position as Master it is your JOB to create a place of comfort and home for the students that live in Silliman. You have not done that. By sending out that email, that goes against your position as Master. Do you understand that?
Christakis: No, I don’t agree with that –
Student: Then WHY THE FUCK DID YOU ACCEPT THE POSITION? WHO THE FUCK HIRED YOU?
Christakis: I have a different vision than you –
Student: Then STEP DOWN! If that is what you think about [illegible] then you should STEP DOWN! It is NOT about creating an intellectual space, it is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here! You are NOT doing that! You are going against that! You should have been at the event last night when you hear our [illegible] say that she didn’t know how to create a safe space for her freshmen in Silliman. How do you explain that? These freshmen come here, they think this is what Yale is? Do you hear that? They’re gonna leave, they’re going to transfer because you are a poor steward of our community! You should NOT sleep at night! You are disgusting!
Ultimately, Christakis was pressured into making a grovelling, coerced apology.
This footage is astonishing. The student literally sounds like a ten year old having a temper tantrum. The voice rises to a squeak and almost breaks, the emphasis falls on certain words as though just a few short years ago they would have been accompanied by a childish foot stomp.
Note how she pauses her tirade every now and then to demand of Christakis “do you understand that?”, much as a kindergarten or infant school teacher might have to phrase their admonition to a young child who perhaps does not realise that they have done something wrong.
This is deliberate. The student has clearly grown up in an academic environment where saying the wrong words or hurting someone’s feelings is treated more seriously than hitting them with a stick, and where authority figures attempt to “correct” the bad behaviour by highlighting the negative mental impact it has on others. “Timmy, bringing that sombrero to Show and Tell today made Juan feel belittled and marginalised because of your white privilege, can you understand that?”
That’s what this student is doing here, in her own very wobbly-lipped way. She is trying to scold her university administrator for saying Bad Things and for hurting her feelings, just as she would have seen countless school teachers do to “misbehaving” children in her class. It is an entirely learned behaviour, but one with hugely insidious undertones when transplanted to the adult university setting.
Note too how this Yale student will not hear a response from Christakis, aggressively yelling “be quiet!” as though she is on the verge of flailing at him with her tiny toddler fists. This is someone who has been pushed to the limit, whose little mental world has been utterly overwhelmed by exposure to a contrarian stance and a less-than-affirming response to her complaint.
This precious snowflake of a Yale student could just as easily be yelling at her parents for confiscating her favourite toy as remonstrating with a college professor about a grievance.
But since when is it the place of universities, of adult academic environments, to create “a place of comfort and home” for their students? Incredibly, this student goes on to yell that the job of a university is “not to create an intellectual space”, creating the ludicrous vision of universities that generate and pass on no knowledge, but simply reinforce their students’ existing worldviews and protect them from being challenged.
It’s easy to laugh at this student, or to mock just how profoundly infantilised she is – the unnerving hybrid of an emotional baby with Yale book smarts. But this misses the larger point. We believers in liberty and free speech cannot afford to simply share videos like this with friends for a laugh, because the wider trend is deadly serious.
We must understand why our education systems are churning out more and more people like her, and take immediate action to change course so that we are not left with an entire generation of British and American students unable to hear dissent or engage in intellectual arguments.
Enter Brendan O’Neill. Writing in Spiked, O’Neill points out not just why this breathtaking student temper tantrum is the tip of the iceberg, but also why it has been a long, long time coming:
I have a question for the hand-wringers, the media people, academics and liberal thinkers who are so disturbed by what they’re calling the ‘Yale snowflakes’: what did you think would happen? When you watched, or even presided over, the creation over the past 40 years of a vast system of laws and speech codes to punish insulting or damaging words, and the construction of a vast machine of therapeutic intervention into everyday life, what did you think the end result would be? A generation that was liberal and tough? Come off it. It’s those trends, those longstanding trends of censorship and therapy, that created today’s creepy campus intolerance; it’s you who made these monsters.
[..] The weepy students who think everything from ‘racist’ costumes to racy novels could cause them ‘mental harm’ did not invent the idea that words damage us and thus must be controlled. In Britain, and across Europe, we’ve seen the spread over the past 40 years of hate-speech legislation that punishes ‘insulting’ or ‘grossly offensive’ commentary about minority groups. On campuses, this has manifested itself as a student-led No Platform policy in Britain, which first expunged racists and Zionists and was later applied to Islamists, sexists, tabloids and Eminem’s music. In the US, the modern turn against free speech manifested itself in the scourge of campus speech codes, which spread across the nation from the late 1980s, and which described everything from racist speech to ‘inconsiderate laughter’ as contributing to the creation of a ‘hostile environment’.
In the words of one of the academics who wrote one of the speech codes – they were mainly the work of academics, not students – certain forms of speech are ‘assaultive’ and can cause ‘severe psychological trauma’ (1). That was said in a book tellingly titled Words that Wound, in 1993, before today’s snowflakes were born. And we wonder why youth see books, speakers and songs as forms of assault. That idea has been seeping through the academy, from the top down, for more than 20 years.
In other words – criticise the precious snowflake students, by all means. But also recognise that to some degree, they are a product of their environment. And that environment was shaped – twisted and distorted, really – by over thirty years of censorious left wing attempts to clamp down on freedom of expression and exalt the importance of hurt feelings almost above physical injuries.
This is a crucial point by Brendan O’Neill. It is not enough to look at these infantilised students, these toddlers with diplomas, and criticise them for the way they behave. They are the product of the education system and wider society in which they grew up and came of age. So while we should and absolutely must push back against their demands for censorship and coddling today, we must also tackle the problem at root and change those things in our culture which produced them in the first place, if we are not to be faced with thousands more of them tomorrow.
This will not be easy. What we witnessed in this video was nothing short of a child’s temper tantrum. It was a foot-stomping meltdown by somebody who is more than likely very smart (she got into Yale University, no mean feat) but who has the emotional resilience of a five-year-old.
But we simply cannot allow scenes like this to become and remain commonplace in our universities and places of adult education. We cannot continue to breed a generation of students who go through life expecting there to always be a Higher Authority modelled on their kindergarten teacher, someone who can step in when their feelings are hurt and send the perpetrator to the Naughty Corner.
Watch this video and look at the next generation of student leaders we are raising. Enough. It is time to tear down the safe spaces, pull the trigger (in defiance of the warnings) and give these Stepford Students a short, sharp course of immersion therapy in the real world.
We must do so if today’s Stepford Students are to stand a fighting chance of prospering in the real world, where their self-obsessed identify politics and safe spaces mean nothing. But we also need to do it before we are outnumbered by these people, and before they imprison us all in their self-affirming, infantilising dystopia.
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