Reality check: ‘Yale is not cultivating intolerance’

I have a great life. I live in a beautiful, new college in an impressive, old campus. I take classes on interesting things. Occasionally, I read the great books assigned for those classes.

Of course, my loyal reader (hi, Mom!) already knows all this, because I am a staff columnist for the Oldest College Daily. Editors and reporters work all hours for a little box that bears their name; I get nearly a thousand words to say whatever it is I happen to think. Sometimes people even read what I write; occasionally, they even compliment me (thanks, Mom!).

My columnist colleagues will agree that the best favor you can do us is to rebut our arguments in letters and columns of your own. To yell and to scream about our points implies that they are close enough to the truth to be mistaken for it and so are worth refuting. Ignored, we feel trivial. Those weeks that no one responds, we feel that we are once again that kid in the corner, complaining loudly to no avail. The whole exercise feels a bit like practicing a monologue and never auditioning — except our mistakes are on Google forever. (Or at least until Iran bombs Google headquarters, which would shut down the West, eliminate every trace of its canon, ruin Yale traditions and totally change the search results for the term “Google bomb.”)

A professor of mine once lectured on the difference between totalitarian and democratic regimes. In totalitarian regimes, dissent is suppressed and vital. In democratic regimes, dissent is tolerated and ignored. Democracies treat trivial speech as trivial. So do we. My professor and I continued to converse outside the classroom, walking from WLH and past Sterling. At the corner of High and Elm, at the heart of our campus, very near to our pristine Old Campus, several young men and women manned a table of literature for Lyndon LaRouche. LaRouche is a perennial Democratic candidate for president, a homophobe, a neo-Fascist, and an anti-Semite. I don’t recall the details of that day’s literature — the LaRouchies appear on campus from time to time — but the thrust was something about Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter and the Jews controlling the government. One “activist” stood in between my professor and me, hawking his hateful wares as my professor and I looked each other in the eye, shared a few parting thoughts on Tocqueville and Orwell, and bid each other goodbye, turning in opposite directions. The LaRouchie was left in the middle, talking to no one, ignored — exactly as he should have been.

We are often told about the end of activism, about how our generation does not protest; we just keep our heads down, drink a lot and follow the rules. The drinking a lot is probably a problem and merits more discussion. But it may be that people do not act any more in the way they once did because they do not see the same sorts of threats people once saw. The Lord knows our world has problems. But it may be that our classmates know that those problems don’t merit protest. When pitchers and catchers have reported for spring training and spring break is a week away, no one can say that the sky is falling. It isn’t. The sky is beautiful. The most pressing threat is losing a fly ball in the sun.

In the new CCL (or Bass Library, if you are an administrator or insufficiently appreciative of the millions of dollars other people spend for you to have a nice place to fall asleep over your Cold War reading), a group of classmates and I went into a new study room to prepare for a test. (Note to professors: This, of course, was not the night before the midterm. We actually have begun studying for finals. And I am dropping out of Yale at the end of the term to start as catcher for the New York Mets.) Unable to find an empty room, we joined a room with some other students, who promptly blasted loud music to drive us out. Eventually, we caved and left. I was ready to write a column about the decay of Yale fellowship, when one of my compatriots forwarded a letter of apology the offending noisemaker had e-mailed. She was stressed, she explained, and had taken the stress out on us.

I was floored. For months I have been told about how Yalies can’t stand Yale’s diversity, how hatred lurks just beneath the surface of our idyllic campus. But I don’t believe it.

Yale isn’t cultivating intolerance. My library interaction provides more evidence about the culture of this campus than any trivial, anonymous pranks. Yalies are tolerant of our diverse classmates to the point of tracking down strangers they have slighted to apologize.

So here’s the moral, if there must be one: There is no culture of hatred. Let’s not pretend there is. And one more moral: When you catch a pop fly on a sunny day, if you can’t see the ball, catch the sun.

Michael Pomeranz is a junior in Silliman College. His column runs on alternate Mondays.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    now yale is no fascist country but having one good day does not make yale a paragon of virtue. i would have thought this article written by a freshman, for its simplicity and obliviousness. i was left wondering, at the end of this article, you had a good day at yale. did it really merit a whole op-ed? haha.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, La Fontaine, for the moral. It was long-awaited and desperately needed. Once again, your razor wit has really cut to the core of the issue.

    I'm going to ignore the lame jokes and move on to the meat of this op-ed: namely your assumption that everyone on this campus shares your seemingly idyllic lived experience both on-campus and, more importantly, back home. The assumption is that access to privilege and shelter from bias is uniform to Yale students. While this school is disproportionately represented by private school alumni, even that experience is not monolithic. You may have successfully ignored your LaRouchie attacker, but it's harder to ignore that person when they're sitting across from you at a desk, issuing your mortgage or determining your citizenship status. The pain of those words bites harder when they come from the mouths of peers, or even friends, in a high school class, than from the mouth of a stranger. For many the skies are a little less clear, there are fewer reasons to click their heals.

    Regardless, no one has thus far implied that Yale is "cultivating" a culture of hatred. No one is asking Yale to even apologize. Yale didn't do it, some jerk did. Yale just hasn't been particularly responsive to creating structures that recognize acts on campus (ask me for the list one day, it is long and contains things more intimate than graffiti). In fact the creation of a well-publicized board for such cases would mean the Pomeranzes on campus won't have to have their precious Orwell discussions disrupted by rallies. It's really simple and reasonable, would probably involve receiving just a single email-per-idiotic-occurrence you can ignore, but would create a public record you cannot.

    Luis

    PS The argument that Yale is spending so much money on us that we should just turn a blind eye to public incidents is softer than mozzarella. Try again.

  • Anonymous

    Nicely written piece, Mike. The endearingly random tidbits of humor aside, I think you've gotten at a sentiment a lot of us feel (even minority Yalies like myself)--that bizarre, if excessively publicized--isolated incidents ought not to define our experiences at Yale. I'm sympathetic to the remarks of Luis M above, however, I don't agree with the assertion that the University has done anything improper or inappropriate in all this. I'm not sure what the activists mean exactly by "redress" for being offended at [insert random stupid incident x], but quite frankly, if it's something I can safely ignore, knowing it need not effect my life/experience at Yale in any bothersome way, then I suppose it might be at worst innocuous.

    Yale is an awesome place not really conducive to bigotry (although it does exist here, as it does everywhere in more forms than any--or most--of us would care to count). At the end of the day, I'm still feeling very comfortable here, more so, in fact, than my very diverse (much more so than Yale) high school/community.

    And Luis, I don't think Mike's point was that we should turn a blind eye because of the money being lavished on us. Rather, he seems to be suggesting that our incredibly spoiled (though not necessarily in a bad way) treatment by the University thus far might have led some of us to think we're entitled to much more than we actually are--e.g. not being offended, which as has been said before, is NOT and NEVER ought to be a right.

  • anonymouse

    this minority Yalie believes that the so-called culture of hatred is nonexistent at Yale.

  • kiwi

    Bravo! If a rondom good word does not world peace make, certainly a drunken scribble doesn't mean the sky is falling.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with your point, but I think you take way to long getting there. It would have been a better column had you cut to the chase sooner.

    #4--I totally agree with you, as a religious minority, but not a racial one. Coming from a place where there is still a culture of hate, bigotry, and ignorance (the south, even in it's cities), I find Yale a wonderful breath of fresh air.
    The problem, though, is that because of this generally tolerant atmosphere here, most incidents tend to get blown out of proportion because there isn't a lot to compare them to, and seem to stick out a lot more.

  • Anonymous

    Luis,

    Why do you feel the need to be so dismissive of every point of view you disagree with? It's possible to feel differently from someone's editorial without trying to belittle their thoughts with sarcasm or refer to their discussions as "precious."

    And who at Yale is issuing your mortgage or determining your citizenship status? The editorial was about Yale. If you're angry at society in general, that's unfortunate, but it's also irrelevant to the point the editorial was making.

    Just because not everyone here (or in the world beyond college) finds reasons to protest all the time does not justify your decision to heap scorn upon them.

  • Anonymous

    O-Em-Gee! A rich white male enjoys a comfortable existence at Yale University! The End of History(TM) rocks!

  • Khalil

    It's nice to be white. 1 in 9 young Black men will go to jail in this deeply racist country. 16 Million people without documents make this economy run, but are treated like trash. Our war for Iraq's oil has seen 2-3 Million die in the last 17 years through sanctions and war. But none of this matters. It's nice to be white.

  • Anonymous

    If we were really waging a war for oil, you'd think gas prices would be lower, no?

  • Chris Coughlin

    I have read LaRouche's warnings about a pending derivatives disaster for at least a decade. He warned the collapse of the derivatives pyramid would wipe out Wall St., most banking institutions, retirement programs, endowment funds, and personal wealth, since the size of the derivative debt was larger than the entire value of physical and monetary assets of The United States. Was he an extremist wing nut? No. He is an expert economist, who attempted to warn Americans and the world that insanity ruled the investment and banking community.
    Yale students would be wise to check where the endowment funds of their college are held, and by whom. Note that student loans in many states are on hold, as states scramble for operating funds. Welcome to real life, brought to you by Skull and Bones.