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Some Notes on the Yale Not Actually Free Speech Controversy



A few points on the Yale Halloween discussion:

  • Burgwell’s original email was entirely unobjectionable, and was not in any way inconsistent with principles of free speech. It did not announce a policy that required anyone to do anything.  It encouraged people not to wear racially insensitive costumes.  Uh…good?  What’s the problem here?
  • Erika Christakis’s email, conversely, was rather silly.  Nobody was trying to “control” what people were wearing, and her argument that these emails didn’t give students the appropriate space to be “offensive” and “obnoxious” was extraordinarily unconvincing on the merits, not least because it ignores both the asymmetrical effects of racist Halloween costumes, particularly in the context of Yale’s still ongoing issues of racial inequity.   (The detail that the university still has a building named after John Calhoun is instructive.)
  • The context of the allegedly racially exclusionary frat party is also very important.
  • Calling on someone to resign, whether right or wrong, is free speech.
  • I don’t think Christkis’s email was a firable offense, and I don’t agree with all of the reaction against it.  But it is certainly worthy of substantial criticism.
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