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‘Conservatives, don’t give up on Yale’: Student’s winning essay highlights battle for Yale’s soul

Beneath the outrageous headlines, there’s a “robust conservative community” at Yale University, and one student urges Americans not to give up on the Ivy League institution just yet.

From conservative Federalist Party debates to the William F. Buckley Jr. Program, the largest student organization on campus with over 350 members, “conservatism is not dead at Yale — not even close,” wrote Yale sophomore history and philosophy major Michael Samaritano in an award-winning essay for National Review.

And it’s no time to abandon the campus, he added.

“Regardless of how much we desire it, Yale, and the rest of America’s elite universities, aren’t disappearing anytime soon. These institutions have power, money, connections, and — to be completely honest — many of the top intellectuals and instructors in the world, even (and especially) in the humanities. Whether we like it or not, these institutions will continue to shape the future of our country,” wrote Samaritano in his essay.

His piece won the inaugural William F. Buckley Jr. Essay Contest, started by National Review Institute this year. Organizers say the contest for this year aimed to promote thought and discussion surrounding William F. Buckley Jr.’s writings. Buckley was a public intellectual, conservative author and political commentator who founded National Review.

Samaritano, in a telephone interview with The College Fix, said he had previous discussions with friends at Yale on conservative matters and had read the essay’s book prompt “God and Man at Yale.” He said he was drawn to the topic.

“The situation here in Yale for conservatives [is] a little different than it’s presented in conservative media,” he said.

He said he wanted to be a voice for the conservatives on campus and prove that one did not need to be left-leaning to have a good experience at Yale. He said there is intellectual debate taking place that benefits all students, and his center-right peers experience a chance to understand why they believe what they believe.

“You can do a lot more there, I think as a conservative,” he said. “You’re establishing your principles.”

Samaritano’s essay argued there is still a lot that the university had to offer despite liberal leanings, and that conservatives do not have to be afraid to attend Yale.

As part of winning the essay contest, Samaritano participated recently in an online event dedicated to discussing his argument.

Daniel Tenreiro, a fellow with the National Review Institute who also attended Yale and took part in the event, said he appreciated one aspect of Samaritano’s essay that dealt with the importance of conservatives using their voice to tackle divisive issues on campus.

His essay stated that:

As conservatives, we must aim higher. If we want our ideas to be taken seriously in the university, we must ourselves assert that they are serious. We cannot tell students that all ideas are created equal; we know unequivocally that they are not. Classical philosophy and critical theory are not equal. One teaches students humanity’s unique nature in the universe so that they may build; the other teaches them the opposite so that they may dismantle. Consequently, the latter should not be given the same space and examination in the university as the former.

Tenreiro told The College Fix in a telephone interview that “conservatives cannot give up, as the title goes.”

“One way to not give up is to just go and engage with these institutions despite the fact that they might be hostile,” he said.

Tenreiro, who attended Yale, said he could relate to Samaritano.

“Michael identified something that is pretty evident on Yale’s campus, which is that although there are conservative groups that exist, they’re mostly just arguing for the possibility of discourse rather than making any sort of meaningful claims,” he said. “I think that that was one of the most incisive things that he points out.”

Samaritano cited the importance of an elite education for conservatives, mentioning former President Donald Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and talk show host Ben Shapiro as examples of influential conservatives that came out of Ivy League schools.

“These are the sort of people that are at the forefront of conservative movement right now. A lot of them are products of these universities,” he told The College Fix.

As such, Ivy League universities should not be discounted merely because they are liberal—especially at Yale because of the vibrant community of conservatives there who want to see their thoughts engaged with liberal ideologies on a civil platform, he said.

“Where there is life, there remains hope,” Samaritano argued at the end of his essay.

MORE: There is now one administrator for every undergrad student at Yale

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About the Author
Charlotte McKinley -- Biola University