Today, when a group of us, organized originally by the Black Student Alliance at Yale, spoke with Christakis in the Silliman Courtyard, his response once again disappointed many of us. When students tried to tell him about their painful personal experiences as students of color on campus, he responded by making more arguments for free speech. It’s unacceptable when the Master of your college is dismissive of your experiences. The Silliman Master’s role is not only to provide intellectual stimulation, but also to make Silliman a safe space that all students can come home to. His responsibility is to make it a place where your experiences are a valid concern to the administration and where you can feel free to talk with them about your pain without worrying that the conversation will turn into an argument every single time. We are supposed to feel encouraged to go to our Master and Associate Master with our concerns and feel that our opinions will be respected and heard.
But, in his ten weeks as a leader of the college, Master Christakis has not fostered this sense of community. He seems to lack the ability, quite frankly, to put aside his opinions long enough to listen to the very real hurt that the community feels. He doesn’t get it. And I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.
My dad is a really stubborn man. We debate all the time, and I understand the value of hearing differing opinions. But there have been times when I have come to my father crying, when I was emotionally upset, and he heard me regardless of whether or not he agreed with me. He taught me that there is a time for debate, and there is a time for just hearing and acknowledging someone’s pain.
I have had to watch my friends defend their right to this institution. This email and the subsequent reaction to it have interrupted their lives. I have friends who are not going to class, who are not doing their homework, who are losing sleep, who are skipping meals, and who are having breakdowns. I feel drained. And through it all, Christakis has shown that he does not consider us a priority.
Christakis attended the forum on Erika’s email at the Afro-American Cultural Center on Wed., Nov. 4, where students were vulnerable and shared deeply personal stories. After leaving the event early, Christakis tweeted an article on his personal account about the importance of free speech. Then, he retweeted his tweet using the Silliman Twitter handle. This is a clear and flagrant violation. No one should use the Silliman Twitter as a personal platform. The residential college Twitters are a place to share information relevant to everyone in the community; no one consented to having Christakis’ personal view published in a manner that indicated that the community was behind him. The event was indicative of a bigger issue: Christakis is using Silliman college as his intellectual sparring ground.
Further, Christakis has yet to truly acknowledge to the entire Silliman community that he has hurt people. The closest he has gotten to this is sending out an open invitation to brunch at his house to further discuss the issue. Essentially, it was an invitation to debate more. But we don’t want to debate more. We want to be able to go home at night in a place where we feel welcome and wanted.
Christakis’ actions have not been aimed at healing a divided community. Instead, they continue to frame the issue in an “us against them” split. Christakis needs to stop instigating more debate. He needs to stop trying to argue with people who are hurting, regardless of his personal opinions. Being the Master of Silliman is a position of power. To use it to marginalize so much of the student body is deplorable.
Today, when many of us, mostly students of color and Sillimanders, confronted Nicholas Christakis in the Silliman Courtyard, he said he was sorry that we were feeling pain. But is he really? I don’t think he understands what many Sillimanders are going through, nor has he tried.
Christakis hasn’t checked in on any of us. He hasn’t given us any indication that he is going to or wants to heal the community. If you know I’m in pain and you aren’t doing anything to try to help me, then how can you be sorry? Christakis is the Master of Silliman College, it is his job to take care of us, and he is failing.