Today is the first day of classes at a Yale that, now, is 200 undergraduates larger. It also marks the beginning of Hopper College’s first full year, the product of a yearslong conversation about the identity of this University.
In this generation-defining transition, we’ve got two choices. We can choose to focus on “diversity,” which has recently manifested at Yale as a polarized prioritization of our differences. Or we can choose to focus on “inclusion” and imagine a new Yale culture that cares more about the things we all share.
Diversity, as it is superficially written into university brochures and corporate websites, focuses on the distinct parts that comprise our whole selves, such as our race, gender or sexual orientation. In the past few years, agitation and activism around diversity have been instrumental in changing Yale for the better. However, a broadside focus on “diversity” conflates static traits with our whole identities, sometimes disproportionately to our entire lived experiences. It’s necessary for change in the short term, but unsustainable in the long term.
Inclusion, by contrast, seeks to find the commonalities between the different parts of us to build a more complete whole — of a person, of a community or even of a university. Focusing on inclusion accentuates the things we share.
Because there’s so much that we share. For instance, we all wonder, constantly, if we’re spending our time at Yale in a way worthy of our admission. Some of us think about the sacrifices our families have made and wonder how we can use our experience here to repay them, financially or otherwise. Some of us think about the ways our country has supported us — through public education, for example — and wonder if we’re doing enough to reciprocate. Many of us look past the New Haven Green and wonder whether, as selective private school students, we’re part of the inequality that divides us, or if this whole being-an-elite thing is temporary.
These are the things we share, no matter which identity boxes we each check. These fundamental questions are at the base of a Yale education and we should use our diversity to answer them as a whole community. Yet these are champagne problems compared to what faces America, whose tapestry is being pulled so tightly that a tear, soon, seems inevitable. It’s a lot easier to relax our grip now than to patch something later.
Until a couple years ago, calls for unity were generally agreeable to both Democrats and Republicans. Today, not so much. On one side, some liberals call for politics oriented exclusively around our differences, adopting a mindset that conflates our cleavages with every other part of our lives. In their view, this approach represents a politics of the vulnerable. In actuality, it’s a politics of division.
Drastically more divisive are neo-Nazi sympathizers and white supremacists, domestic terrorists with whom any compromise by the rest of us would be both impossible and immoral. They fight for a twisted, despicable delusion of unity that encompasses only a minority of Americans.
The truth is, though, most Americans aren’t domestic terrorists, and most Americans find an unyielding landscape of identity politics alienating and exhausting. Instead, at this turning point, we are desperate for a new politics that considers the things we share — both across the country and across the campus.
I’m talking about simple things. We all worry, for example, whether our kids will be given a fair shake by their community and country. The majority of us agree that access to a good college education is important. A growing percentage of Americans think they and their neighbors ought to have access to decent, affordable health insurance.
Politics aside, that’s because most Americans care about the people around them.
These virtues, as vague as the cynic would find them, are foundational and uncomplicated. But they’re the kinds of things we need to reintroduce to the American conversation, not just to lower the fever pitch of our politics but to make sure that America is durable.
Without question, diversity taken in the sense that our differences are worth honoring is an asset. But diversity ought to be downstream from a strong, cohesive and — yes — inclusive culture. It’s high time, as we start another year at Yale and we try to center ourselves in a turbulent American politics, that we recommit ourselves to the things we share. As we protest and agitate, as we debate and discuss, we’ve also got to focus on the underlying existential questions we’re all trying to answer together.
Emil Friedman is a sophomore in Silliman College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at email@example.com .