‘An activist, not a politician’

Bobby Shriver LAW ’81 told the News last Tuesday that his father, Robert Sargent Shriver ’38 LAW ’41 was “an activist, not a politician.”

During his tenure at Yale, Shriver — a religiously devout public servant — used his editorials in the pages of this newspaper as his pulpit to reach out to his fellow students and express opinions that colored and defined his later work.

As Chairman of the News in 1937, Shriver regularly wrote pieces commenting upon and critiquing the University and the world at a time when the global political landscape was extremely volatile.

In a Mar. 18, 1938 editorial on international politics as World War II approached, Shriver encouraged the United States to reach out to European nations.

“Our hope for peace does not lie in extreme isolationism,” he wrote.

When Shriver created the Peace Corps in 1961, its mission was built upon his vision for international peace. Through the program, Americans were encouraged to abandon isolationism — the rejection of which, as Shriver wrote, “is the best way to keep our heads” — and extend aid to the international community.

While promoting this ideology, Shriver encouraged constant vigilance on the part of the Yale community in several editorials about the peace propaganda in circulation at the time.

“Pacifism, which expects to prevent war by way of ‘horror’ propaganda and ‘educating the public’ is in this respect a superficial creed,” he wrote in a Feb. 2, 1938 editorial. “It does not recognize the complexity of the factors in the peace-time world and ultimately in the nature of man which produces war.”

In response to pacifism, Shriver offered a more proactive model based upon civil intervention and outreach.

Dismayed that Yale did not guarantee its graduates a basic knowledge of American history, Shriver protested this perceived oversight in a Jan. 20, 1938 editorial.

“It seems almost inconceivable that Yale should turn out as educated men students whose sole knowledge of United States history was gained in the eighth grade at grammar school,” he wrote. “[They do not have] even a rudimentary acquaintance with the social, economic and constitutional problems of this country’s last 150 years.”

As he would later demonstrate through the creation of numerous social justice organizations, including Head Start, Job Corps and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Shriver believed it crucial to help his fellow Americans and create a society comprised of informed, active citizens. He was aghast that an institution such as Yale did not foster the seeds of public service through education about the United States.

Shriver remained passionate about the importance of education to foster equality and peace. The core goal of the Head Start program, founded by the Shriver-headed Office of Economic Opportunity in 1965, is to provide expanded educational and social services to low-income children and their families.

But Shriver’s interest in national issues did not distract him from the realities of undergraduate life at Yale. In an editorial from Nov. 6, 1937, Shriver began a crusade for equality on a far smaller scale — on Old Campus.

Writing about redistribution of student housing, Shriver said that each student should have equal opportunity on Old Campus in order to “achieve the unity of feeling so necessary to a complete Yale life.”

For Shriver, his “complete Yale life” laid the groundwork for a lifetime of influential thought and action.

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