College students have a reputation for activism and protesting. Campuses have traditionally hosted many rallies and open dialogues about important issues, and universities (as well as taverns) were the birthplace of revolutionary ideas across our country. Young people are thought to be impressionable, impassioned and impossible to dissuade.
However, in recent years, it’s become a greater risk to raise one’s voice and oppose popular convention, a risk that apparently only a minority of students is willing to take. While an overwhelming number of students have an opinion, their apathetic support comes as endorsements via Facebook likes or Twitter retweets. Even worse, I have observed many of my classmates either taking an irrefutable “stance” or sharing an insipid viewpoint that has already been made clear countless times.
But in failing to offer up one’s own unique words and perspective, we ultimately stifle healthy discussion and discourage new ideas.
Let’s take the class of 2020 Facebook group as an example. Though very few contentious and relevant issues have been discussed on this online forum, the decision to keep the name of Calhoun College quickly found its way onto the page. When it was first posted, I expected hundreds of juicy rants from my new (and hopefully pugnacious) classmates to flood the comment section. However, I was surprised to find fewer than 20 posters — even though many comments received hundreds of likes. Why were we so willing to allow only a few voices do all of our speaking?
This passive demonstration of support made it easy to see whose opinion was more valued, but this level of restrained engagement was disappointing given the intellectual diversity of our class . We live in a world of retweets, Facebook shares and recycling content that is not our own. When we indirectly support strangers instead of contributing our own creative content, we only narrow the viewpoints we are exposed to. From an onlooker’s perspective, the public discussion surrounding the renaming of Calhoun can appear to be one-dimensional — with the most passionate on either side often speaking the loudest. However, from the limited discussions I’ve had with others, there are plenty of other viewpoints. When we don’t speak out, we miss out on nuance.
Despite a lack of debate, there was one type of post in great supply: The “feel-good” comments. These self-complimentary posts often just rehashed old arguments and congratulated the class for being so respectful of others’ viewpoints.
“I think everybody brings up a good point. Great discussion,” someone posted.
These types of empty posts easily surpassed the quantity of substantive responses and allowed many students to feel as though they were contributing to a discussion, even though they weren’t. Instead of offering even a semblance of an opinion, all they do is provide a safe way to join the conversation. It takes courage to throw your opinion out on social media to hundreds of students you’ve never met before, and it takes guts to risk leaving the wrong impression with people who don’t know you at all.
I don’t mean to say that all students need to detail their personal dogma for the entire world to hear. In fact, I only made one post in the Facebook group (a question about computers), and I often remained on the sidelines by liking other posts as well. It’s important to have private dialogue with the people you know, and it’s definitely not imperative to share everything you believe in. When we focus so much on the mode of our discussion, we miss the entire point of discussing in the first place.
I believe Yale will be a cool place for new ideas, and I am proud to be around people who maintain civility even in controversial debates. I am also cautiously optimistic that over the next four years, more people will begin to contribute more honestly to campus discussion — even if they hold unpopular or controversial beliefs.
It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and root for your favorite argument; it’s boring to be a parrot for others’ thought; and it’s simple to like a comment on a Facebook page.
I hope instead to see many of my 2020 classmates stand for something; everyone feels passionate about an issue or a topic. Similarly, even if you don’t have an opinion on a certain issue, you at least have something to offer: an observation, thought, consideration or viewpoint.
Take a risk and make a statement that people can disagree with, and you’ll instead see just how many people you have in your corner.
Jacob Malinowski is a freshman in Calhoun College. Contact him at email@example.com .