Yale gives 'race relations' award to two students who confronted professor

Yale awarded a prize to two students who were part of a confrontation with a professor last year over racial sensitivity on campus. Professor Nicholas Christakis attempted to have a discussion with a large group of students who were upset about an email Christakis’ wife had written. One student got in the professor’s face and told him their common humanity was not significant. Another student suggested he had created space for violence. Those two students were singled at graduation for “exemplary leadership in enhancing race and/or ethnic relations at Yale.” From Tablet:

In one clip, a male student strides up to Christakis and, standing mere inches from his face, orders the professor to “look at me.” Assuming this position of physical intimidation, the student then proceeds to declare that Christakis is incapable of understanding what he and his classmates are feeling because Christakis is white, and, ipso facto, cannot be a victim of racism. In another clip, a female student accuses Christakis of “strip[ping] people of their humanity” and “creat[ing] a space for violence to happen,” a line later mocked in an episode of The Simpsons

Of Yale’s graduating class, it was these two students whom the Nakanishi Prize selection committee deemed most deserving of a prize for “enhancing race and/or ethnic relations” on campus. Hectoring bullies quick to throw baseless accusations of racism or worse; cosseted brats unscrupulous in their determination to smear the reputations of good people, these individuals in actuality represent the antithesis of everything this award is intended to honor. Yet, in the citation that was read to all the graduating seniors and their families on Class Day, Yale praised the latter student as “a fierce truthteller.”

This, for a hysterical liar who accused one of the university’s most distinguished academic minds of inciting “violence” upon his own students…

The Orwellian veneration of racial agitators as racial conciliators is the logical conclusion of Yale’s craven capitulation to the hard left forces of identitarian groupthink. From the very beginning of this ordeal, the Yale administration refused to state some simple but necessary truths: that the missive Erika Christakis wrote was entirely appropriate; that the “demands” issued by protesting students (such as an “ethnic studies distributional requirement”) were ridiculous; and, most important of all, that the rude and insubordinate treatment to which Nicholas Christakis was subjected rose to the level of a disciplinary offense.

Granted this award was given for things these students had done beyond this one incident, but how could the confrontation with Christakis not be considered when giving these awards? Here’s Christakis interaction with one of the awarded students (start at about 90 seconds into this clip):

Christakis: Like I was just saying, I have a vision of ourselves that unites our common humanity. So I believe that even though I’m not like you in the sense of my superficial appearance, that I can sit down and talk to you and understand your predicament, that I can listen to you. If that’s not true, if you deny that, then what is the reason that you ask to be heard by me or anyone else?

At this point, a student steps forward inches from Christakis’ face.

Student: Look at me.

Christakis: Yes.

Student: Look at me.

Christakis. Yes.

Student: Do you understand, you and I are not the same person. We’re humans, great! Glad we understand that. But your experiences will never connect to mine. Empathy is not necessary for you to understand that you’re wrong. Okay? Even if you don’t feel what I feel ever. Even if nobody’s ever been racist to you because they can’t be racist to you. That doesn’t mean that you can just act like you’re not being racist.

The student remains in Christakis’ face even as other students chime in with a more conciliatory message (suggesting he could understand their views if given a chance). The situation eventually does defuse a bit with the student and Christakis shaking hands (there’s even a brief hug) but then he informs his professor, “the situation right now does not require you to smile, okay?”

No, not really. Maybe you could try not telling someone else what expressions they are allowed to have on their face.

Putting aside all of the issues of body language and facial expressions, consider what the student actually said. The statement “your experiences will never connect to mine” seems to suggest empathy isn’t possible in this case, something which is clearly false. Empathy is possible and clearly plays a role in people’s changing attitudes on race and other social issues. That’s followed by the statement “empathy is not necessary for you to understand that you’re wrong,” which makes no sense. Empathy may not be needed for someone to be wrong. People are wrong all the time and are not aware of it or don’t regret it. But empathy is probably necessary for someone to know that they are wrong.

And his final line, “that doesn’t mean that you can just act like you’re not being racist” assumes Christakis is in fact racist. But nothing in this clip or several others from this day show Christakis “being racist.” On the contrary, they show him standing there while a group of sobbing, angry undergrads scream at him to shut up and blame him for “violence” and harm. He’s making an effort to find common ground while many (not all) of the students are just there to use him as a punching bag for their emotional outbursts. If this is award winning behavior on race relations, the bar must be set pretty low.