Photo credit: Ivanastar/iStock
By A. Douglas Stone and Mary Schwab-Stone
Erika Christakis used to teach a course at Yale titled “The Concept of the Problem Child,” a discussion of child development and socialization in a historical and modern context. The course was a seminar of 20 participants, and it was popular; she had planned extra sessions this semester to accommodate the hundreds of interested students.
Then came the notorious email — subject: “Dressing Yourselves” — that she sent to students in the residence hall where she and her husband serve as masters. In it, she criticized a detailed memo from administrators advising sensitivity in choice of Halloween costumes and activities. The essential point in the email: The university’s memo infantilized the students. The term, in developmental psychology, refers to a parenting approach that uses a level of assistance and control more appropriate for much younger children; ultimately, such behavior can hinder capacities to develop independence and resilience.
Despite Ms. Christakis’s nuanced argument, an open letter denounced her views as degrading to marginalized people and garnered nearly a thousand signatures, and a video of students confronting and verbally assaulting her husband went viral.
We helped organize an open letter of our own, defending Ms. Christakis’s contribution to campus discourse; it was signed by 88 current or retired Yale faculty members. But as a result of the harsh reaction she experienced, she announced in December that she would no longer teach at Yale, eliminating an important educational option for undergraduates.
While this dramatic incident raised concerns about free speech and civil debate on campus, it is also worth analyzing it from a developmental perspective. After all, universities are the settings for the transition to adulthood for a large segment of American youth.
Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.