If I had a dollar for every time a relative or family friend referred to Yale as “leftist” or “commie,” I wouldn’t need to worry about student loans anymore. Unfortunately, to the great dismay of future Ian, this is not the case. However, these comments do provide me with a small, inward chuckle: they couldn’t be more off base.
While the media depicts Yale and other elite colleges as hotbeds of left-wing activism (I’m looking at you, Fox News), the vast majority of Yale undergrads are simply not the radicals they’re made out to be. Despite the default social liberalism that is widely prevalent among the student population, most Yalies’ politics are rather mainstream, falling comfortably within the neoliberal or neoconservative modes of thought that dominate elite circles.
Defined by a complacent centrism, our school is inundated with Yale Liberals.
To be clear, one can be a liberal Yalie without being a Yale Liberal. The Yale Liberal is a peculiar specimen, a breed completely distinct from your garden-variety American liberal. A member of the mythic “upper-middle class,” the stereotypical Yale Liberal is generally white (though this isn’t always the case). Born not only with a silver spoon in their mouth, but also one in their back pocket (just in case they lose the first), they most likely attended a posh prep school or, at the very least, a public school in a well-to-do neighborhood. Don’t worry, they’ll be sure to remind you it was “a good public school.”
To put it plainly, I’m talking about the wealthy kids, the moderate Democrats and passive Clinton voters. Some might even argue for the inclusion of the Romney Republicans who “just couldn’t stomach Trump” as Yale Liberals.
Largely the product of their parents’ politics, their affluent lifestyles have never caused them to thoroughly scrutinize the status quo and how it benefits them. Abstracted through the lens of ivory tower academia and made small by the distance of privilege, the suffering and hardships experienced by the general public are, to them, little more than news stories, essay prompts and topics of conversation. Following in the footsteps of their parents, many of them will pursue jobs in consulting and finance at a disproportionate rate.
As a result of the Yale Liberals, the Yale administration manages to get away with an awful lot. We’ve come to expect ineffective, stopgap measures (or even inaction) when it comes to pressing problems like Yale’s toxic frat culture and the inequality wrought by the student income contribution. Believe it or not, your civic engagement shouldn’t end with an “I voted” sticker on the back of your laptop.
This issue stretches even further: Yale’s activist community continues to remain rather small and insular, seeing as how difficult it is to get people to care about issues that don’t affect them. After all, when your biggest concern is where you’re going on your European tour after graduation, it can be difficult to relate to the day-to-day struggles of poverty-stricken Americans.
This is all symptomatic of a privileged apathy, a low standard for what we consider acceptable — or even commendable — political views and behavior here at Yale. As long as you have a vague disdain for Trump and don’t have a problem with “the gays” or immigrants, you’ve passed. Extra credit, if you have an Instagram photo from the 2017 Women’s March.
Simply put, the base level of social awareness most Yalies currently have isn’t nearly enough. As some of the wealthiest and most well-heeled members of American society, Yale Liberals ought to examine their privileged backgrounds more critically as they work to become active political agents.
For a Yale Liberal to be deserving of respect, there needs to be a serious re-evaluation of their politics and priorities. Semifrequent attendance at rallies and marches isn’t asking all that much; neither is pensive introspection regarding power and privilege. Real actions need to be taken — don’t take that finance job, opt for one with a nonprofit instead. And, for the love of God, stop rushing frats. The insincere performativity and moral posturing that defines the Yale political landscape needs to come to an end. Yale Liberals be warned: taking an ER&M or WGSS seminar is no longer a valid substitute for actually speaking out.
Ian Moreau is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .