On Wednesday, Jan. 6, the nation sat in limbo as supporters of the former president violently stormed the United States Capitol Building. Aiming to disrupt the certification of a free and fair election, a cacophonous symphony of chants accompanied the mob’s rampage throughout the building. The rioters’ forthright articulation of their mission — to “stop the steal” — connected them to a fervor long stoked by the former president and those willing to lie for him.
Just an hour before rioters breached the Capitol’s walls, Sen. Josh Hawley LAW ’06, R-MO, strode past the mob of insurrectionists, lifting his clenched fist in solidarity. Hawley, the first senator to embrace baseless and fabricated claims of mass voter fraud, was on his way to challenge the election results on the Senate floor.
Fifteen years before he lied to the country, inflamed insurrectionists and precipitated an attempted hijacking of our democratic process, Josh Hawley was a Yalie. He walked the same halls, studied in the same libraries and learned from the same professors we do today. When we pass Phelps Gate, we walk beneath the same inscription of Yale’s motto that Hawley did — Lux et Veritas — Light and Truth. But like the numerous slave owners, accused war criminals, alleged sexual assaulters and other monstrous alumni that have preceded us, Hawley went on to deliberately subvert Yale’s collective creed: shutting out light and silencing truth.
Yale often touts itself as a champion of diversity, inclusion and progress, a shining city upon a hill for both liberalism and American liberal education. Why then does Yale — like so many other elite institutions — produce an outsized number of people who are powerful yet unprincipled? Why is Hawley simply one of many alumni with questionable moral records? This university has limited control over its graduates once they walk out its gates, but its espoused commitment to improving the world should function as more than empty rhetoric occasionally invoked by the university president.
As an elite institution, Yale serves as a site of elite class reproduction, funneling well-heeled youth into positions of power regardless of their moral convictions — or lack thereof. Though we tend to conflate a prestigious education with moral integrity, elite universities like Yale do not provide a training in character.
Josh Hawley’s actions on Jan. 6 demonstrate the fallacy of a Yale degree as an ethical credential. We must disentangle Yale from virtue in the public consciousness. We must desacralize the Yale degree.
Still, we would like to believe in Yale’s capacity to positively shape those who pass through its gates. This institution influences young people at a critical juncture in their lives. Is it inconceivable to imagine a Yale that focuses less on power and more on responsibility? What could it mean for Yale to embrace an intentional culture of principles? How might our campus change, from the admissions system to resources distributed?
Individual reforms won’t prevent every Josh Hawley. Yale cannot guarantee that all of its graduates do good. But it’s past time for Yale to reimagine itself — and for us to reevaluate our understanding of Yale.