Attending a university like Yale, it is easy to forget just how much hate and intolerance exists in the world.
Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against a lesbian who sued her ex-husband to acquire custody of the couple’s three children. After the court’s unanimous decision, traditionally conservative Justice Roy Moore submitted an unusual full concurrence in which he described homosexuality as “an inherent evil,” a “detestable and an abominable sin,” and “an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it.” Furthermore, Moore suggested confinement and execution of homosexuals as a means for the State to “prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle.”
I am deeply troubled that this event failed to incite the activism of the LGBT, human rights, and liberal communities on campus. In fact, I would hope that other groups –such as the Korean American Students at Yale, the Yale College Council, and the football team — would be similarly infuriated by these proceedings and likewise feel compelled to dissent.
The vast majority of social advocacy at Yale takes the form of direct outreach work, rather than activism. Most Dwight Hall organizations are mentoring groups, tutoring programs, and local service organizations for the city’s needy. Missing both in number and membership are groups such as Students Against Sweatshops, the Student Labor Action Coalition, STARC, and others dedicated to grassroots activism and broad, social movements.
Is working once a week with a third-grader at Amistad Academy inherently more fulfilling than lobbying against unfair prison sentences? Is it more utilitarian for a Yale student to walk the streets at night passing around sandwiches to homeless people than to write letters to Mayor DeStefano requesting more homeless shelters? Or, is it just that working with the underprivileged looks better on a resume?
Most Yalies don’t even seem remotely interested in discussing these issues. My friends and I have never debated welfare reform, oil embargoes, or urban redevelopment over dinner, or outside of the classroom. Rather, our conversations revolve around our grades, our job prospects, and our plans for Spring Break. Regardless of whether we are taking action against these social ills, are we even thinking about them?
I would say that we are not, that we are too concerned with ourselves and our own futures to think about others whose lives do not directly touch our own. Rather, our scope of concern seems only to see the uneducated and destitute directly around us. In this sense, the majority of students here seem mainly self-directed. Those who want to classify themselves as socially-minded citizens are either too intimidated or too lazy to actually do anything about it. I include myself in this category.
Still, this is not to say that some groups are not actively campaigning for social change. Last semester, a small group called Ecopledge gathered signatures to demand that large corporations readjust their environmental policies. Also, the Queer Students Association organizes panels at local high schools to stimulate open dialogue regarding LGBT issues among students. While I am not suggesting that social activism does not exist at Yale, students seem to be either consumed with social ills or oblivious to them.
As a closeted queer on this campus for the past three and a half years, I have stood back as I saw anti-gay posters in my bathroom during Pride Week and heard members on my waterpolo team constantly rib on effeminate peers. I’ve even been too afraid to wear a white t-shirt and jeans as a sign of support on National Coming-Out Day. I am not less culpable than anyone else who has seen themselves or their friends victimized, belittled, or even threatened by hatred.
Yet, why do students like myself allow these injustices to persist? Do we not care about the lack of healthcare for the elderly because we aren’t old yet? Are we intimidated by how much of the rainforest has already been cleared for timber to think that we can stop the rest from being destroyed? We are too educated to pretend either that these problems do not exist or that we cannot do anything about them.
So, where does this leave us? I know that we don’t even realize how outraged we really should be because we don’t pay enough attention to what is going on around us. I know that change comes not only on the macro-level, but also through the changes we make in our own lives. And I know that Yale has the respect and potential to be a vocal, leading instigator of major change.
So to those, like myself, who are often too lazy to read the Nation & World section of the Yale Daily News, too tired to attend a Master’s Tea given by Matthew Shephard’s mother, or too intimidated to attend a QSA meeting, I say: Don’t wait for everyone else to solve the world’s problems.
There is too much injustice going on all around us, and we are too smart to act as though it does not exist.
Kurtland Ma is a senior in Silliman College.