I love Yale’s traditions. I love Mory’s and hating Harvard and that the most popular game day apparel is a “Y”-embroidered sweater straight out of a Fitzgerald novel.
I love being part of a community that embraces its history and makes the effort to maintain what are objectively outdated practices (YPU hissing notwithstanding). As Yale historian George Pierson put it, “Yale is at once a tradition, a company of scholars, a society of friends.”
The Yale administration loves this quote. They have made it the University’s tagline, plastering it all over campus and the admissions website. While Pierson’s description may be accurate, I find it troubling that the administration chose these specific words to portray the Yale experience.
This quote evokes a specific portrait of Yale — an early 20th century Yale filled with only white men wearing these “Y” sweaters. But this emphasis on the past is emblematic of Yale’s mindset in general. The University relies on its history to stay relevant. It seems to believe that progress should be slow and carefully monitored, that we should be suspicious of change. This results in outdated mindsets driving outdated policies.
Since I’ve been a student here, I’ve often wondered what the administration could have possibly been thinking. Sometimes Yale operates as if the old white men in the portraits hanging on the walls of Woodbridge Hall are the ones actually making the decisions.
Like when the administration made it clear to the country that being found guilty of sexual harassment wasn’t necessarily a career-ender. Or when Yale failed to prioritize mental health reform. Or when the University’s expressed commitment to diversity was more rhetoric than reality. Looking at these policies, there’s no reason to believe that the University prioritizes progress.
Last week, in the wake of a Yale Police officer holding an African-American student at gunpoint, University President Peter Salovey sent the student body an email. In his message, he wrote, “These are not just someone else’s issues, located somewhere else; they are America’s issues, and they are our issues.” Certainly, they are America’s issues, and Yale, being part of the United States, should take responsibility for them. I don’t find it comforting that the challenges that Yale is facing today — whether sexual misconduct or inadequate access to mental health care — are challenges that the rest of the country is also grappling with.
The University should be finding solutions, not contributing to broader problems. Yale exceptionalism aside, our University has the resources and logistic capacity to be a vehicle for change. But Yale is too busy curating its past to cultivate a new future.
I find myself apologizing for the school fairly often. In part, because I love Yale and am proud to be a student here. But also because I have come to regard Yale like one of my older, out-of-touch relatives (It’s okay, we can forgive so-and-so’s borderline offensive and politically incorrect perspectives — he’s just from a different era).
After reading The Economist’s piece on the “new aristocracy,” I talked about the article with a group of students. We agreed that the University should be doing more to make Yale available to students of all backgrounds. But there was also an agreement that Yale deserved some recognition for what it had already done. “After all,” someone quipped, “I’m here and I went to public school and have ovaries.”
We were applauding Yale for admitting women — in 2015. We should be embarrassed by how long it took the University to admit women in the first place. It deserves no gold stars for having finally achieved gender “equality” 300 years after its founding, at least in terms of the number of undergraduate students — let’s not even get started on graduate schools, the faculty and more qualitative aspects of women’s experiences at Yale. But Yale students have come to expect a glacial rate of progress. We hold our University to lower standards than we should.
Some students even contribute to this backward-looking culture. Far too many of our classmates have an anachronistic obsession with elitism, with good ‘ol boys clubs, with tradition for the sake of tradition. But the University as an institution does nothing to discourage this attitude. In fact, it seems to implicitly support it.
To be fair, I do think that the administration is trying. They are working to address the issues that students care about most. And I agree that Yale’s history is impressive and worth celebrating.
But valuing tradition over progress harms students. Yale’s policies create scenarios on campus that are unfair, and sometimes even unsafe. I have faith that the University can find a balance between tradition and progress. In fact, it has a moral responsibility to do so. And if social progress is insufficient motivation, the administration should at least consider Yale’s reputation. After a few more New York Times’ front page stories, 300 years of history won’t be enough to entice the best and the brightest.
Haley Adams is a junior in Timothy Dwight. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.