I began my spring break in New Haven, surrounded by an incredibly diverse group of scholars. Underclassmen sat alongside Ph.D. candidates, international students next to Connecticut residents. All races, classes and genders were represented; men and women both contributed in full force. To top it all off, we were discussing a text about democracy written by a foreigner.
It was Yale at its best — and it was a seminar organized by the Buckley program.
Often, the term “Buckley Fellow” is used pejoratively to describe a rich, white, male conservative who favors so-called intellectual diversity over racial or ethnic diversity. While I understand ideological opposition to the program, I would resist this characterization. I, for one, am grateful to the Buckley program for preserving a space on campus for the exchange of ideas without exclusion, especially for low-income students.
Recent protests at Middlebury prevented political scientist Charles Murray from speaking about his recent book. If the Middlebury students had toned down their opposition, they would not only have spared a professor hospitalization but also engaged with Murray’s idea that “a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship.” As the last presidential election has shown, many communities believe that the elites simply ignore the lower class. Diversity is crucial, and no group should be excluded from important conversations on economic disenfranchisement.
The Middlebury protesters shut down a necessary discussion. As noted in an excellent Brookings article coauthored by Dimitrios Halikias ’16: “Many of the students most offended by the likes of Charles Murray come from the wealthiest families and attend the most expensive universities in the country.” Even if this isn’t definitive of all elite colleges, it is certainly a worrisome prospect for inclusion in the academy.
Luckily, Yale is not Middlebury. And, thanks in large part to the Buckley program, I would even go so far as to say that free speech and inclusion are thriving at Yale in comparison.
In February, the Buckley program invited J.D. Vance LAW ’13 to speak on his acclaimed book “Hillbilly Elegy.” Vance, like Murray, addresses critical questions about an ever-widening schism between social classes in America. Many on the far left consider moderate views outside their visions of the world to be antithetical to social justice. In contrast, the Buckley program proves your position in life doesn’t determine your ability to engage with a multitude of perspectives with intellectual candor and rigor.
As a Questbridge student using the Affordable Care Act, I appreciated the chance to participate in a discussion on health care reform at the Firing Line debate hosted by Buckley in March. Scholars from Brookings and the Manhattan Institute represented distinct political views, navigating policy concerns with nuance and care. The audience had plenty of time to engage their ideas, and the result was a more informed body of citizens. Being able to approach policy topics academically is more productive — and more reassuring to a person actually in danger of losing their health care — than any protest could ever be.
With no membership costs and no vetting for admission, the Buckley program is open to students who want opportunities to hear both sides of the political debate without worrying about cost. Yale does a fantastic job of leveling the playing field with some of the best financial aid packages in the country, but the majority of students seem only to support their low-income peers by fighting to abolish the student income contribution or by commiserating with those who can’t afford Canada Goose jackets. While these might be important debates to have, the primary concern should still be that all students — regardless of financial background — feel able to participate as dignified equals in the intellectual universe of Yale.
I am sympathetic to those who disagree with the Buckley program’s conservatism, but its mission of intellectual diversity is one that Yale should fundamentally embrace. Before invoking the vague specter of the “Buckley Fellow,” consider what that actually entails: politically diverse speakers, free book giveaways, dinners with famed guests, generously funded Fall and Spring seminars, community service, fully funded internships in the Summer — all open to everyone who shows academic interest. While Yale faces problems of diversity and inclusion, I would argue that Buckley is making great strides to make the University a better place.
If anything I say sounds appealing to you, consider joining the Buckley program. At the very least, critique it accurately and be willing to engage with the response. We’re all ears.
Leland Stange is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .