Over the past week I have watched as others attacked Cole Aronson ’18 for his Monday column (“Admissions and Athletics,” Feb. 27, 2017). To attack him is a mistake. To attack him is to promote his martyrdom, to help turn him into a poster boy for throngs of the so-called ‘free-speech advocates’ to use as a symbol for PC intolerance. I do not want him to go into the world, using this instance as an example of where he stood true to his beliefs in the face of a ravenous mob of precious snowflakes. Instead I want to expose Aronson’s article for what it is: a misinformed, prejudiced, poorly argued ableist rant, one that questions the validity of my presence, a disabled female athlete, at this institution.
Ableism is the discrimination against mentally or physically disabled people. It is sentences like “Now, clearly, you don’t have to be smart to be good at most sports … just listen to what passes for English on ESPN,” that reflect not a controversial thought piece, but something more pernicious. Judging someone’s intellect on your perception of her eloquence is an inherently ableist (among other ‘–ist’s) line of reasoning.
There are days when I am the most articulate student in a seminar — other days, I will struggle to formulate a sentence, the brain fog, exhaustion and other symptoms from my blood pressure disorder I experience hampering my speech. That does not make me intellectually inferior to you. It makes me different from you.
The first time I was called stupid was in ninth grade. This was in the midst of weekly doctors’ visits, of crawling on the ground to get to the shower in the morning because I was too weak to stand. My mother, who would shampoo my hair because I could not lift my arms above my head, sat with me as we listened to my biology teacher argue that she could not teach me. I could not learn. That she could not just open up my brain and put the information in there.
To be clear, this is not inspiration porn — the story of the poor crip who ‘overcomes’ her disability and achieves her goals. But it is a personal illustration of how everyone does not think or communicate in the same way, regardless of ability or disability. Intelligence is not a binary. To assert so would be to neglect all the medical research that proves otherwise. We accept that people learn in different ways — why is the same not true of someone expressing their intelligence?
I did everything Aronson did to gain admission to this university. In fact, I did more. Not only did I get the grades and win the national writing awards, but I was also a nationally ranked fencer. I wasn’t Yale’s top recruitment choice. My fencing results were good, but not phenomenal. I was admitted just as much for my intellect as I was for my athleticism. And I have contributed to the intellectual environment in a more positive way. Instead of tearing others down, I’ve helped them up. I work as a writing partner at the Yale College Writing Center. Yes, Cole Aronson, there’s a chance you’ve come to this disabled athlete for help writing or editing one of your essays.
Aronson writes that sports “provide benign entertainment,” unify families and serve as conversation material. He also asserts that when it comes down to the acquisition of virtues and lessons, everything one can achieve through sports one can achieve through academics. What Aronson’s article ignores is that it is not a matter of one or the other, of attaining a certain improvement from intellectual or athletic activity. Not only is this statement inaccurate, it does not acknowledge the nuance, the individual variation of what one can gain through sports. I would never begin to assume what a respective sport means to each individual athlete at this school. But let me tell you what it means to me.
Fencing is the reason I am standing here. Yes, I was recruited, but that is not what I mean. Most people with my condition are bedridden or in wheelchairs. The reason I am standing here, physically upright on this campus, is because fencing trained my body to fight against a disability that I didn’t yet have, strengthening my legs for drastic drops in blood pressure and instilling a resilience that has bolstered me through some of the darkest periods of my life.
At the end of the day, Aronson’s article comes down to his judgment of who is worthy of being here and who is not, who is smart and who is not, who is his ideal Yalie and who is just taking up the deserving space of someone much more qualified than an athlete.
Athleticism and intellectualism can exist at the same time within my disabled body, a body that has a right to exist on this campus. Cole Aronson is no one’s martyr. He is just another ableist trying to impose his prejudice onto others.
Contact Lillie Lainoff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lillie Lainoff previously served as the Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News Magazine.