The morning my roommates asked me to eat breakfast with them in the dining hall, I didn’t know what to say. So I stayed in my room eating my shredded wheat — not to make a statement but to put off taking a stand on the strike.
And as I walked into WLH on Wednesday to shop my first class of the day, I wasn’t heckled, I wasn’t yelled at, and I wasn’t even forced to cross an actual line of picketers as I entered the building.
The strikers only tried to give me a flyer.
As a New Yorker, I’ve been trained to ignore any piece of paper that is stuck in front of my face. Yet as I walked by, apologizing on my way, I could not help but scan the bold words on the top of the leaflet. “My conscience or my education?” The question loomed in my mind as I sat down in the back of my first lecture.
Raised in a Democratic household, I instinctually favor labor over management. Crossing a picket line has always been a horrific thought. But when the unions walked out for a week last March, my firm beliefs dissolved into a mass of contradictions.
I crossed picket lines to go to class, but I stayed away from any dining hall as if it were the ninth circle of Hell. I did not ask my professors who left classes on campus if they would consider moving them. I simply did what I had to do as a student and supported the unions by not paying for the food in Commons. I did what was convenient for me at the time and then conveniently forgot all my contradictory behavior when the strike ended.
Then I came back to Yale and the strikes were back too.
Enter the flyer. “My conscience or my education?”
I still believe in going to classes because I have to put my education first. And when I apologize as I cross those picket lines, I try to appease my conscience.
Being an expert over-analyzer, I realize that the more I look into life at Yale, the more I can complicate things.
Someone is cleaning the bathroom I use. Someone in my Master’s office gave me a room key. Someone in my dean’s office gave me a letter to get out of jury duty. All of these “someones” are scabs whom I am used to viewing as traitors to the cause of the oppressed working man — people who should be disrespected and shunned at every opportunity.
But I don’t shun them. I treat them as if they were the members of Locals 34 and 35. I did not hesitate last week to ask the guy cleaning my bathroom to take a look at the clogged shower drain. I hardly thought twice when registration was held in my college dining hall, and I grabbed the free bagel with cream cheese and hot chocolate that came with it.
The unions’ response to their question — “My conscience or my education?” — is that students should not be forced to make that choice. They say the only way to do this is to ask professors to move their classes off campus.
This suggestion will work sometimes, but what are students supposed to do when a professor refuses? Not take the class?
There is no reason students should have to choose between their conscience and their education. In order to experience a full Yale education, students need to live in their dorms, eat in their college dining halls, and interact with non-striking workers.
Not eating in the dining halls doesn’t help the unions. Not eating in the dining halls also doesn’t help the students.
It is possible to support the unions and eat in your dining hall. Yale students have learned that our role in the labor debate is mired in gray. Stuck in the middle, the student body can only get its Yale education and protect its conscience by embracing this contradiction and living in the gray.
Alissa Stollwerk is a sophomore in Saybrook College.