I love a good argument. In fact that’s the reason I decided to apply to Yale. When I was first visiting colleges, Yale stood out to me as a place with a unique intellectual spirit. During my visit to New Haven, I noticed students constantly engaged in lively discussions. I wanted nothing more than to take part in that dialogue.
When I first arrived here last August, I was immediately impressed with Yale’s commitment to intelligent discussion. The renaming of Calhoun College consumed much of the campus-centric debate during those first months, starting with the convocation speeches Dean Jonathan Holloway and President Peter Salovey delivered to me and my freshman peers. I admired these men for presenting the issue and opening up a campuswide discussion to determine the best solution. When I attended the Yale Political Union’s debate on the same topic, I was impressed with the rigorous arguments by the professors and students who spoke. I am a strong believer that the only way to reach truth is to engage in logical argument with peers willing to challenge each other’s views. A good argument involves assessing one another’s claims on their veracity and evaluating one another’s warrants on their strength. While there has been no resolution to the Calhoun debate, I believe the great discussions that have taken place and the civil approach of Yale administrators and students will allow us to reach consensus.
The same cannot be said for the recent debates surrounding the struggles facing women of color on campus. I watched in horror last Thursday as a student cursed out Holloway. I was disgusted by the crude joke said by a speaker at the Buckley Program’s lecture. I was terrified by the student who cursed at Master Nicholas Christakis, telling him to “shut up” and to stop trying to create an “intellectual space.” This type of discourse could not be further from what we should be doing right now. An intellectual environment is exactly what we need. Let us have a civil debate. Let us leave the emotionally charged arguments and vulgar jokes behind and instead pursue logical discourse. Let us get back to arguing, not in a chaotic unproductive way, but in a civil way where we can hear everyone’s claims and evaluate them based on the soundness of the reasoning behind them.
Being civil is not enough. We also need to rid our arguments of unsubstantiated claims. While oppressive structures may exist, uncritically asserting their existence does not help move forward the discussion. Similarly, let’s move away from broad allusions to “lived experiences” or “the necessity of free speech.” Instead, we can use concrete arguments and examples that may prove the existence of oppressive structures, the reality of negative experiences or the importance of free speech. Abstract ideas without examples and evidence to support them can be opaque to those who do not often discuss them. To have productive arguments, we need to make our rhetoric clear and accessible to those who disagree with us.
To be sure, I understand why the campus is emotionally charged right now. It is reasonable for issues of race to invoke strong reactions and anger. But sometimes it is necessary to keep our emotions in check. Making someone cave to demands through an emotional assault is never preferable to reaching a mutual understanding. In the former case, one party will always walk away wronged and bitter. In the latter, rigorous debate can lead to consensus and learning.
Part of what makes Yale special is the amazingly intelligent people who work and study at the University. There is no better way to leverage all these great minds for the good of the Yale community than to allow them to discuss and evaluate each other’s ideas civilly. Let’s have a good argument. It’s what we’re best at.
Daniel Wasserman is a freshman in Davenport College. Contact him at email@example.com .