ZELINSKY: A constant conversation

On Point

This is my 53rd — and last — column for the Yale Daily News.

When I first took to these pages, I never intended to make it a habit. Three years ago, I wrote about the New Haven Promise program, then recently announced by University President Richard Levin, and the flaws inherent in Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s school reform. I had written because I cared about the issues — I cared as a lifelong New Haven resident worried about his city and as a Yalie worried for his alma mater.

nathaniel zelinksy headshot (by kat oshman)For the next 51 columns, I always tried to write about what I believed.

As Yale students, we possess a unique opportunity: For four years, we have the luxury to engage in a constant conversation. In my particular case, I chose the News as the home for that conversation. But classrooms, dining halls, Cross Campus — these are just some of the many other forums for our dialogue. It is our privilege to debate one another and to champion the causes we think are important.

At the core of this privilege lies an argument: that ideas matter — that the conversation at Yale can have a ripple effect beyond the academy’s walls. And it’s an expensive proposition; society spends an awful lot to send us here.

On occasion, it can seem our community falls short of the price tag. Sometimes, we are afraid of offending each other and so we self-censor. In my three years as a columnist, I learned that there were some topics I just couldn’t touch. And issues I did care about and wrote about landed me in hot water, even with my closest friends. We all know we can be more “successful” by staying within the boundaries.

At other times, we are just downright apathetic. A case in point: I have never engaged in a protest at Yale. If I had to guess, most of my peers haven’t either. Sure, some student groups attempt to “raise awareness” by passing out fliers. But when was the last time you participated in raucous rally for something you really cared about?

On the whole though, despite these occasional hiccups, Yale works. We buy into the proposition that what we study, what we write and what we say can impact our society. And — most crucially — we generally, in one way or another, end up standing for something.

As I prepare to leave Yale, I have been asking myself: What did I stand for? In these pages, I have defended all forms of free expression — from the boorish DKE chants of 2010 to Sex Week. I have advocated for intellectual diversity — the notion that all ideas, especially dissenting ones, contain value. I have consistently argued that our culture impacts our academics, and that we must critically re-evaluate both.

It is easier to take stances at Yale, in part because our community is one endless conversation. And it is also our responsibility, precisely because it is easier, to take these stances. As my peers and I graduate, we will enter a world where standing for our values becomes increasingly difficult. After all, who talks politics at the workplace? So to those who will remain in the academy: Make use of your privilege and make your convictions known.

But our obligation to ideas and to our values does not simply end when we leave Yale. It may get harder to write an op-ed or speak out about our beliefs, but the issues are no less important. Our job is to take the Yale we love, that constant conversation, and transplant it into wherever we live — to be sources of “light and truth” in our future communities. I hope that I will, and I hope that you will.

To my editors, to my readers: Thank you.

Nathaniel Zelinsky is a senior in Davenport College. This is his last column for the News. Contact him at nathaniel.zelinsky@yale.edu .

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