On a campus that groomed the likes of William F. Buckley Jr. and both presidents Bush, politically involved students — from anti-globalization protesters dressed as superheros to bow tie-clad members of conservative parties — all say one thing:
This isn’t your grandfather’s Yale.
Putting Yale’s history as a bastion for the wealthy and conservative into the past, the current undergraduate population falls strongly on the leftward end of the political spectrum, say students.
With registered Democrats in Ward 1, the electoral district which includes Old Campus and eight of the residential colleges, outnumbering Republicans seven to one, students say Yale’s liberal leanings are not difficult to discern. But a smaller, less vocal group of conservatives still abound, students add, as do plenty of outlets for opinions liberal, conservative or anything in between.
“I think Yale is generally tagged as being a liberal campus, and for the most part that’s true,” said Abi Vladeck ’04, who identifies herself as very liberal. “I think there’s also a pretty vocal minority of more conservative students, and at the same time I think there’s a good community of leftists.”
Like many politically active students, Vladeck participates in many activist organizations, including Students Against Sweatshops, the Student Labor Action Coalition and the Student Alliance to Reform Corporations. In April, Vladeck, along with other members of a coalition protesting the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, donned black clothing, an American flag cape and a Burger King crown reading “Free Trade Now $$.” She attended classes as “The Hegemon,” a “super-villain” who propagates American corporate values.
But while not often seen wearing superhero costumes, many other students participate in political groups across campus. Such groups range from the college wings of real political parties, such as the Yale College Democrats and Yale College Republicans, to the Yale Political Union, which includes six factions that span from the Liberals and Progressives to the Tories and the Party of the Right.
While the Yale College Democrats and Republicans tend to focus more on registering voters and working on national or local campaigns, YPU members say their organization is involved with debates and hosting speakers.
Vladeck and her cohorts haven’t been the only ones drawing attention for unusual attire. Members of the conservative YPU Party of the Right made themselves notable by wearing suits and bow ties to a speech by Ralph Nader last fall, for example.
While many students fall somewhere between superheros and bow tie-wearers, nearly everyone can find their niche, said Howard Clark ’01, former president of the Yale College Republicans.
“For any political viewpoint there is an organization for someone here, ” Clark said. “But Republicans are definitely in the minority.”
Other conservative students said they thought their views were shared by more Yalies than it might seem.
“The campus is majority liberal but I think all views are expressed on campus and represented, ” said Chris Schildt ’02, co-chair of the Yale College Republicans. “We kind of get lost in the crowd, but we try to make our views known and fit in with the rest of community as best we can.”
But while Yale may still be one of the best places to sound off on current affairs, not all students are politically involved.
“Many people say ‘I’m liberal and that’s enough,'” Vladeck said. “I think a lot of people don’t necessarily think about politics on a day to day basis.”