The double standard of identity politics
June 23, 2017
Is there a double standard when it comes to derogatory terms for race? Read no further than the writings of June Chu, dean of students of Pierson College, one of the twelve residential colleges for Yale undergraduates.
Chu has written in the “Inside Higher Education” of the need for “cultural sensitivity” and the avoidance of “micro-aggressions” in discussions with minority students. And she describes her job, as a Pierson dean, as supporting students in their “holistic and multifaceted identities.”
But apparently that sensitivity only extends to certain groups and identities. Thus in one review for Yelp, a site where goods and services are rated, Chu mocked the employees at one local New Haven cinema as “barely educated morons trying to manage snack orders for the obese while trying to add $7 plus $7.” In a review of a Japanese restaurant, she wrote, “If you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you!” Far from being embarrassed by these reviews, Chu sent an email to all Pierson students on January 30 boasting of having been designated a member of the “Yelp Elite” for her active participation as a reviewer at the website.
When the reviews first came to light in a Yale Daily News article, neither Pierson College nor Yale moved to discipline Chu, on the grounds that there were “only two” such reviews—i.e., the ones cited above. Only after the discovery of other snarky reviews, did the head of Pierson College ask Chu to take a temporary leave. But both he and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway emphasized that she had not been asked to resign.
Chu’s breathtaking contempt and disdain for those less educated and (presumed) less intelligent than herself did not emerge in a vacuum. Only Achan violated the cherem on Jericho, and yet all Israel was punished in the subsequent battle of Ai. The commentators explain that had Achan thought that his act would be viewed with opprobrium by his fellow bnei Yisrael he would never have plundered the riches of Jericho. Similarly, had Chu not thought that her reviews would be thought amusing by those with whom she most frequently converses—Yale students and faculty colleagues—she would not have written as she did.
She is the academic equivalent of “comedienne” Kathy Griffin, who recently posted a photo of herself holding up, ISIS-style, a model of the bloody, severed head of President Trump. Her familiarity with late-night TV had apparently left Griffin convinced that there is nothing that one could do to mock Donald Trump that would be considered beyond the pale. Both Griffin and Chu discovered that there are still some societal limits on what one can get away with, at least in public.
Chu’s reviews further reveal the double standards of contemporary identity politics. Imagine that instead of “white trash” Chu had used a comparably derogatory term to refer to a person or people of color. Or that she had mocked a person or persons of color as syntactically challenged or as being dependent on food stamps.
Does anyone think that it would have mattered if she had done so “only twice” or that she would have only been put on temporary leave? She would have been fired immediately, and no apologies or references to her “learning experience” would have availed her.
In short, if you are an uneducated and/or poor white person, you are dismissed as a “loser” who can expect no sympathy, no matter what your life circumstances. But if you are of a darker-hue, or have adopted a transgressive gender identity, you are a hero whose every personal failing is excused by your status as a victim of white or “cis” (gender) privilege.
The Chu reviews, however, were not the biggest embarrassment for Yale in recent weeks, or the clearest evidence of the rot that has infected America’s elite universities. At least in Chu’s case, Yale dissociated itself from her reviews and formally deemed them unsuitable for one in a position counseling students.
But at the recent Yale College graduation, the university put its formal imprimatur on the lunatic behavior of its students. At the graduation, the Nakanishi Prize for “enhancing race and/or ethnic relations at Yale College” was awarded to two students who physically menaced and harangued in gutter language former Silliman College “master” (a term no longer in use) Nicolas Christakis.
Clips of that confrontation have long circulated widely via social media much to Yale’s shame. That confrontation, readers may remember, was triggered by a memo from Yale’s dean of “student engagement,” Burgwell Howard, warning students against wearing Halloween costumes that “threaten our sense of community.”
In response, Erika Christakis, a Yale lecturer in early childhood development and co-master with her husband of Silliman College, sent an email to students in Silliman, in which she expressed the opinion that Yale college students should be mature enough to choose their own Halloween costumes without guidance from academic bureaucrats and to express their objections if offended by the costume of a fellow student, without calling in the college thought police. (As far as I know, there is no record of Halloween costumes being an issue at Yale.)
For urging that Yale undergraduates be treated and act like adults, Christakis was assailed by hundreds of Yale students, fellow faculty members, and off-campus agitators as a “white supremacist.”
Subsequently, Erika’s husband, Nicholas Christakis, a world-renowned sociologist and doctor, sought to engage students in a dialogue in the Silliman courtyard. Christakis advocated for the old-fashioned idea of the university as a place of free inquiry and civilized exchange in the pursuit of knowledge.
At one point, as described by James Kirchik at Tablet, a black male student moved toward Christakis and stood only inches from him “in a position of physical intimidation,” and demanded of Christakis, “Look at me.” He proceeded to lecture Christakis on his inability to comprehend racism because he is white.
But the most over-the-top hysterical reaction came from a female black student who launched an obscenity-laced tirade at Christakis, calling him “disgusting,” and yelling at him to “shut up.” He and his wife were unfit to serve as masters of the college, she insisted, because they had “created a space for violence to happen” and “stripped people of their humanity.”
Those two students were the ones awarded the prize by Yale for advancing race relations on campus. (Head of the selection committee: the aforementioned Dean of Student Engagement.) Behavior that would have likely merited expulsion a few decades back is now not only condoned but officially commended by Yale.
Yale’s capitulation to bullying only confirms the four rules for campus witch-hunts enunciated by Professor Jonathan Haidt, founder of the Heterodox Academy blog. (Haidt, like Kirchik, is a disillusioned former Yale undergraduate, who has stated publicly that he would never give another penny to his alma mater.)
Haidt’s four rules of modern campus blasphemy are: (1) Never object to a university diversity policy publicly; (2) Don’t think that your progressive bona fides will protect you. (As a Harvard undergraduate, Erika Christakis was one of the first interns at the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations. After graduation, she spent years working on public health projects in Bangladesh and Ghana); (3) If the mob comes for you, there is a good chance that the president of your university will side with the mob and validate its narrative, as Yale President Peter Salovey did; and (4) If a mob comes for you, assume that one or more members is willing to use violence against you, and that many members of the mob feel that violence is morally justifiable.
When these rules apply no less at Yale than at Evergreen State is it any wonder that a large swath, even a majority, of the public has lost faith not only in the competence of traditional elites, but in their basic sanity?
Jonathan Rosenblum is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and Israeli director of Am Echad.