At my alma mater of Yale a round of student protests continues to rage, said to be concerned with something called "institutional racism." But one thing that stands out is the lack of concrete incidents of racist conduct or wrongdoing that the protesters can point to. The closest thing I have found to a specific instance of racist conduct is one allegation of a fraternity party that excluded black women; but that allegation was rather thoroughly debunked by the Daily Beast here. The fraternity's story is that after a noise complaint they stopped letting in anybody, irrespective of race.
Lacking specific instances of misconduct, the protesters keep returning to a more general theme: We've been "marginalized" on campus. OK, that has an initial ring of plausibility to an outsider, but does it have any real meaning? Or is it just something completely fake that can't ever be proved or disproved?
I'm trying to figure out what the term "marginalization" could mean in the context of something the school is somehow doing to the student, but I keep coming up short. In my own day, here was my entire relationship with the academic end of the school: I chose my classes; I went to the classes; I did the homework; I wrote the assigned papers; I took the tests; I got my grades. Now, suppose somebody had wanted to "marginalize" me. What could they have done to me in the context of this relationship? I can't even imagine what it might have been. Not let me go to class? Not let me do the homework? Not let me take the test? Never happened, of course. But more important, I equally don't believe that anything like this has happened to any of these protesters who claim they have been "marginalized." Meanwhile, on the non-academic side, I lived in the dormitory and I ate in the dining hall. Nobody ever tried to stop me. I also don't believe that anyone has ever stopped one of these protesters from doing the same.
So they must be talking about something else. But what? Maybe that they were expecting to develop some kind of deep personal relationships with the professors and it hasn't happened? For myself, I never had the slightest interest in getting to know the professors personally, and I never did it. Occasionally there were lunches where professors would come to the dining hall and eat with a table of students, and talk about their area of scholarship. Those were open to all, and I went to a few of them. Again, I can't believe for a minute that some students are excluded from those things today, particularly in a systematic way based on race. If someone has an instance, I'd like to hear about it.
But while I can't think of what it could be that the school could do to the students to marginalize them, I very much can think of things that students can do to marginalize themselves. As with everything else in life, your time is limited in school, and you need to use every bit of it effectively. Students need to choose their courses carefully, to take things that are real and challenging intellectually, and to learn the material. They are very well served if they get to know many of their classmates, and particularly the ones who are intellectually engaged with the world. (You may be surprised to learn that there are remarkably few of such people at even a top school like Yale.)
Or, you can take the opposite approach and marginalize yourself. For example, you can take non-challenging and non-serious courses. You can fail to do the assigned course work. You can spend your time hanging out in your segregated ethnic "cultural center." You can let yourself waste your precious time on foolish protests about nothing. Nobody makes you do any of these things. You do them to yourself.
On one specific subject, let me be very blunt: everybody outside of academia knows that nearly all courses in "ethnic, race and gender studies" are not serious and are phony. Inside academia, most people know it too, but a cult of enforced silence keeps them from saying it to you. I do not contend that all courses in these areas are unserious and phony, nor am I saying that there is nothing worth learning or knowing in these areas. But the academic departments at Yale and every other major university that cover these subjects (and, for that matter, much of the humanities) are completely overcome with a metastatic cancer of a combination of anger, groupthink, anti-intellectualism and anti-Western Civilizationism. If you are majoring in "ethnic, race and gender studies," do you have the sense that people look down on you? Well, many undoubtedly do; and they are not wrong to do so. You have chosen to marginalize yourself. People are going to notice.
If you think that people at Yale are looking down at you for specializing in "ethnic, race and gender studies," wait until you hit the outside world. The things you learn in these courses have no value in the marketplaces where people earn a living in the world. If you majored in "ethnic, race and gender studies," the only job out there for you is something in academia funded by a government handout. Good luck with that! Do you think you should get one of those $200,000-to-start jobs at Goldman Sachs? Then you'd better know cold the very complex math behind bond trading.
If the Yale administration can do something important for its students -- and most particularly for the students of color -- it would be to give them some guidance on how not to marginalize themselves. It should get rid of unserious and phony courses where they can hide and not learn anything. It should clearly and promptly discipline students who subject nice professors to hysterical shrieking rants. It should strongly discourage students from segregating themselves into their own ethnic enclaves.
Do you think Yale would do these things? No, of course it's exactly the opposite. To be fair to the Yale administration, the things demanded by the protesters come down substantially to being allowed to further marginalize themselves. All the administration did (although it's shameful enough) was to go along with much of it. So two days ago Peter Salovey, President of Yale, came out with a letter addressed to "Members of the Yale Community," containing his response to the demands of the protesters. Among the items:
- Increased funding for the ethnic "cultural centers": Starting in 2016-17, the program budgets for the four cultural centers will double, augmenting the increases made this year and the ongoing facilities upgrades resulting from last year’s external review.
- More courses and even a special "university center" for studies in race, ethnicity and "social identity": Race, ethnicity, and other aspects of social identity are central issues of our era, issues that should be a focus of particularly intense study at a great university. . . . Recent events across the country have made clear that now is the time to develop such a transformative, multidisciplinary center drawing on expertise from across Yale’s schools; it will be launched this year and will have significant resources for both programming and staff.
The end result is that the students who are already marginalizing themselves will be encouraged and enabled to marginalize themselves further. Well, I guess it's what they asked for. But shouldn't the school make at least some effort to do the right thing by these kids?