by Keith Stagg (b. 1983)
I am a graduate student at Yale. When people learn this for the first time, they assume one of two things. First they might look up to my intellectual stature, treating me as one would William Shakespeare or Isaac Newton upon first acquaintance: an archetypical broad-shouldered giant. The second reaction is to see me as a privileged Yankee, a robber baron member of the Ivy League. My old friends from Oregon and New Mexico would be amused by these caricatures, as am I.
Knowing that I do not fit these stereotypes often leads those friends to assume that I do not fit in here, but that too is a logical fallacy. I fit in well, for neither stereotype describes more than a very few in the student body. The students here are generally intelligent, but certainly not giants. Anyone from my obscure undergraduate school in eastern Washington State would feel comfortable in classroom discussions at Yale. That is not surprising, but the extent to which the second stereotype is wrong, is mindblowing.
This past fall I attended a research seminar for the thirty students pursuing Masters of Science degrees at the Yale School of Forestry. The culmination of the class was a “grant panel” in which we evaluated and ranked each person’s proposed thesis research. The top five projects were denoted with names in dark black marker on yellow sticky notes placed above the others.
Anna Pickett. Francisco Espinosa. Fauziah Fakhrunnisa Rochman. Caitlin O’Brady.
Not a single white male. And the top pick, the most distinguished of our Privileged Yankee Elite? That honor went to Fauziah, a soft spoken Muslim woman from Indonesia.
A generation before ours, this might have made the paper. Yet among our generation, no one seemed to notice that the most blue blood of schools was an institution that has grown beyond its ignoble beginnings.