Around the fourth grade, I began taking “I” out of my sentences. “I think San Francisco is the best city” became “San Francisco is the best city.” “I think George Washington was the first president” became “George Washington was the first president.” Like many schoolchildren across the country, I learned that removing the “I” from my sentence created a more powerful statement.
At the same time, during times of conflict the “I” was still a necessary part of my speech. In disagreements, the “I” always remained. To step outside the first person ran the risk of being viewed as aggressive or hostile. “I feel that you are being mean” replaces “You are being mean.” “I feel that it was unfair of you to exclude me” replaces “It was unfair of you to exclude me.”
To my fourth-grade self, when and when not to use “I” could be confusing. But my teachers, parents and peers drilled the rules into me, and it soon became automatic. It was okay for me to use the “I” in my conclusion but not in the body of my essays. It was unnecessary to use “I” when answering a question in class. “I” was not always necessary to express subjectivity.
But, like many rules in writing, there were exceptions.
At Yale, I have been told that if I am to talk about poverty or race, I am to always use the “I.” Because even though I am a minority, to make a claim without using “I” would be to presume knowledge of others’ lived experiences. In seminars, students have demanded that everyone spell out their “innate biases” before beginning a discussion. A peer once dismissed my words in a class by saying, “You cannot make that statement without acknowledging your innate privilege first.”
But where was the “I” in that statement?
The classroom should not be a paragon of political correctness. Going around telling people what they can and cannot think because of who they are is detrimental to our college campus. People should be making claims that can be refuted and challenged and, yes, may be offensive. People should be able to make bold statements without being publicly shamed on the Facebook page, “Overheard Microagressions at Yale.” People should be thinking beyond their personal experiences — going to Yale would be a total waste if we could only think about things we had already experienced ourselves. Sometimes we need to hear controversial, even offensive arguments in order to learn and grow.
If someone states, “All turtles are stupid,” let them. If you take offense to such a statement, it is probably because they are wrong. So tell them. Instead of making them afraid to voice their opinions, change their minds.
We are young, we are bright and we should be committing to active dialogue — not shying away from it.
Marisa Lowe is a junior in Pierson College. She is a former Production and Design editor for the News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .