In 2015, viral video of Yale’s “shrieking girl” screaming at professor Nicholas Christakis exploded across the internet. The cause was an email questioning Halloween costume guidelines his wife, professor Erika Christakis, had written. A year after the blowup, Erika and Nicholas had both left their positions. In this mini-documentary We the Internet TV filmmaker Rob Montz heads to that university to investigate what Yale has become. Subscribe to We the Internet for more free speech documentaries. Watch Silence U Part 1 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5uaVFfX3AQ .
The story began in October 2015, when Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee sent an email broadly outlining the kinds of Halloween costumes that were and weren’t appropriate (this letter can be seen in full at https://www.thefire.org/email-from-intercultural-affairs/ ). In response, Professor Erika Christakis – the wife of Nicholas Christakis, head of Yale’s Silliman college – penned a response, citing complaints from the students in the residential college that the list was arbitrary and restrictive. Pointing to other examples of adults long fostering overblown fears about Halloween, she suggested that open dialogue about costumes was a better way for students to learn than through restrictions imposed from administrators. Her letter can be seen in full here: https://www.thefire.org/email-from-erika-christakis-dressing-yourselves-email-to-silliman-college-yale-students-on-halloween-costumes/ .
Students responded in days of protests — culminating in the viral courtyard incident of Nicholas Christakis trying to engage students in conversation about the topic. Instead students insulted Christakis and yelled at him to apologize, resign, or cave to their demands. While other administrators were in the courtyard, nobody stood up for the ideals of academic freedom, free speech or open dialogue. A year later, Nick Christakis stepped down from being the head of Silliman and Erika had left Yale. The school created more administrative posts to placate students – yet nobody in the administration had vocally backed Yale’s supposed core values of academic freedom and open dialogue outlined in its own Woodward Report, a gold standard of academic principle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodward_Report).
We the Internet TV’s Rob Montz went to Yale to talk to students and professors and figure out why this happened – and what it says about Yale. Is it still a university designed to seek knowledge and truth? Or primarily a full service destination for privileged students? A place where upper class students can add to their resumes in a cushy, unchallenging environment before taking elite jobs? Is the role of the bloated college administration to further academic objectives or their own careers and purview? Was the “screaming girl” at Yale wrong when she insisted that Nick Christakis’s job was not to teach but to make her home comfortable – or was she right?
This documentary focuses on Yale, but it has implications for colleges nationwide. With incidents from Brown to Middlebury to Berkeley, universities are grappling with issues of free speech and free expression amidst student demands for inclusive environments — as well as students and administrators who are afraid to say anything controversial or interesting for fear it will negatively affect their job prospects. With numerous concerned students too afraid to speak on record in the documentary, the silence is deafening.
Hear a discussion with Rob and current college students and activists on our comedy and debate podcast, Unsafe Space! http://www.unsafespaceshow.com/2017/03/26/campus-free-speech-and-silence-u-part-2-premiere-feat-rob-montz-jenny-yang-and-nathan-mosher/
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Host and Director: Rob Montz
Director of Photography: Ben Gaskell
Animator: Fabian Tejada
Executive Producers: Maurice Black, Lou Perez, Erin O’Connor, & Rob Pfaltzgraff
Creative Director: Erin O’Connor
Head Writer: Lou Perez
Marketing: Toby Muresianu
Special thanks to Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
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