Check Your Privilege, Yale

Image via yale.edu

It’s not news that Yale is an echo chamber for the left. I’m a low-income, Hispanic person of color at Yale, yet the identity for which I’ve been most often marginalized is my identity as a conservative. Why is that? Like for most things at this institution, the answer is privilege.

I’m a low-income, Hispanic person of color at Yale, yet the identity for which I’ve been most often marginalized is my identity as a conservative.

That I even for a moment considered writing this article anonymously speaks to a broader culture of closed-mindedness at Yale. Like Erika Christakis, I’m an advocate of self-regulation and good judgment, mostly because I believe social norms are more effective at moderating behavior than coercion is. Even then, something doesn’t sit right with me when good and smart people begin censoring their ideas so as not to lose friends. Once moderation of behavior becomes moderation of thought, we all lose. To be so insulated from this process of self-regulation is a privilege that the ideological majority enjoys, but the intellectual laziness it breeds doesn’t come without consequences. By virtue of encountering fewer challenging viewpoints, we slowly lose touch with reality and sow the seeds of privilege.

That I even for a moment considered writing this article anonymously speaks to a broader culture of closed-mindedness at Yale.

Students on campus will be quick to tell you that Yale is a bastion of white, cisgender, straight male privilege. Perhaps this is true, but each election cycle, these same students systematically overlook another important kind of privilege — privilege expressed in their voting preferences.

In the upcoming presidential election, many students will ultimately vote on the basis of their ideology, whether liberal, conservative or somewhere in between. This ability to vote according to one’s ideology or conscience is a privilege most Yale students take for granted.

College voters may be adults, but they are far from independent. In fact, they are in a unique position where they can articulate often naïve worldviews in the ballot box while simultaneously enjoying the benefits of having few real-world responsibilities. These are voters whose parents probably still monitor their bank accounts, pay their bills and file their taxes, among other things.

I will likely be writing in a candidate come Election Day, but if I voted for Trump, I definitely wouldn’t tell you so. And if I did tell you, unchecked privilege would likely make you too dismissive to understand the reasons anyway.

By self-righteously shaming a voter for not using the same principles we deploy in an election, we assume similar “lived experiences” and exercise an exorbitant amount of privilege. It’s no surprise, then, that Yale voters have been blindsided by right-wing populism in America. To understand these voters, however, demands that we abandon our homogenous lines of reasoning. We must recognize that it is a privilege to be in a position where we can vote on the basis of a candidate’s recent email scandal or on inappropriate comments made decades ago. Consider the miners in coal country that one candidate has already threatened to put out of business. Do they really have a choice? Is it possible for a reasonable person who disagrees with a candidate’s past words and actions to still vote for that candidate because his livelihood is at stake? The answers depend on whether we acknowledge and respect democratic reasoning that does not necessarily derive from ideology or conscience.

In our current political climate, it is more important than ever to try and understand each other, and that includes supporters of Donald Trump. Yale has never been a friendly place for Trump supporters, even among the three most respected conservative-leaning parties in the Yale Political Union: the Conservative Party, the Tory Party and the Federalist Party. While I’m no “self-hating” “race traitor,” I wouldn’t be so presumptuous to claim there are no genuine circumstantial reasons for people to vote for Trump. There are many genuine reasons people vote for him, and his critics only weaken their position by treating those reasons as unworthy. I will likely be writing in a candidate come Election Day, but if I voted for Trump, I definitely wouldn’t tell you so. And if I did tell you, unchecked privilege would likely make you too dismissive to understand the reasons anyway.

At this institution of learning, we have moved away from a liberal approach to diversity of thought. We have abandoned intellectual humility as a positive good and shortchanged our education as a result. To that I say: check your privilege, Yalies.

Joshua Bansal is an undergraduate studying in the ethics, politics & economics program at Yale University.

This article appeared originally in the November 3, 2016 edition of The Yale Daily News.

Articles authored or co-authored by Joshua Bansal.

Leave a Reply