Jerelyn Luther has been identified as the student who yelled at Yale professor Nicholas Christakis for not letting Yale be a safe space, The Daily Caller reported. The protest occurred after Christakis’ wife said that she thought students shouldn’t be so sensitive about Halloween costumes. During Luther’s speech at the Yale student protest last week, she yelled out: “Who the **** hired you?” It turns out that she was on the search team that brought Christakis to Yale.
The protest was sparked not only by the email about the costumes, but a series of racially tense events that have occurred at Yale. Since the protest, the president of Yale, Peter Salovey, has vowed to be more sensitive to racial tensions at Yale. He said that before Thanksgiving, he’s going to unveil a plan to improve the college experience for students of color via both form and informal practices, The Washington Post reported.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Jerelyn Luther Was on the Search Team that Hired Nicholas Christakis
Jerelyn Luther, Class of 2016, was actually part of the search team that hired Nicholas Christakis as the Master of Silliman College at Yale. During the protest, she was recorded yelling at Christakis: “Who the **** hired you?” In February, Christakis was appointed to his new position, MyScience reported, and the job started on July 1, 2015. Christakis, a social scientist and physician, is a professor of social and natural science at Yale and a 1984 graduate of Yale.
In the article that discusses Christakis’ appointment, the members of his search committee are listed. Luther was one of eight people on the committee. Regarding his appointment, Christakis said at the time:
It is my hope to really get to know the students and give them a secure attachment to a Silliman community that lifts them up and fosters a spirit of adventure that comes from this sort of understanding.”
2. During the Protest, She Told Christakis That He Shouldn’t Be Master of Silliman College If He Doesn’t Believe In Making the Campus a Safe Space
The protest took place on Friday, with more than 100 students gathering to talk to Christakis about an email this his wife sent to the students at Yale about Halloween costumes, Yale Daily News reported. During the protest, Luther had a lot of things to say to Christakis, and she was often applauded and encouraged by the other students. She accused Christakis of creating an unsafe space at Yale. When he protested, she yelled, “Be quiet!” She then said that in his position, it was his job to create a place of comfort and a home for students. He protested that job description and she began yelling. “Then why the **** did you accept the position?” She continued, telling him that he should step down because his job wasn’t just about creating an intellectual space.
The protests were about not just the Halloween costume email, but other racially tense situations that have occurred at Yale recently, where students believe the college doesn’t support a racially diverse culture. A fraternity at Yale, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, is accused of turning away black women from a recent party, which the fraternity’s president has denied, The Washington Post reported. Students have posted signs urging Yale to support students and faculty of color and to support ethnic studies. In a closed-door meeting, Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, told students that the university had failed them and will release a plan before Thanksgiving that will help students of color feel more welcome.
3. The Protest Occurred After Nicholas and Erika Christakis Disagreed With the Idea of Censoring Halloween Costumes
The protest focused on an email sent by Nicholas’ wife, Erika Christakis, who is associate headmaster of Silliman College at Yale. The email suggested that students should not be overly sensitive about Halloween costumes that play on minority cultures, The Daily Caller reported. She advised students to look away or voice discomfort in the costumes. In her email, Erika wondered if there was still room for a young person to be a bit obnoxious, inappropriate, or offensive. She wrote, in part:
American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition…”
Students at Yale fired back, saying that her email created an unsafe environment. They called for the couple’s resignation. The professors initially responded by posting news articles on Twitter (such as the one linked above) about free speech and the coddling of American college students:
Nicholas Christakis has since apologized for any role he played in the controversy that erupted from his wife’s email, The Washington Post reported. He said that the encounter at the protest broke his heart and he cares about the same issues that they care about.
4. Luther Is a Journalist Who Loves the Outdoors
Luther is a journalist who has worked with a number of student publications, including serving as an online editor and writer for The Yale Globalist. She wrote for The Globalist while traveling in Israel and then moved on to becoming an editor. She oversees beat bloggers who cover foreign events around the world.
She also worked for a time for her mother’s PR agency, Creative Solutions. Although Luther’s biography is no longer on the website, you can see a cached version here. Her work included writing blogs for clients, researching, helping with payroll, and participating in community outreach. According to The Daily Caller, Luther comes from a wealthy background and lives in a family home worth $760,000.
A now deleted page about Master’s Aides at Silliman College describes her as a senior who loves eating chocolate chip cookies, according to the cached version of the page. She’s also a head coordinator for FOOT (Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trips.) The biography says that she enjoys hiking, yoga, and anything to do with good food.
5. She Describes Herself as Having a Passion for Social Justice And Volunteers to Help the Homeless
Much of Luther’s information is lost, as she’s taken down her Twitter and Facebook profiles and her Instagram page is private. However, what remains shows that she’s a coordinator for Project Homeless Connect, which offers social and health care services to the homeless. According to her bio at The Globalist, she also works with the Yale Refugee Project. Her bio on PresentTense describes her as having a passion for social justice and helping others.