Writing opinion columns is a precarious balancing act. Is the argument developed enough to satisfy the average Yale student? Is this topic too radical for my family? Does anyone even care about this outside of me and my friends? These questions go hand in hand, but often their answers conflict in ways that make it impossible to clear all doubt. After all, I may live in the Yale bubble, but writing does not, and cannot, exist in a bubble. There is no buffer between the columnist and her writing; what prints in the paper is naked opinion, subject to direct character judgment. As a result, the process of forming an argument is painful — fears and frustrations pour into the Google Doc, and I’m left staring at them for several minutes before I can muster the willpower to censor them, or leave them be. As a columnist, one must fear saying nothing at all over taking risks.
Furthermore, adding something — anything — fresh or significant to a conversation is hard, especially on a campus where nearly every space is politically charged. For example: What exactly does someone like me, an Asian woman with a comfortable suburban upbringing, have to add to a rhetoric as multifaceted and historically complex as the Calhoun-Hopper debate? There is no room at Yale for vacuous rambling on the part of an aloof observer, much less for the self-pity of an observer that mistakes herself as a victim of others’ struggles. The consequences of this misjudgment are brutal — after all, the only thing worse than watching one’s writing disappear into the void is seeing it burned at the stake on Overheard at Yale.
Despite these fears, my first column was about the very issues of “yellowness” and the Calhoun debate. On the day it was published, exactly one year ago, I almost couldn’t believe myself for writing it. What was I thinking? Do I even understand politics enough to be speaking about this? Why did I take this risk? But as national political pressures built and I wrote my next few columns, I realized that writing had become far more than an outlet for my confusion or disappointment — they were pleas to be heard, a sort of litmus test of the people around me. More often than not, I realized that my fears and frustrations weren’t just shared — they were common.
Over the course of the year, in my transition from guest to staff columnist, I grew accustomed to taking risks and learned to occupy a space that I never would have imagined myself inhabiting. That being said, much of my experience with writing columns is still defined by fear — fear of writing poorly, fear of misrepresenting myself, fear of ostracizing my classmates. And yet, facing this fear has actually taught me a broader definition of compassion. I have learned that it is far from enough to settle in the narrow spectrum of my own struggles — it is necessary to trace the tangles and ties of my experience with the broader concerns of this campus and beyond.
I’m not trying to garner sympathy for columnists, and I’m not asking anyone to stop pointing out the ways in which the News is problematic. In fact, all of my words are a plea for everyone to ramp it up a few notches — I’m inviting you all to write.
Don’t wait to write only when you have a response to an offensive column. Don’t wait until a horrific election season before you finally muster the anger to speak up. Fill this page with voices that have yet to be heard and experiences that have yet to be represented, perspectives that have not been glorified over and over again in a white-male-dominated, slowly-changing national rhetoric. Why allow certain people with certain voices to dominate your campus newspaper? Why should anyone else speak for you or your friends? It is far more productive to take up the space on this page than it is to complain while allowing others to continue to fill it.
And please, don’t rebut me with “I can’t write” — if you are capable of debating with your friends about how the News is problematic, you are absolutely capable of writing a stellar column. And if you’re that mad about the News, good. Take it back for yourself. Seize the space and speak with conviction. Write openly, confess, analyze yourself and your perspectives and put them on public display. Because despite the difficulty of managing a columnist’s balancing act, the compassion learned from facing that fear is worth it.
Come on and step into the space — like I’ve said, it’s already yours.
Catherine Yang is a junior in Trumbull College. Her column runs monthly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.