This November, an experimental play will go up at the Underbrook, where a Yalie will be depicted to have committed suicide in his first year. This body of work is fictional and, at least, attempts to be therapeutic. The play will perhaps make no concrete dent in the intricacies of Yale subcultures. It will also leave a lot of questions unanswered because loss is characteristically inexplicable. As the playwright, the only thing I have tried to do is to tell a story that could have been anyone’s in the complicated beauty and confusion of our first years at Yale. And yet, I have already had to defend the play’s content for its simple daring to be raw, honest and even activist. The last thing I would want is to sound like a Buckley Fellow, but Yale is stuck in its persisting culture of silence, one that intends sensitivity but results in a lack of necessary confrontation. This sick obsession with grotesque perfectionism is seen in froyo Communication and Consent Educators talks or fighting to the bone for the intellectual merits of integrating an all-male a cappella group. Yet, does this emotional reactiveness ever translate into action?
Everyone knows that fraternities maintain strange power dynamics over women, but no one is allowed to criticize actively or reinforce this reality. Cool kids will go miles to explain how organizations like Engender are lame. Groups continue to tap new members along accidentally preferential racial lines but god forbid this discussion escape close quarters. Many even insist on their right to pretend, for these four years, that complicated social privileges and realities don’t exist. The burden of constantly educating doesn’t have to be my burden. Yes, I agree that not all marginalized or all-aware need to overbear themselves with the awful burden of, well, having a spine. And forgive the snark but I do mean it. I think people should be allowed to resist by merely existing in spaces not meant for them. The balance of those who resist by existence and those who resist in power is important for the sustenance of any movement, even if it is a general urge to seek and want better. But, in trying to be as sensible as possible, our campus has lost itself to complacency. The fear of resisting loudly and being ostracized for resisting has tilted the scales between silent and active resistance. Those who could have picked up the responsibility of a movement have no examples to follow.
No one wants to give another permission to talk about any sensitive issue. While that does protect an honest initiative from being adulterated with ignorance, it is also deterring those who want to try from exercising their political power. Who was it that said “the personal is political?” I hear the self-righteousness in what I am saying, but let’s try objectivity when we are analyzing the results of this aforementioned social behavior. A society of scholars, privy to the most critical analyses about the social, economic, political inequalities of the world around us, has decided not to pride itself in the way it champions social issues actively and daily. Yes, there is elitism in the fight towards social parity but only because the recognition of intricate differences requires an excavation of academic thinking about it. But we need to share that elitism of knowledge beyond your safe space.
This complacency of sorts is a terrible aftereffect of the protests and campus outrages that went on in 2016. Along with silencing many bold voices of social justice, this complacency has made criticizing and resisting accepted narratives harder. Halloween debate or not, no one wants to accuse another or be accused of being “problematic”. This self-censorship is a constant reminder that while self-righteousness is present, room for criticism is not. People stress having the right to be offended by criticism for they’ve spent countless hours making a space “non-problematic.” But no one truly asks themselves what that means. Making a space “non-problematic” should mean allowing people to feel safe making arguments that challenge Yale’s social world. There is no utopia, especially not in 2017. We need a space where our most accepted narratives can be questioned, studied and reinterpreted. Leaders of all Yale communities, be it spaces for all-gender expressions like the Women’s Center or male-exclusive organizations like fraternities, should require that all involved tolerate and respect differences and let diverse attitudes coexist and prosper. Let that weird kid use the weird pronouns. Let that frat-star play his drinking game. On requirements of no-harm caused, even let that girl dance to the Chainsmokers.
So I invite you to come and see a play about people — people who are funny, kind and as real as you, living the realities behind the oft-avoided issues of suicide, sexual violence and finding a place in this world. We have decided to take ownership of the spaces on campus. We have decided to create one that welcomes people on the premise of performance art, the most honest and raw depiction of humanity. I am honored that all those involved with Outside Wednesday Night at Toad’s have confirmed that this play is not reckless with the way it deals with sensitive and important issues that affect people, that affect us. I have written this piece and sought help from people who will stage it to fight a battle that is not only personal, but one that I am asking others to take on the onus for. The personal is, from this day on and forever, the political.
Zulfiqar Mannan | firstname.lastname@example.org