I read with interest your recent article, “Segregation, Cross Burnings, and ‘Misguided’ Students: The News of the 1950s.” I entered Yale in 1955 and took my undergraduate degree in 1959. I went on to the Law School and graduated in 1962. Your article reminded me of the lack of concern and awareness that many of us then had respecting relations between the majority of male Caucasian students and the tiny minority of African-American students. I was in Jonathan Edwards College and recall only one African-American in all of JE. There was only a scattering of students from other countries.
Most of us were preoccupied with studies, work (for those of us who paid our own way), social life, and planning for our post-college lives. For the most part we gave very little thought to the larger social issues that simmered beneath the surface of the world we chose to know. There was a certain pressure to conform to what we believed to be a “Yale man.” The decade of the 1950s was a time when conduct and thought outside the mainstream was considered weird, if not “un-American.” Although my undergraduate studies were in engineering, I was no more insulated than my liberal arts schoolmates from the swirling social currents then beginning to work their way into the national consciousness.
My impression is that the Yale Daily News personnel were no more socially aware than the rest of us, and their news coverage reflects that collective myopia.
In the next decade, especially after the election of President Kennedy, societal restrictions on individual thought and conduct began to relax. Pressures to conform began to be replaced by a “do your own thing” attitude. Those only a few years younger than I brought a refreshing respect for individuality to our society. The movements supporting civil rights and women’s rights became widely adopted. The bumper sticker “Challenge Authority” reflected a growing respect for individuality. From what I read in the alumni news, Yale’s students and administration are light years ahead of my “quiet generation” in terms of respect for individuals whose conduct may differ from that of the majority. More than ever, our society supports efforts to recognize and remedy conduct that suppresses individuality. Yale, particularly after admitting women, has become increasingly relevant and more important to world-wide society. This all makes me hopeful for our society’s future.
There will be occasional back-sliding, but the long-term trend favors progress.
Daniel E. Harris
‘59 LAW ‘62