With the remnants of Spring Fling all but scraped out of the Old Campus grass, we have retreated into libraries and solitude. It can be a jarring shift. Spring Fling is one of those rare campus events that brings almost all of us together — out of our groups, classes and colleges and into one sunny quadrangle. It’s a worthwhile reminder: Yale’s a big place, but it’s our place.
In a week or two we’ll emerge from our books, and this year will be history. It has been one filled with striking changes. Town and gown have stood on uneasy footing, from brutality at Elevate to a spate of shootings on our shared streets. We began the year with sexist chanting, and end it with the federal government investigating our sexual culture. The administration’s return of artifacts to Peru and ROTC to campus began in fits and starts, while an ethically troubling foray into Singapore was launched at lightning speed.
Summer gives us an opportunity to take a step back and consider our Yale: what it is, and — given the drama of this year — where it’s going. And we must also ask how well we have risen to its challenges. Committees were formed, but many rarely met. Forums were held, but many were poorly attended — like the Yale-NUS faculty forum to which only 25 professors showed up. And we, the students, did not always give our university much thought or action. We had our personal projects, our individual activism — we ran movements to draft presidential candidates, tutored in classrooms, and recycled lots of plastic bottles. But when it came to campus, we were often quicker angered than engaged — more cynical than civic. After all, we are busy people.
But Yale is changing, and we are a part of it. When the claim of a “hostile sexual environment” is levied against our community, it demands all of our attention, regardless of affiliation. When our administration acts against its stated values, whether on campus or 9,500 miles away, we owe it to them to take them to task.
Yale is more than a service provider, more than a four-year individual adventure ending in a degree. Yale is a job that has fallen to us: a work in progress, an unfinished idea. It is a diverse community with a few shared hopes and responsibilities. Nobody is going to make Yale what we want it to be but us: administrators, faculty, undergraduates, grad students engaged in a collective project. And it’s a worthwhile one. The trials of New Haven and the world deserve our work — but for these brief years, so does our ancient, imperfect, sometimes-confounding school. We are here to learn national and global citizenship — but we must begin by participating as citizens of Yale.
In the 1964 commencement address, University President Kingman Brewster Jr. urged the graduates to avoid “moral timidity.” Several days later in this space, the News editorialized on the speech. Yale must represent more than a “four-year moratorium on responsibility,” they wrote. Now, as then, Yale is more than its pursuits, 300-plus clubs, 77 majors: more than four years, more than the sum of its parts.
New challenges like this year’s should not make us withdraw in frustration and timidity. They are opportunities to grow together, to turn our talents to a task that is uniquely our own. But we are not bound to Old Yale, nor are we naïve enough to welcome all that is new. As the News wrote in ’64, “There is much to be proud of here, much to support.” What has given us pause this year, we can work together to change. And what we have accomplished and enjoyed together, we can protect. After summer, beyond our own causes, before and after our time here, Yale can and will be better. And that is something worth returning to.