Sunday, September 9, 2012

Creating an Activist Network at Yale

by Alejandro Gutierrez '13

Two weeks ago I met with an old acquaintance, one of the first people I met at Yale, and we found that over the past three years we had developed many similar concerns over student life, the University’s relationship with New Haven, and society at-large. It felt a little serendipitous, a little astonishing, since we hadn’t really spoken much in those 3 years, but in the middle of discussing our views and identifying as activists, I had another thought  – how many more of us are out there? And where are they? I know students at Yale certainly care about their own specific issues, but why hadn’t we met like this?

I had been to the extracurricular bazaar, the Dwight Hall bazaar, and read flyers on the bulletin boards, but it always felt as if each group was fighting for its own niche – why weren’t we communicating and collaborating? And maybe a year ago, that would have been it. We wouldn’t have answered that question, or if we had, we wouldn’t have acted on it. But all of a sudden, things seem a little more dire – on Yale’s timeline for us, we only have one year left, one year to begin building something that we wished had always existed here: an activist network. So now we’re acting. We’re issuing a rallying call for all activists and all those interested in activism to come to the first-ever Activist Bazaar at Yale.

Isn't there already an Activist Bazaar? The truth is, no. There is a service bazaar through Dwight Hall, but activism is different from service in that it works to change social or political institutions, whereas community service (while extremely important) does not. We must differentiate the two and encourage students and community members to think critically about how to engage in activism in a way that creates positive structural change in their respective communities, be it on campus, in New Haven, or in the world.

It seems there’s been a rise of administrative clamp-down on university regulations at wide-ranging scales, from the founding of Yale-NUS to the forced registration of off-campus parties to the extremely limited student input in choosing Yale’s next President. Yet judging from the activism, or lack thereof, within the student body one would think that Yale students are not aware that their voices are being further and further suppressed.
That’s because Yale students are not, in fact, often encouraged to challenge the status quo, and instead are repeatedly told how lucky they should feel to attend Yale. To belong at a school that grants you $2,000 to bike across the country and write about it and call it “research.” To participate in community service via Dwight Hall’s Day of Service (after which you can call yourself an involved member of New Haven, I suppose). The name of the game here is compliance, it’s community service. But over the years I always wanted to hear more about organizing and more about activism.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m so grateful to be a student here. Trust me, as a first-generation college student, a child of former undocumented immigrants living paycheck to paycheck on Section 8 housing, I more than understand the privilege that comes with being a Yale student. But that’s exactly why I get so angry; I think this place has so much more potential than funneling students into corporate finance jobs or machine politics. At Yale we’re asked to critically analyze everything except ourselves. Why don’t we ask more self-critical questions?

Repeatedly, progressive reforms such as Yale’s approval of a new jobs-pipeline, the creation of CCE after Title IX investigations, and financial aid reform, have all made something quite obvious -- changes, and discussions of changes, do not come from the traditional channels that those in power have so graciously offered. It is activism, student-led platforms, that have created the most meaningful changes.

In an attempt to further empower students on campus, an Activist Bazaar will be held for the first time on Monday, September 10th at 6:30 PM next to the Women’s Table. The event will allow students to take a look at what other activist groups are doing on and off campus, as well as encourage these groups to start a conversation amongst themselves and ask one another difficult questions. Most importantly, the Activist Bazaar creates a much-needed alliance among activists at Yale.

edited by Carl Chen '13 and Marc DeWitt '15