Many Yalies see themselves as stewards of social progress who devote themselves to campaigns intended to improve the lives of the underprivileged and marginalized. But despite this commitment to enacting change beyond the gates of Yale, we commonly ignore pernicious issues in our own campus culture, often defaulting to a “you-do-you” mentality among our peers. Yalies frequently embrace moral laxity when interacting with their friends, making exceptions to condone risky behaviors even though many I have talked to express personal reservations in these situations.
Laissez-fair attitudes manifest in a number of ways, but one salient example is allowing others to continue detrimental relationships, whether in the form of alcohol-fueled hookups or unsafe sexual practices. I’m no exception to this phenomenon. Recently, I found myself remaining silent when a friend expressed her desire to partake in daily, unprotected intercourse with an emotionally abusive boyfriend, even though every instinct told me to intervene and convey my honest thoughts about her behavior and decisions. If I could have returned to that moment, my actions would have been different the second time around.
The status quo of unqualified freedom in decisions implicating bodily autonomy cannot lead us toward a better, healthier Yale. We have to make an effort to extend our sense of responsibility from ourselves to those around us, and to rekindle our capacity for moral suasion. Genuine care starts with understanding that “you-do-you” means consciously avoiding any commitment to the well-being of others, for help cannot be given in passivity. If we truly care about our friends, the right thing to do is to hold people to higher personal standards and to encourage others to reflect on their habits, especially potentially injurious ones. Most importantly, we must not make excuses just because we feel awkward stepping in.
True progress cannot happen when we believe everything will get better on their own. Cultural problems cannot be legislated away institutionally, magically solved by the Yale College Undergraduate Regulations or Community Health Educators. Good regulations without good mores fall on deaf ears. Take, for example, the sexually transmitted disease testing parties hosted by the Communication and Consent Educators. Though STD testing might be a positive good in itself, it is merely an after the fact measure. Such practices cannot, in themselves, prevent issues that have the potential to lead to deadly or incurable consequences. To make light of such issues by hosting a social event to encourage students to get tested — rather than actively intervening in situations that increase risk of contracting STDs — cannot solve the problems that the CCE program aims to address. This is not a criticism of CCEs per se: Underlying problems must be dealt with via individual action by cultivating everyone’s resolve to actualize what they preach.
It is clear to me now that my friend would have wanted me to vocalize my thoughts; in fact, I know that it would have ended her pain a lot earlier if I had possessed the will to be true to myself and to her. Though I cannot turn back the clock and rectify my silence, it is possible to take these lessons on board and advocate for a definition of care which enables others to be their best selves. Morality demands that we step in even when we fear being accused by others of being “too uptight,” “backward” or even “oppressive.”
We cannot give up in striving to be better in the ways that really count, in making it our duty to be responsible for the well-being of those near and dear to us. Continuing down the “you-do-you” path will merely weaken our own moral compass and do harm to the minds and bodies of others.
The project of the common good will not advance when we simply wait on the sidelines; speaking up and standing strong is the only way we can rise to the heights of our human potential. To do any less would be a disservice to our fellow Yalies and to our self-concept as pursuers of the good.
Lauren Lee is a freshman in Hopper College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .