A lot of people have asked Yale student activists: “So, what’s next?” This is an appropriate question, but it’s a difficult one to answer. It’s been difficult to write about the movement last semester or my involvement with NextYale. As a senior, I’m not sure I have more energy, or frankly time, to commit to more advocacy. In a lot of ways, I’ve said my part.
I don’t think last semester’s events were victorious. I think they were necessary. I think they were a human response to suffering. That doesn’t mean everybody understands or recognizes this reality, as evidenced by critical columns on this very page and disapproving think pieces in national publications.
In his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:
“It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”
It is indeed unfortunate that our campus erupted with such fear and anger, but it is even more unfortunate that Yale’s power structure left its students of color with no alternative. It is unfortunate that students peacefully chalking on the sidewalk of the Silliman courtyard were told to “apologize” by a man who caused them tremendous pain. It is unfortunate that throngs of women (and especially women of color) feel so unsafe here. It is unfortunate that Yalies aren’t alone in these experiences of isolation and fear.
Protests erupted all over this country. There is no doubt that our nation is experiencing a moment of change and fear. The proof is in the political rise of figures like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz; those with privilege — in the form of race, socioeconomic class or gender — are afraid of losing power, and like-minded supporters are flocking to them. Those of us speaking out against the current structures of power are threatening the status quo.
The University did a fantastic job of recognizing the need for some sort of change. The question remains: What will change? What can change? How do we, as students, as professors, as administrators, as scholars, move forward? How does our country move forward?
Our peers at Harvard and Princeton have asked the same questions. In some ways, they’ve had more concrete changes: Both have dropped the term “master,” and Princeton is in the process of reviewing the namesake of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Yale’s decisions about the naming of Calhoun and the title master remain up in the air. We don’t know what’s going to happen, and that leaves many of us agitated.
The dean of Princeton College, Jill Dolan, assumed her position in the summer of 2015. Before this, I was a huge fan of her scholarly work as a professor in English, theater and, in particular, gender studies. Her book, “The Feminist Spectator as Critic,” is one of the most influential texts in gender theory and literary criticism. In it, she discusses the need for reconstructing how scholars conduct academic analysis within the humanities.
Though her book focuses on the theatrical canon, she is extremely critical of the patriarchal, white-focused experiences of cherished art within Western culture. To put it briefly, her scholarly work aims to question our assumptions about power.
I’m thrilled that someone with this background holds such an influential role at an institution like Princeton. Months before protests and activism took over the Ivy League late this fall, Dolan addressed a group of first-generation, low-income Princeton students at a dinner. Her speech is available online, and I think it describes what should come next – for Yale, for Princeton, for Harvard and for our country.
“Princeton is a changing institution, and all of you are part of that change … We need to balance all those august traditions with innovation, with new ways of thinking about our campus and the world and our common role in its future.”
What comes next? We wake up. We go to class. We hire more faculty of color. We retain more faculty of color. We support our students of color. We recognize our history and consider the possibility of how we can create a different legacy. We ask why we are reading renown African American poet Claudia Rankine in a classroom without a single black student. We ask why nonwhite students feel uncomfortable going to frat parties. We ask, and we challenge and we talk. We listen. We change.
Adriana Miele is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column usually runs on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .