Yale University

Sound Off !

Reply to Tony Lavely "Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty (Thoreau)"

Waldo Johnston

February 2, 2016

Category: Society > Campus Issues

Hello Tony:

What a wonderful article you have written in response to those of us who have submitted our own observations to Sound Off!

You are quite right that most if not all of our institutions are slow to change, and protests have been important vehicles for instituting proper and necessary change throughout our history. After all, our generation protested very loudly about such matters as the war in Vietnam, civil rights, and justice for all citizens. Now it is our turn to listen to the grievances of others in our midst and try to put ourselves in their shoes.

Unlike you, I never dated a woman of another race or spent time in jail. I was, however, the only white face within leagues of my village in Uganda where I served for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I also had the moving classroom experience back home which is included in my reply to Sam's article. I currently volunteer several times a week at an after-school program for an impoverished community not far from my Florida home.

My issue is not with the goals of Yale, institutions in general, or our generation. It is, rather, with the methods that are being marshaled to achieve them. I think the emphasis should be on fostering honest, face-to-face discussion between and among diverse groups by integration in class, in the colleges, on the playing fields, and wherever students gather, and not by accentuating differences through self-segregation. As I said, I am not persuaded that Yale is following this course. By the way, I just read that UConn is establishing a “black only” housing program called ScHOLA2RS for black males with the goal of improving their graduation rates. One can only wince at the scope of unintended consequences of this course of action. [Editor's note: ScHOLA2RS stands for "scholastic house of leaders who are African American researchers and scholars."]

I was interested to read the letter in the Jan/Feb issue of YAM (pgs. 9 & 10) by Robert Hinton (’91 PhD) whose daughter received letters from various offices at Yale prior to her matriculation telling her “(1) You don’t really belong at Yale; (2) you will never be comfortable at Yale; and (3) to survive the Yale experience, you will have to separate yourself culturally and psychologically.” Despite these warnings, he continues, she had “more fun than I usually allow." I don't see how this deliberate effort to divide Yale students — even before they arrive on campus — can achieve any worthy goal.

Again, Tony, thanks for joining the discussion and doing so in such a thoughtful and gracious manner. If our classmates approach these issues in a similar spirit, we will have a most constructive session next Saturday.

P.S. By chance I am also reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, and will be the presenter for Jeff Hobb’s The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace at our book club next week. Both are disturbing and powerful, and offer much to dwell upon.

All the best, Waldo