On “Protester Derangement Syndrome” and Just Saying No to the Student Body

Raised in Texas, far from prep school culture, Esteban Elizondo always felt a bit out of place at Yale. The sit-ins, protests, and angry mobs he saw on campus seemed like scenes you would expect from people living under severe oppression, not students attending a top dollar Ivy League school. So, in 2017, when some grad students announced a hunger strike as part of an attempt to unionize, he decided to do something.

With some funding from the College Republicans, he hosted a barbecue – right next to the hunger strike. It was a huge success. Not only did a hundred or so students turn out, he was very encouraged to find other like-minded people on campus.

He wrote about the incident recently at the New York Post, mentioning the hunger strike and other weird displays of emotional psychosis as examples of what he calls Protester Derangement Syndrome, or PDS. "Yale students afflicted with PDS display derangement symptoms similar to an oppressed religious cult. … Honestly, I do not care one way or the other about graduate student unions. I'm not even a member of the Yale College Republicans. What I took issue with was the detached self-gratification that motivated their little stunt. Why should people like me be silent when individuals appropriate the sacrifices of true activists to push their own agendas?"

 But while he doesn't mince words about the ridiculousness of the students' behavior, he lays blame for it squarely with the university and its de facto policy of student appeasement. "The Yale administration believes they can treat PDS through concessions and pacification," he wrote. "Unfortunately, their prescription has been ineffective." Comically, he compares the dynamic between the students and administrators to the storyline in the children's book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It's a charming story, but it does playfully illustrate the cycle that can set in when people in authority lack the will to say, "No." Every time the boy gives the mouse what it wants, it immediately wants something more, until finally, things come full circle, and it wants another cookie.

There are at least two lessons for all of us in this. First, contrast the behavior of these Yale students (for a longer version, see here), who excoriated Professor Nicholas Christakis after his wife Erika, also a faculty member, had gently pushed back against university guidelines regarding Halloween costumes, with the comparative peace at Purdue after it diplomatically said "No" to students and faculty objecting to having a Chick-fil-A on campus. Lesson One: People in authority need to set boundaries, and sometimes, "No" is the right answer.

Second, look at what Esteban did. Not being in a position to say "No" to the ones making unreasonable demands, he found a brilliant (and delicious!) way to call them out while at the same time connecting with like-minded people on campus. Lesson Two: Leaders who set positive examples inspire and attract followers.

In those places where you're the authority, take courage and say "No" when "No" is the right answer. When you're not in a position of authority, look for creative ways to offer positive alternatives to objectionable behavior. Where possible, sweeten the deal. Esteban's barbecue sit-in was a stroke of genius for connecting with allies and roasting the ridiculous all at the same time.

is a freelance writer and blogger on apologetics and matters of faith.
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