Last semester, after the News published an opinion piece about sympathy for the elite, students across campus put the opinion desk in the public stockade that is “Overheard at Yale.” “Who needs the Onion when you have YDN op-eds?” wrote one student. Who can forget the firestorm surrounding scholarship and sportsmanship, or the brutally honest “oomphless coitus”? The opinion page occasionally feels a bit like the Yale Political Union: dedicated to a noble idea, but struggling to promote intellectual diversity, thoughts that go beyond platitudes and productive discourse.
Perhaps the most conventionally interesting opinions, beyond the ones that ignite the flames of controversy, are the ones that argue for a policy improvement. Just last week, one columnist advocated for transforming Old Campus into a senior quad in the hopes of revitalizing the residential colleges and making on-campus living “cool again.” This is a remarkable idea, one that the YCDO should seriously consider. But it is one among many that the News publishes on a daily basis, with other topics including the student income contribution — not just that it should be abolished, but that it might not exist in the first place — how Yale calculates financial aid — according to one newly inducted columnist, they shouldn’t take home equity into consideration — and how Yale should introduce “minor” courses of study.
But these are the columns that often receive the least amount of attention, even though conventionally, they are the best. If opinion columnists have a responsibility to help shape school culture, readers have the responsibility of focusing on thoughtful, well-reasoned articles as opposed to the noise that often appears alongside such articles. Noise: What else can we call deliberately controversial and incendiary articles that seek to provoke as opposed to persuade? Granted, who am I to judge what constitutes a sufficiently persuasive article? But when the premise of an article boils down to “the wealthy need just as much empathy as anyone else” or “athletes are dumb jocks,” can the ensuing arguments be remotely persuasive? “I can’t believe that you wrote this expecting others to agree with you,” reads one comment under an article on the Yale Daily News website. But the joke is on the commentator: It doesn’t matter whether people agree with the author or not or whether any meaningful conversation arises from the article. For some people, any attention is good attention.
Although there are policy columns and noise, there is one other type of column that is my favorite: the personal confession. Some might wonder what a personal confession has to do with an opinion page, as the opinion page is naturally a public as opposed to a private space. But sometimes the personal needs to be made public in the name of catharsis, in the name of the truth. Last semester, I went to see a student production. It was fine, but by the end, I was a bit confused — the play was too personal to the playwright, and, as such, I couldn’t relate to it that well. But upon further consideration, I realized that the play wasn’t written for the public as much it was written for the playwright. The play was a manifestation of their catharsis, their truth. While we need to constantly negotiate the role of these personal manifestations in the public square, it goes without saying that these personal admissions give us confidence to be more honest about our own lives. Even if they aren’t necessarily argumentative or foolproof with respect to their reasoning, the act of admission is an argument in itself, and it’s seldom the case that self-honesty defies reason.
This is my first column of the semester. I think I’ve written enough about myself over the last semester, and I haven’t been on campus long enough to be riled up about anything worth writing about — though I’m sure I’ll have something to rail against two weeks from now. Thus, I wanted to take this time and this platform to encourage others to write, whether it be a personal admission or a policy idea. This is your page as much as it is anyone else’s — use it, lest it devolve into a loudspeaker for noise.
Adrian Rivera is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at email@example.com .