Erika Christakis says she will leave her teaching post at Yale University but will remain an associate master at one of its residential halls.
She says she made the decision in part because of fallout over a controversial email she sent to Silliman College residents about Halloween costumes. Christakis replied to the boilerplate administration email reminding students not to wear offensive costumes with her own letter questioning the need for such reminders.
"American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience," read Christakis' email. "Increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition."
Christakis' note sparked student outrage and protests, especially among minority students living in the residence hall where Erika Christakis and her husband, Nicholas Christakis, serve as administrators. In a video of one widely covered incident, Nicholas Christakis stands amid a crowd of students, one of whom shouts and hurls expletives at him.
In the weeks following Erika Christakis' email, student protesters themselves focused on her role as Associate Master of a residence hall—the one she will be keeping—not her teaching role. In fact, her courses are in high demand and her student evaluations are glowing, according to a colleague who organized an open letter in support of Nicholas and Erika Christakis. Nearly 70 faculty members signed the letter. (However, many more faculty members signed a letter that supported students' concerns about racism on campus, although the letter did not specifically name either Christakis.)
The Washington Post reports that neither Christakis will be teaching in Spring 2016: Nicholas Christakis will be taking a sabbatical to focus on his research and on the needs of students who live in his residence hall, he says.
"I have great respect and affection for my students, but I worry that the current climate at Yale is not, in my view, conducive to the civil dialogue and open inquiry required to solve our urgent societal problems," Erika Christakis wrote in an email to the Post (Stanley-Becker, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 12/4; Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 12/7; Jackson, Business Insider, 12/3).
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