The value of good, honest talk

The diversity of thought, experience and opinion on the Yale campus is an oft-praised feature of the institution, and it is one of the primary reasons why I made the decision to venture to New Haven in search of a fine Ivy League education one year ago. During the course of my freshman year, however, reality hit, and this celebrated selling point of the University transformed into the cause of many a raucous late night debate in room SW-329 and the obvious source of my growing chemical dependence on Advil Liqui-Gels. I mean, I wanted diversity, albeit not sleeping in the beds four feet away from mine. I know now that it was just overexposure — too many new people that I knew too little about living in too close of quarters.

Some freshmen may be experiencing the feelings of ideological estrangement I experienced last year around this time: not expecting their roommates to differ with them on just about every fundamental life issue — on matters of religion, sexuality, politics, morality, culture, etc. When I arrived on campus, I had to re-examine my beliefs. The convictions I had come to believe in so strongly were being challenged every day by student political organizations and by friends in dining hall discussions. The mission of constantly justifying my belief system to others who hadn’t known me for the past 18 years of my life was not an easy one. But it hasn’t been a test without its rewards.

I have found that most of the beliefs I packed up at home and brought to Yale have not changed — the continual questioning of my convictions has really only made them stronger in the end. Yale’s diversity is, most definitely, a wonderful thing. I learned that I simply had to open my mind to different beliefs for me to fully appreciate all that Yale had to offer.

In this country, we are allowed to express our beliefs, but are obligated to do so in a constructive and respectful fashion. Open communication and mutual respect are integral to the preservation of free expression.

Diversity without respectful and honest communication can be a volatile mixture I’ve learned. Such is the case with the verbal bashing of the pro-life student organization CLAY, Choose Life at Yale, by two students, Sophie Pinkham ’04 and Sonia von Gutfeld ’04. After reading the students’ response, “Choose Life at Yale could set a foolish precedent,” 9/12 to the News’ article, “Group asks UHS for abortion rebate,” (9/10), I felt the need to compose a reply of my own.

By going on the immediate offensive against CLAY, describing the group’s actions as “foolish” and “petty,” Pinkham and Gutfeld undermine their credibility as citizens of the Yale community who are willing to listen to different opinions. And they misunderstand the symbolic mission of CLAY, which is to allow students who don’t support abortions have their opinions heard on the issue.

As a Christian and Roman Catholic, my religion prohibits abortion, which is believed to be the termination of a wholly innocent life. I, along with many other students at Yale, believe abortion to be a destructive and immoral choice. My faith is an important part of my life and the issue of abortion is very serious business. For someone to disrespect this belief by equivocating the practice of abortion to vegetarianism or by oversimplifying CLAY’s argument down to tuition rebates and monetary transactions is insulting.

CLAY’s proposal for a rebate would act as a symbolic measure through which students could, without great fanfare or insolence, let their opinions concerning abortion become known. This is the objective and intent of the group; it is not to harass women or hinder them from receiving abortions, as Pinkham and Gutfeld wrongly suggested. CLAY’s proposed act is one of compassion and symbolism.

Open, civil dialogue between CLAY and those organizations that support abortion rights is necessary and would help Yale students better understand their own opinions on the complicated issue of abortion. We should all openly recognize the benefits of an organization such as CLAY that can act as a foil to a group like the Reproductive Rights Action League at Yale.

Diversity without open communication creates an uneasy campus atmosphere in which intimidation suppresses the opinions of individuals. The freedom of one to disagree with another is fundamental. But the obligation for one to disagree respectfully is even more so.



Austin Broussard is a sophomore in Morse College.

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