Faculty and students breathed a sigh of relief when University Secretary Linda Lorimer announced that the weeks-long strike will end this weekend. After much anticipation and worry, the unions and Yale will sign contracts and look toward nearly a decade of seemingly unprecedented peace. While Yale attempts to return to its unique brand of normalcy, it seems appropriate to consider how a tense campus can heal.
Yale students suffered in three ways during the strike: our language was muddled, our purpose was confused, and our dignity was impugned.
The most egregious misuse of language during the strike was the idea that this was a battle between labor and Yale. Such a view was plastered on the pages of the New Haven Register, The New York Times, and the Yale Daily News. The battle, though, was in fact between an administration and its employees. This was not a battle in which students were warriors for either side. Contrary to the assertions of many, it was not the place of students to rally on behalf of the workers, or to mock them in the dining hall. We were meant to be spectators.
Nonetheless, our purpose — “the discovery of knowledge” — often seemed a casualty during the strike. When professors were forced to cancel their classes after being drowned out by the familiar chants of “Beep Beep Yale’s cheap,” students were unable to avoid the issues facing them. They rightly felt a sense of annoyance that their purpose was being hindered because of a labor dispute.
And our dignity was attacked when Yale was unjustly demonized in the national media. We became an example that figures in the national union leadership could use to further their agenda. Students and faculty and administrators were attacked in common. The spectacles of Jesse Jackson’s visits did nothing to further negotiations. Instead, they made a mockery of every member of this community, workers and students alike. And no matter how hard we might have tried, it was impossible for us not to watch the show.
The strike was a reminder that even the pristine ivory tower could suffer from the sorts of battles that we often read about in history books or hear about in the news. Most assuredly, it will be difficult to return to the status quo. Labor issues have brought out the worst in many people, and emotions have understandably run high.
Having spoken to many workers on the picket lines, I know that people are eager to return to work and to their lives. They want to get back to their offices and their routines, and in many cases, meet the 1,300 members of the Class of 2007. And undoubtedly, the many Yale workers who pitched in around the campus to allow the school to function smoothly look forward to returning to their own responsibilities.
My deepest regret, one shared by many current undergraduates, is what the freshmen will remember. So many of us recall move-in day as an exciting, nerve-racking, but ultimately glorious experience. However, before the current freshmen moved onto the Old Campus, they were confronted with blocked intersections.
We remember gathering in our colleges during the first days of school and anxiously attempting to remember the names of our peers. The current freshmen have been unable to eat in their dining halls.
And we remember our Freshman Assembly, the traditional welcome by the president of the University and dean of Yale College. This year, because of the threat of union protest, the assembly was postponed. The Class of 2007 will instead be greeted in October.
Their first days at Yale have not fit the expected mold. Nonetheless, freshmen in their own age of great transition, have adjusted to a University in flux. And undoubtedly, the class history they recite when they graduate will be unlike many in the past.
The remarkable part of this campus is that even with tensions so high, it is reasonable and expected that Yale will return to normal. Feelings were hurt on all sides, but because people believe in Yale as an institution, the school will continue to flourish. However, it is foolish to assume that anyone will forget these last weeks. All we can ask for is gradual healing, and a dedicated and uninterrupted return to our purpose.
To the members of locals 34 and 35, welcome back.
And to the men and women of the Class of 2007, let me say — with a new meaning — welcome to Yale.
Justin Zaremby is a first-year doctoral candidate in political science and a graduate of the Calhoun College Class of 2003. He is an occasional columnist.