On Monday, the Yale Daily News published a piece investigating Governor Ron DeSantis’ claims that “unadulterated leftism” marked his time at Yale. Readers will not be surprised to find that most of his professors and peers did not corroborate his claims of “militant leftism.” While DeSantis’ comments perhaps reflect true personal discontent, it seems clear that they are primarily a political calculation, meant to gain support from his voting base. Yet he is incorrect that Yale indoctrinates students and pushes them to the left — in fact, evidence seems to suggest the opposite.
DeSantis claims that he is “one of the very few people who went through … Yale … and came out more conservative than [he] went in.” To the contrary, Yale has a long conservative tradition, largely founded in the ideas of William F. Buckley Jr., founder of The National Review. In recent years, Yale has produced some of the nation’s most prominent conservative names: DeSantis himself, Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley to name a few. Not to mention former presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush and Supreme Court justices like Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
Clearly, DeSantis is not a political outcast among Yale alumni. The real question is, why is Yale, a liberal institution, producing so many staunch conservatives?
Like all good tales, the problem with DeSantis’s statements is that they contain a fragment of truth. Campuses like Yale’s are extremely liberal, sometimes to the point of maddening homogeneity of thought. Whether or not this was true in 2001, the liberal majority on campus currently limits discourse to the point of alienating not just conservatives but, perhaps more importantly, other liberals and moderates who do not agree with them on every issue.
I am a registered Democrat. I have always argued in support of LGBTQ rights, abortion access and addressing climate change. The truth is, I and many of my friends have become disillusioned centrists, who scorn people like Trump and DeSantis but are reluctant to agree with some of the politics of our more liberal peers. Many of us are considered conservatives on campus for not falling in line, even if we wouldn’t be outside the Yale bubble.
In fact, many of my best conversations at Yale have been with self-identified conservatives, who at least grant me the respect of disagreement. They are pleased when we do agree, rather than appalled when we don’t. They do not assume my accordance, so they try to win it. In most campus liberal circles, on the other hand, I have found it to be often assumed that everyone already agrees, and if they don’t, they’re not worth the time. As a result, liberal spaces can feel devoid of the debate and exploration that many people sought at Yale in the first place.
Contrary to DeSantis’ claims, the Right flourishes at Yale. Not only do they better hone arguments by being forced to defend them, but they have a smaller, tight-knit community. Conservative organizations on campus offer a long tradition, many resources, and the sort of rich discourse other areas of Yale lack. Standing on the principle of freedom of speech, many of these conservative spaces appeal to students who may not agree about anything but their identity as freethinkers. At Yale, the Right accepts centrists. The Left doesn’t.
William F. Buckley once said, “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” In our day and age, conservatives are not stopping anything. Both ends of the political spectrum are radical to the extreme. So I urge my peers who are less partisan to stand athwart our political divide and yell “Stop.” Stop drifting to extremes and start having real conversations. Find the people who will have them with you. I want to be proud of this institution and the people who come out of it.
This is a message to fellow centrists and to the silent, moderate majority. Do not be afraid to convey your beliefs. The positions of those around you, who are more extreme, may sound more certain, but it is likely that yours are more necessary.
ARIANE DE GENNARO is a junior in Branford College. Her column “For Country, For Yale” provides “pragmatic and sometimes provocative perspectives on relevant issues in Yale and American life.” Contact her at email@example.com.