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.

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