I’m so old I can remember when students used to protest when administrators tried to impose rules and dress codes regulating their behavior. Now student snowflakes and their supporters protest when administrators don’t.
My memory of student protest in days gone by has been prompted by the eruption of yet another controversy in Charlottesville. More on that in a moment, but first, while we’re still in memory mode, readers will recall that perhaps the archetype of students vociferously demanding to be told what they can and cannot wear occurred in New Haven several years ago when angry snowflakes confronted Professors Nicholas and Erika Christakis, masters of one of Yale’s residential colleges, and demanded their resignations. They objected to an email from Erika suggesting that Yale students ought to be mature enough to pick their own Halloween costumes free of rules from the Yale administration. “We should reflect more transparently, as a community,” she had written, “on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.”
Yale students, however, demanded to be told what they could and could not wear. In the end, Nicholas resigned from his position as Master of Silliman College but remained a tenured faculty member. Erika resigned from Yale altogether, citing in a depressing Washington Post OpEd a year later the intimidation and imposed conformity at Yale:
Numerous professors, including those at Yale’s top-rated law school, contacted us personally to say that it was too risky to speak their minds. Others who generously supported us publicly were admonished by colleagues for vouching for our characters. Many students met with us confidentially to describe intimidation and accusations of being a “race traitor” when they deviated from the ascendant campus account that I had grievously injured the community…. One professor I admire claimed my lone email was so threatening that it unraveled decades of her work supporting students of color. One email.
Fast forward to Charlottesville, where activists have been protesting — including several arrests at a recent school board meeting — about the Albemarle County School Board’s dress code. The complaint? That the Board has not specifically banned any and all Confederate symbols on clothing. Such symbols, say the protesters, “make students of color fear for their safety and do not create an equal learning environment.”
I wonder whose safety would be more at risk these days: a student who saw a Confederate symbol on a tee shirt, or the student wearing the tee shirt.
I also wonder what today’s Charlottesville protesters would make of a Time magazine column Erika Christakis wrote, three years before her troubles at Yale, defending a gay student in Ohio who had been barred from wearing a tee shirt with the slogan “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe.”
Both ganders and geese, in short, should think long and hard before urging administrative bureaucrats to dish out discriminatory sauce to their enemies.
Turns out I’m not the only one with memories provoked by this controversy. The Albemarle County School Board also has a memory. As the Charlottesville Daily Progress reports,
In 2003, the county schools lost a similar dress-code case in which a student arrived to class wearing a National Rifle Association T-shirt. Citing in part the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case of Tinker v. Des Moines, Senior Judge Clyde Hamilton said Jack Jouett Middle School had been unconstitutionally overbroad in banning messages on clothing related to weapons under its dress code.
So what we have here are angry protesters exercising their First Amendment rights to protest a school board, mindful of the First Amendment, that is, at least so far, reluctant to ban controversial symbols.
In Charlottesville, as in so many contemporary college towns, irony is solely lacking.