Look up. What do you see? If you’re on campus, it’s probably stone, arches, stained glass or any other calling card of Yale’s favorite architectural style — Gothic Revival. The style harkens back to the original Gothic architecture of 12th–16th-century Europe. Though its revival began in England as early as the 1740s, its heyday in the U.S. began in the late 19th century. College campuses were the foremost incubators of the style, and from the 1890s to the 1930s, dozens of schools — including the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and, of course, Yale — were built (and rebuilt) to look like medieval Europe. Sterling Memorial Library, Yale’s flagship Gothic edifice, was built in 1931, 13 years after the first mobile phone, 88 years after the first fax machine and three centuries after the first steam engine. We’ve all been on tours, so I will spare you the classic “Cathedral of Learning” story. But there is another element to the style that serves the University — it looks old. Very old. Standing on campus (without an architecture snob to remind you otherwise), you might think that the buildings around us have been here for centuries, millennia, maybe even forever. These buildings suggest that what has been and what is are simply what will be. In the same line of thinking that the church should stand, whether built from wood, brick or faith alone, the institution of higher education would stand forever.
This conception of eternalness is what permits Yale to stand idly by as those it empowered abuse the privilege afforded by a Yale education. It is what permits Yale to be impartial, and thus complicit, regarding people like Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90. A belief in impartiality is predicated on the idea that the institution can weather whatever comes its way. It can shrug off the occasional horribleness it permits. Yale College Dean Marvin Chun can attend a rally outside of Sterling and, only a day later, release a statement stating that he will not release a statement regarding Kavanaugh’s nomination. He –– and the school as a whole –– can do this only because they know that for every Kavanaugh that sullies Yale’s image, there will be a few Nobel laureates, MacArthur geniuses and Pulitzer Prize winners to tip the scale back in the school’s favor. It can withstand whatever is thrown at it — the applicant pool isn’t going anywhere.
The same perception of eternalness is present in our government. We survived a world war — twice! It makes sense given that the same generation born in the triumphant aftermath of the deadliest conflict in human history is currently holding the reins of our country. They were born knowing damn well that America was, is and will be forever. And at that point in history, they were probably entitled to think so.
It is no mystery why young people feel so frustrated, so downright furious with complacent impartiality. We don’t buy it. We all grew up well aware of climate change. In fourth grade, I stuck a plant in a jar and observed the greenhouse effect right there in my kitchen. I paraphrased Al Gore and got first place in the science fair. It was obvious to me, and it is obvious to most, if not all, of us. We know that by 2100, a year perhaps within our lifetime and absolutely within the lifetime of our eventual children, the planet will not look at all the same. It’s sad to say so, but I’ve had many a conversation with friends about whether we should even be having kids. We are the polar bears floating on an ice chip, and our children will be the ones swimming.
Young people don’t believe in the eternalness of our institutions. We know that we cannot afford 40 years of Kavanaughs and McConnells holding our country hostage, ignoring our voices and destroying our planet. We know that the institutional sickness that infects our world cannot be cured by “getting some rest.” We know that no amount of virtuous impartiality for the sake of impartiality will save our fracturing society or our dying planet. There is simply not enough time to weather despots — things need to change now. Things needed to change decades ago.
This is not to say that young people are pessimists. Go to the upcoming “Weekend of Action” and see for yourself. We are powerful, unafraid and adept organizers for change. We believe in the American experiment, we believe that a bright future is possible but we do not believe that what is is simply what will be. The future is worth saving — but it won’t save itself.
Eric Krebs is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .