It’s a common Thanksgiving activity to go around the table and say what you’re thankful for. Having just come back from Thanksgiving break, I figured I might as well act on that tradition, and, in a way, clear up a misconception that seems to have arisen regarding Yale and Yalies — namely, that we’re terribly ungrateful.
Back at home, everyone had heard of the racially tense atmosphere on campus. They had heard of the march, the protests, the tears and yelling. Everyone had their own opinions on the matter, and everyone had questions to ask. But the one question that stuck with me was something along these lines: “If Yale gives you so much, why do you hate it?”
This sentiment seems to be fairly widespread. There was even a change.org petition titled, “Dear Yale, if your students cannot handle rigorous debate and ideas, enroll us instead!”
I thought about that question, that idea, for a while, and the only thing that came to mind was Scott Stern’s farewell column in the News [“If you love Yale, critique it,” Apr. 20, 2015]. In it, he wrote that if you love Yale, you should criticize it. And I think that advice rings truer today than it has before.
This notion that the outcries that have recently echoed throughout campus represent some rejection of Yale as a whole, or some wish to get away from Yale, is, as far as I can tell, false. It’s not that we can’t “handle” Yale, or that we don’t wish to be here. Those students who could be seen crying and screaming, those whose behavior so many have been quick to call “disrespectful” or “overly-emotional” aren’t coming from a place of hate or ingratitude.
We know precisely what we have and where we are. And we’re thankful for it. We’re thankful that cultural centers even exist, we’re thankful that our peers are on the whole supportive and we’re thankful that we’re blessed with a tremendous amount of privilege.
We’re self-aware enough to know how fortunate we are to be at Yale, and I don’t think anyone is so blind as to claim that they’re worse-off as a Yalie than so many less-advantaged people in the world. Such a claim would be flat-out ignorant.
But it’s precisely because we love Yale that we feel the need to speak up. It’s because Yale is our home, and one that we love so much, that we feel the need to make it a better place.
Gratefulness doesn’t entail an inability to pursue improvement. Of course I can be grateful for all that Yale has given me. But that is completely compatible with trying to make Yale an even better place, to make sure that it gives even more to those who come after me.
In fact, I think that one’s love for a place should motivate one to improve it. Of course I could sit by and let Yale continue doing what it’s done in the past, and be passively grateful for that. But someone who cares about an institution does not sit by and refuse to push it toward necessary change.
Fidelity to the status quo isn’t a sign of gratitude or affection; it’s a sign of laziness and an unwillingness to improve. It’s a sign that we don’t care about Yale, but rather, we only care about what Yale can give us at the moment.
After all, it’s a common a misconception that those fighting for change are the selfish ones, that they’re doing it for themselves. In fact, it’s precisely those who are fighting that don’t care about their own day-to-day lives. They know that their day-to-day lives won’t change immediately. They know that it probably won’t be changed by next year, or by the time that they graduate.
The ones fighting care about what Yale can be for future generations, and what Yale can do to better itself.
Those who challenge the status quo are grateful. And it’s precisely because they’re grateful that they feel the need to change the institution that’s given them so much. They hope that one day, Yalies will have even more to be thankful about.
Leo Kim is a junior in Trumbull College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .