It happens on every college campus, and Yale is no exception. Every few months, a controversial issue — be it local, national or international — arises and becomes the inevitable topic of amicable discussions between suitemates, heated dining hall arguments and everything in between. Usually it’s a good thing; it allows for the kind of spirited debates and sharing of ideas that make Yale such a great place to learn, in and out of the classroom. It also reminds students that the University should never be considered separate from the so-called “outside world,” a common mistake of those dwelling inside ivy-covered walls. At other times, however, when passions run high and arguments tend to cause intense feelings of righteousness, civility and respect give way to insults and mockery. When voicing opinions turns into expressing hatred, students are doing something wrong.
In a little more than a year at Yale, I’ve already witnessed this phenomenon more than once. First, there was the controversial war in Iraq, which began with discussion panels featuring distinguished professors and ended with despicable threats and public messages. More recently, with the Yale unions’ second labor stoppage in six months, it happened again. Yalies were — and many still are — mouthing-off in the most disrespectful ways about this university’s workers.
This is not an argument in favor of the unions. I do, however, have one very strong feeling towards the members of locals 34 and 35: respect. Whatever one’s personal view on the strike and its participants, I think respect is one thing we owe every member of the Yale community.
Unfortunately, some students did not live up to this standard of common decency. Many saw the striking workers as nothing more than a nuisance on the Yale campus, forgetting that the sacrifices students had to make during the strike were miniscule compared to those the union members made. True, it was their choice to make those sacrifices, but they did so because it was something in which they believed strongly. But instead of seeing the union members as courageous and loyal — two things which I can assure you many of them are — some students called them ignorant and greedy. And these same students, for the most part, knew little or nothing about the labor negotiations. Even those who knew the details of Yale’s offer might not have been able to interpret them correctly.
And it didn’t stop there. In the past weeks, I heard Yalies openly express hatred towards the unions, with some students even making truly disgusting references towards them and their supporters. I heard suggestions that Yale should fire all its workers rather than negotiate with them. Jokes of supposed links between locals 34 and 35 and terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida reached my ears. Personally, I don’t think such jokes are funny. Any student, indeed, any person should be ashamed of such comments, but even more so of the attitudes and feelings behind them. It takes true hypocrisy to curse at our dining hall workers when they strike, and greet them with a friendly face now that we once again find them working to make our lives at Yale that much better.
In the end, we’re all happy that the strike is over. I simply hope the settlement was fair for both sides. The attitudes of many of my fellow Yalies, however, will continue to disturb me. Did some students simply let their frustrations with a lack of dining halls and off-campus classes get the best of them? Did “union-bashing” become the latest entry in the conservative agenda of debate topics? Or did some students simply show their true colors, proudly displaying the righteousness of their Yale blue blood and white skin over the sea of mostly black union workers? If I am right about the latter, then I am as ashamed to be a Yalie as I am proud to be part of a community in which hundreds of men and women took to the streets to fight for something they believed in, even if I didn’t believe in it too.
Alberto C. Medina is a sophomore in Pierson College.