Last spring, I had the chance to visit my brother, Danny, at school in Iowa, where he studies some combination of biochemistry and music. Aside from being an exercise in architectural diversity (instead of Cross Campus, imagine a gray field of untamed grass propped up with fences to prevent debilitating snowdrift), I couldn’t help but feel like a cultural stranger in a foreign land.
Being something of a journalist junkie, one of the first things I did to occupy myself during one of Danny’s countless musical rehearsals was to steal a school newspaper, assuming that it would be a nice compliment to the regular campus publications at Yale. The format looked similar, aside from a different crest adorning the label, and I had every reason to believe that the content would be as well.
Settling into my chair, propped inconspicuously in a corner of the jazz band rehearsal space, I set out to explore the Iowan press. I had already been loudly introduced to the group as “Danny’s sister,” and I was quite ready to bury myself in anonymity for a few minutes.
The first few articles were markedly local — the kind best understood with that peculiarly intimate knowledge of the campus that students alone possess. Editorials looked more promising.
Upon reaching page 11a, my eyes met the headline “2004: The Great Battle between the United States and the People’s Republics of New York and California.” Without thinking, I let out what must have been an audible gasp. More headlines hit my field of vision with a jolt — glancing from left to right, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Was it possible that this institution of higher learning was really so dialectically opposed to Eastern liberalism?
Gathering myself again, I began to read the articles, feeling that I should at least give them a chance to quell my anxieties before judging in such an outright manner. But what followed was indeed no different than what preceded.
Thinking about it, I began to wonder why I was so flabbergasted. My mind turned to the culture at Yale, one that is politically charged, whether intentionally or not. I take for granted the culture of questioning that is so inherent in Yale and its students. Awareness to social advocacy, political activism and international affairs is almost assumed when you sit down to have a conversation with someone. This is echoed in campus publications, clubs, forums and classes. It’s impossible to be buried from reality, no matter how appealing it may seem at times.
But despite this awareness of the outside world, perhaps there is a blind eye turned to one of the most characteristic aspects of our country, something that the Iowa student newspaper saw as quite obvious: divergent political culture. Although all parties are represented here on campus, one cannot deny that the culture of Connecticut, a long-time “blue-state,” permeates the atmosphere. The color-coded maps obligatory to news coverage in an election year remind us that we are in fact surrounded by a mass of blue that nicely frames a red core of inland America. It is no wonder, then, that our approach to politics is entrenched.
Even as a Colorado native, I was surrounded by a liberal crowd growing up. Yuppies and driven businessmen in Denver have converted this once-Republican state into a battleground for power. Environmental issues have helped the push to the left. Even my father approached his conservative views with an investigative, inquisitive intensity, always well-researched with academic publications and Washington editorials.
So what, then, is this remarkable difference that has eluded me all 19 years of my earthly existence? There are clues all around — in the papers we read, in the news we watch, in the public figures we see. In the New York Times, the debate over Iran’s nuclear proliferation is at least A3 news in comparison to A25 in the Denver Post. In Dolby, Kansas, citizens rally around Bob Dole, not an NGO with ties to lobbyists in Washington. That is certainly not to say that Kansans do not lobby as well (in fact, the American Dairy Association is one of the strongest on the hill), but the difference in perspective is paramount.
To my brother and his friends, I am just one of the New England liberal media elite. Danny has recounted to me on numerous occasions a phenomenon one might called “NY oblivion” — that is, the convenient oversight of opposing views throughout the rest of the states. And perhaps their point is valid. When I write a political opinion piece, I often forget that the “other side” holds a rationale just as intimate and sound as I consider my own. I forget the spirit of the small town in contrast with the agglomerated megalopolis. I forget that it is just as honorable and constructive to speak in support for initiatives as it is to criticize them with a wary eye.
I will certainly not suggest that any sort of political rift between the “red” and “blue” can be ameliorated, or even should be ameliorated, by understanding. But at least, after Iowa, I have to acknowledge that there is another University culture far from the one I know.