BOKAT-LINDELL: Learning to care

Last week, a friend told me that he doesn’t care about 51 percent of the population.

I was showing him a video on Facebook of a Fox News story on Wikipedia Edit-A-Thons, a phenomenon that encourages volunteer editors to correct gendered or racial bias in Wikipedia articles.

Given that nine out of 10 Wikipedia editors are men, this seemed like a good project to me. Disposing of preconceived notions, eliminating bias, disseminating knowledge — that’s what we’re here for, right?

My friend didn’t seem to think so. He said he “didn’t know or care enough about the issue,” but also didn’t want Wikipedia to be injected with liberal bias.

At first, I was filled with an inarticulate, thought-constipating fury. There were so many things to say. The first thing that popped into my head was the truism that sexism hurts people of all genders. The second was to inform my friend that correcting for white male bias is not the same thing as actively “injecting” a liberal one.

But I realized that I’m not just disappointed in my suitemate.

I’m disappointed that besides one friend who sits next to me, there are only a handful of other men in my 135-person “Women in Modern America” class. I’m disappointed that I’m known as a “big feminist” in my friend group when I know there are so many other people on this campus who deserve that label more than I do. I’m concerned about students who weren’t as lucky as I was to come from an egalitarian high school or who didn’t join an a cappella group that just happened to have a lot of strong-minded females.

But mostly I’m troubled that my friend can complete two years of a Yale education and retain so much indifference, and that maybe he isn’t alone. He is part of a larger trend that I’ve noticed on campus, something I can only describe as intellectual tunnel vision.

I get it: You’re taking five and a half credits, you have tech for six hours every night next week and housing drama is making you want to give up and move into the tomb of that society that you didn’t get tapped for. Arcane research papers and problem sets might be all-consuming now, but eventually we’re going to be out in the real world and dealing with issues that don’t confine themselves to the margins of a notebook. I understand that it’s impossible to learn all there is to learn here, but having expertise in one area of study is only part of our jobs as Yale students. At the very least, we have to be ready to become well-informed citizens when we leave this place. That growth can come from stepping out of your comfort zone to take a class you know is important, but it can also come from engaging in difficult conversations with the 5,000 other brilliant people on this campus.

Feminism is not the only social issue to which we (particularly men) should take off our academic blinders — it’s just one that I’ve noticed. And although we tend to think that students in STEM fields are predisposed to more myopic studies by dint of their course schedules, the humanities also suffer from this pitfall. When I asked my literature professor why only one of the nine novels on the syllabus was written by a woman, he responded with the professorial equivalent of a shrug. Women make up a large portion of Yale students — you’ve probably met one — and yet we still relegate the female perspective to only one of 82 majors. In doing so, we tell men at Yale that it’s acceptable to ignore how our sex has filtered the lens through which we see society when we should be learning to level the playing field.

So is one answer to intellectual tunnel vision to have more specific distributional requirements? There’s no easy answer, but that might be something worth considering. All I can say is that a Yale education, at nearly a quarter of a million dollars a pop, does not afford for apathy. It is not enough to expect to become a more informed person just by being here. One of the most important things I’ve learned here is that nothing — not economics, not chemistry, not feminism — exists in a vacuum, and that the countless number of great conversations happening on campus can only be so productive until we all engage in them.

Spencer Bokat-Lindell is a sophomore in Morse College. Contact him at spencer.bokat-lindell@yale.edu.

Comments