Freshmen, you’ve most likely read former Yale associate professor William Deresiewicz’s scathing critique of the place you just entered, an essay that’s sparked an avalanche of responses from all corners.
“Kids at less prestigious schools are apt to be more interesting, more curious, more open and far less entitled and competitive,” Deresiewicz wrote in his July piece in the New Republic, which has become the most-read story in the magazine’s history. Referring to Ivy League students as “out-of-touch, entitled little shit[s],” Deresiewicz attacks us for shamelessly inhabiting a world of privilege with disregard for genuine self-betterment and social progress.
Attacks on the Ivy League — or Yale in particular — have existed as long as the institutions themselves. Over the past few years, critiques of the Ivy League have become particularly prominent both due to the rising debate over income inequality and the controversy over college responses to sexual assault. Such criticism should cause us to examine our experience.
As you embark on your first few weeks at Yale, it may be challenging to prevent Deresiewicz’s harsh indictments from shaping perceptions of your new home. It’s easy to view many of your classmates through his sweeping lens: as elitist, pretentious, risk averse. But it’s crucial to remember that Deresiewicz is just one person. His generalizations are sensational.For example, his comments on Yale’s socioeconomic diversity and tuition ignore the University’s need-blind financial aid policy. We are at the heart of the systems Deresiewicz criticizes, and thus we also have the power to change the very nature of this raging debate.
Deresiewicz’s vitriol falls indiscriminately, but he does raise valid questions. He asks, as we always should, whether our admissions process is a meritocracy. He cautions against a resume-driven culture. He reminds us that society should guarantee a first-rate education for all citizens, no matter what school they enroll in.
These criticisms, however, come with the greatest nuance and urgency when vocalized by members of our community confronting these issues. Look around to first-generation college students and those charting their own non-traditional career paths after Yale. Behind Deresiewicz’s statistics are individuals who subvert his oversimplifications.
The systems in which we are embedded help shape us, but we have the privilege to fight against them — to exert the necessary pressure for greater socioeconomic diversity, for greater intellectual diversity, for a higher standard of conversation. The simplest way to waste our degrees is to accept them blindly.