October 28, 2016
Erika Christakis is an early-childhood educator and the
By Erika Christakisauthor of “The Importance of Being Little.”
The right to speak freely may be enshrined in some of our nation’s great universities, but the culture of listening needs repair. That is the lesson I learned a year ago, when I sent an email urging Yale University students to think critically about an official set of guidelines on costumes to avoid at Halloween.
I had hoped to generate a reflective conversation among students: What happens when one person’s offense is another person’s pride? Should a costume-wearer’s intent or context matter? Can we always tell the difference between a mocking costume and one that satirizes ignorance? In what circumstances should we allow — or punish — youthful transgression?
“I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation,” I wrote, in part. “I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.”