To register that someone is saying something right does not mean you are entirely on their side, any more than understanding well why the students felt as angry and unhappy as they did means you agree with everything they said. Indeed, the idea that we must choose sides here is very much the problem. The task facing colleges today is how to combine these two ideals—college as an equally inviting and safe place for all its students, committed to the free and sometimes critical exchange of ideas—without sacrificing either substantially.

I have no idea how to do that. I’m pretty sure, however, that demonizing either side won’t bring us a whit closer. Champions of free speech have moved quickly to dismiss the students’ views and to highlight the disruptions to basic civility that accompanied their expression (one publication harshly dubbed one obviously upset student in the video “the shrieking woman”), all the while forgetting that we are dealing with young men and women who feel they can finally voice concerns about marginalization and mistreatment they have suffered for years and who live in a country that, of late, has presented dramatic evidence that the lives of some people don’t matter as much as the lives of others. On the other side, advocates of the students’ ideal of college will simply see Christakis and his ilk as the unvarnished enemy, perhaps even joining Jelani Cobb’s disgraceful suggestion in the New Yorker that today’s champions of free speech are simply re-enacting the “Negrophobe” thinking that seeks to maintain subordination of those who are not white. Neither of these responses is productive. Whether colleges can be genuinely welcoming places that do the important work they are built to do will depend, in the coming years, on finding a way forward that avoids both of them.

David McCabe, “Two Ideals of College: What Yale Can Teach Us”