Since I arrived at Yale in July, I have been exposed to vibrant discourse on campus. For starters, Yale-NUS College, arguably Asia’s first liberal arts college, sparked controversy in the wake of its first commencement in May and 7 percent acceptance rate in the 2017 cycle. Ongoing criticism aside, I believe that both Asia and Yale will benefit greatly from the new experiment.
However, Yale’s decision to open a new campus in Singapore isn’t the only way that the administration is adapting to an increasing globalization. University President Peter Salovey sent a public letter to the President Donald Trump taking a tough stance on the DREAM Act. His boldness was a reflection of Yale’s commitment to openness and diversity; Salovey’s daring stance would rarely be seen in many other countries. Salovey’s actions reminded me that I am in America, specifically Yale. Yale often attempts to adapt to an ever-changing society, reacting to politics and current events.
Yet, even though Yale can be quite progressive, the same cannot necessarily be said for America as a whole. For example, in September, I attended the Yale Climate Conference which was organized by the Kerry Initiative. While there, I listened to the world’s pre-eminent voices on climate change. From this conference, it became clear that many of the participants believed in the reality of climate change; this wasn’t hard for them to conclude in the midst of ample evidence and solution-oriented discussions. However, climate change is still blatantly denied by many Americans. America wants to assert itself as a superpower, but perhaps it does this at the expense of others. In my 2010 goodbye letter in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, I sincerely asked America to be a beacon of hope and lead by the power of example, not by exerting examples of power. But how much progress can America really make if it is not willing to sacrifice?
According to an article by NPR, in 2009 the U.S. had 46 million uninsured people; this was as many people as South Korea’s entire population. In the years following 2009, America only whittled the number of uninsured down to about 15 million. This makes no sense to me. America is the supposed “shining city upon a hill,” accomplishing countless achievements for all mankind, but it lacks adequate health care for its inhabitants.
Unlike America, Korea is the first recipient-turned-donor nation, partly thanks to American and international aid. We have somehow managed to provide our citizens with universal health care, thanks to which I didn’t have to worry about bankruptcy when my son was suddenly diagnosed with spontaneous pneumothorax in 2009. With a premium of about 2 percent of my income charged by a national health care scheme, I paid less than $2,000 for all his treatments.
Some Americans are actively trying to screw up the current health care system. They say it is about freedom. What freedom? Freedom to suffer from not being well-cared, being shunned treatment due to existing conditions? In New Haven, minorities and low-income residents are facing a health care crisis.
Currently, America is facing many political problems. America is indeed a nation of immigrants — who constantly contribute to economic development, science and culture — yet President Trump has rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. In spite of this, Yale has openly urged him to maintain the DACA program. America has also tried to scrap the Paris climate agreement, which 195 nations signed and 166 ratified thus far. There have been attempts to roll back legislation that protects clean air and water across America. I am simply speechless when it comes to the gun control issue in America. I am still in mourning after the tragedies in Las Vegas and Texas; my prayers go out to the families of the victims. Another Sandy Hook shooting can happen anytime, in any school or campus. If now is not the time to do something serious, I don’t know when would be. Why are guns are a right when health care is not?
You best stop digging when you are already in a hole. It may be a good idea to create a climate for change before making climate change an irreparable problem in this nation. Instead of maintaining the status quo, Yale should continuously steer America forward. Please don’t distance yourself from the rest of the world by insisting “America First” too bluntly. This is never a way to become truly “exceptional.”
Shi-Chul Lee is a visiting fellow at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. He is also professor in the School of Public Administration at Kyungpook National University, Korea. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .