During the initial aftermath of the election, my Facebook news feed was flooded with articles about an impending fascist regime. People talked frantically in dining halls. People were scared. Angry. Numb. Individuals wrote long-winded posts about the demise of American democracy, and publications like Slate and The Atlantic shared somber articles about the state of the white working class.
Within a week people were back to sharing Buzzfeed lists.
In spite of our preliminary outrage and dismay in response to recent political events, it seems as if we have retuned to our normal routines. Yes, we all know about the track records — or lack thereof — of Gov. Mike Pence, Ben Carson ’73 and Steve Bannon, yet we seem to remain relatively apathetic on campus. We stifle our panic and allow ourselves to return to our normal routines, at the whim of media outlets and advertising agencies. The hushed conversations that once permeated campus after the election have mostly ceased. We worry, but not enough to let anything interfere with our routines. We continue living in our bubble.
It is too easy for us to do this at Yale; it’s easy to shut out the outside world and remain preoccupied by social media and our campus lives. This is perfectly fine, to an extent. Education — either self-directed or institutional — is obviously necessary to form coherent ideas about politics, science, technology, philosophy and a variety of other subjects. But in an isolated academic environment, it seems too easy to will away pressing political concerns as mere abstractions. We are merely told to focus on ideas.
Many of us grew up hearing that a college education is not only desirable, but also necessary in the modern economy. However, this doesn’t seem to be serving us in the long run. In recent years, the number of students enrolled at a four-year university has risen, but so has student debt. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, student debt is somewhere between $902 billion and $1 trillion dollars. In spite of this fact, the number of workers aged 20 to 24 dropped by 200,000 over a six-month time period. To put it simply, we are only paying more in order to receive less in return.
Consequently, I find myself wondering why we should be pursuing a college education at a time like this; it seems to offer so little in return for the time and money spent in school. However, education is most important than ever in these trying times. In her article, “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear,” Toni Morrison outlined the importance of art during times of political unrest and social turbulence.
A similar argument can be made about education. Worryingly, it seems that there has been a recent shift away from the humanities. Numerous opinion pieces have been written about the usefulness of the STEM disciplines. Even more pieces are written about the struggle for English and Philosophy majors to find jobs in this extremely weak economy. However, journalists, artists, theorists, historians and authors will be needed more than ever during the Trump administration.
Although academia often has strong ties to money and politics, academic study is essential to understanding the ways in which social structures and political discourse interact with our everyday lives. Moreover, many of the texts we study, including Plato, John Locke, Karl Marx and Frantz Fanon, have informed movements which alter the course of the international political landscape.
Even though we are located in a university that is fairly removed from most of the world, it is possible for the things we learn and the papers we write to have stakes. Education — especially humanities education — is often overlooked because it often does not have an immediate material impact on states of affairs. However, knowledge can often give us the tools that we need in order to create movements, in order to change the world. Although we live in a relatively sheltered environment, we should take this opportunity to meaningfully engage with the world around us by educating ourselves about politics, literature and theory.
And then, perhaps, the bubble will do us some good.
Isis Davis-Marks is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column usually runs on Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .