Critiques of the University that rely on simplistic generalizations such as the one above unsurprisingly ring hollow. But Students Unite Now would beg to differ. The well-known student activist group recently struck again before Thanksgiving break, marching across campus to “Eliminate the Student Income Contribution” and “Support Local 33,” the graduate students’ proposed union. They then postered entire billboards with student testimonies — mostly founded on unnuanced claims about unfairness — about the two “battles.”
SUN has essentially grouped all of the University’s problems into two categories: the Student Income Contribution and Local 33, both of which have already been responded to many times. I critiqued the standard Student Income Contribution argument in an earlier piece, “Eliminate the myth,” to which SUN never openly responded. And Local 33 has faced significant criticism, most recently with a petition circulated this fall by graduate students who criticized the union as unproductive and alienating. SUN clearly isn’t interested in truth, or, as it appears, even succeeding in their pursuits. When financial aid changes were released earlier this year — an elimination of the insurance requirement for low-income students and the addition of a Domestic Summer Award to support unpaid internships — SUN quickly claimed them as victories for activism and then kept on marching. They weren’t grateful that two major points of issue concerning financial aid — apparently their fighting cause — were resolved after careful thought on behalf of the University. Instead they were only interested in using the “successes” as a rallying point to make more noise.
To clarify, I oppose SUN’s ends less than their means — I know that many students in the organization have good intentions — but their method of intellectual engagement surrounding supposedly crucial issues lacks critically needed substantive thought. The organization capitalizes on the energy of eager first years and wealthy leftists who want to “make a difference,” ultimately relying on initial appeal to justify their ideological positions as unquestionable.
This type of participation is nothing more than what I call “the politics of convenience” — high-energy, large-scale engagement in organizations that may seem noble or fulfilling, but ultimately lacking any form of self-reflective criticism. This encourages a mode of thought that dangerously privileges comfort over rigor.
But SUN is only the extreme manifestation of a certain type of groupthink that is endemic on campus. Our organizational culture at Yale brainwashes too many students into thinking that in-group camaraderie around ideas is equivalent to correctness about their beliefs. Fossil Free Yale, for example, has also continued to critique the University without listening or substantively answering the many University-level responses to their efforts. The Yale College Democrats similarly display such single-mindedness. Their poorly justified refusal to support Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 in the Ward One elections testifies to their bureaucratic, value-absent push for a baseless Democratic agenda. And the Yale Political Union is often little more than the best place on campus to further entrench yourself in your own voice. The recent ANAAY controversy is another example of group-enforced, unified passion taken to absurd extremes.
Even the The William F. Buckley, Jr. Program , which I have previously defended, must be wary of its future. If it continues to stop at “free speech good” for the majority of its events and seminars, it too will become another echo chamber, pursuing a goal without recognizing and being grateful for progress when it happens. The organization unceasingly resuscitates the specter of the campus protests of November 2015 and uses it as its central call to action — an unhealthy attitude for the institution going forward.
I remember clearly during my Freshman Address, when University President Peter Salovey and former Yale College Dean Johnathan Holloway stressed that at Yale, extracurricular activities become a second education — just as valuable as your first, academics. And for the most part, that’s true. The scale and scope of many Yale organizations are remarkable, and Yalies’ enthusiasm to explore their passions can be inspiring. But if some of our most prominent political student activities continue to operate with narrow minds, then that second education will be reduced to a series of weakly held, unchallenged prior beliefs.
I wish I could say this problem is isolated to student activities, but the political sentiments of convenience extend beyond organizations. The fundamental issue of opinion on campus, on both political sides, seems not to be a snowflake-like inability to engage, but an ease with which students obstinately refuse to question their own missions. Liberals are afraid of defending values and living them, while conservatives never move past pointing out hypocrisy (while paradoxically failing to keep the values they apparently hold so dear). Campus discourse is now seemingly only sparked by obviously wrong op-eds, absurdly high-profile identity politics disputes or blind advocacy for universally held positions — all is quiet when well thought out positions are offered.
We must not merely be seduced by easy arguments or convenient values. Yale students are better than that.
Leland Stange is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .