Yale University

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Reply to Sam Francis "Empathy for President Salovey"

Waldo Johnston

January 13, 2016

Category: Society > Campus Issues

What an insightful article, Sam. You are quite right that we all, despite our protestations of objectivity, are biased and prejudiced. As you recount, while our biases are sometimes deliberate, most often they are subtle and inadvertent, seen and felt only by those who have learned how to recognize them.

I never ran a 900-person organization. But as I was about to lead a class of twenty or so ninth graders years ago in a discussion of the rise and fall of some Chinese dynasty, a student named Jeremy entered our classroom in great distress, explaining that he had been harassed by the manager of a local mall who accused him of shoplifting just because he was a black youth. Needless to say, we spent the class listening to Jeremy spill out his hurt and offering him our collective sympathy and support. He had reached his tipping point and his frustration, anger, and pain finally overcame him.

I agree that many students at Yale and elsewhere have reached this tipping point and are lashing out. Like you, I do not envy President Salovey. But I continue to believe that the approach to this dilemma is not to further segregate these marginalized groups from the community in which they study and live by establishing dedicated centers where they can find safety and reinforcement. Somehow they must learn to live in the real world where bad things happen not only to them, but to all of us.

My high school, Pomfret, is establishing a multicultural resource center which will be open to ALL students, intending as its mission to help all groups understand each other better. Might Yale be better served by scrapping these “affinity” centers and the like and promoting places and programs that will allow all these groups to really interact?

By the way, Jeremy eventually followed his older brother to the US Naval Academy and is now a doctor. I hope our class helped him achieve these distinctions.