Yale freshman and former Navy SEAL James Hatch wasn’t sure what he’d find when he arrived in New Haven this fall after a 26-year military career.
In an essay now circulating widely on social media, he detailed his “semester with the snowflakes,” describing his positive experiences discussing classic texts and “uncomfortable” issues with classmates and challenging generational stereotypes.
“In my opinion, the real snowflakes are the people who are afraid of that situation,” Hatch wrote. “The poor souls who never take the opportunity to discuss ideas in a group of people who will very likely respectfully disagree with them.”
Hatch, 52, is now a student in Yale’s Directed Studies Program, an intensive series of first-year seminars on philosophy, literature and historical and political thought.
He also addressed his understanding of the term “safe space,” which he said would previously make him “roll my eyes into the back of my vacant skull and laugh from the bottom of my potbelly.” He’s reconsidered that now, after hearing a classmate use the term.
“What she meant by ‘safe space’ was that she was happy to be in an environment where difficult subjects can be discussed openly, without the risk of disrespect or harsh judgment,” Hatch wrote.
More than 12,000 people have shared the essay on Twitter since he posted it, and nearly 40,000 have “liked” it. More than 70 have commented on the Medium page.
Hatch wrote the piece because of the “unique position” he’s in, he said in an interview. “It seems to me that we live in kind of a binary culture right now. You’re either a Fox News enthusiast or a CNN enthusiast and you don’t really listen to the other side except to criticize them” he said. “I’m lucky that I get put in this position to see something different.”
Since posting the essay, he’s heard from Yale students, other veterans and from some of his former commanding officers, he said. Some of the students have told him that reading it made them reflect on how well they listen and are open-minded, he said.
He called it an opportunity to “give a little bit back” to the Yale community.
Hatch, who lives in Virginia when school is not in session, plans to pursue a degree in the humanities. He’s written one book and wants to continue writing, along with running his nonprofit, Spike’s K9 Fund.
“I want to work my way into situations where I can talk to folks that are making decisions about when and if to send other people’s kids to war,” he said, drawing on the combination of his military and academic experiences.
In reading classic texts, “there’s some lessons that I think if we had, some of the folks in our leadership, both parties, I wonder if they’d make the same decisions and same claims,” he said.
His essay is a call for having open minds and difficult discussions with people who disagree.
In his combat deployments, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, he learned that people are more similar than that binary culture indicates, he said. “For the most part, even though the roof on the church might have a different shape, most of the people want the same thing,” he said: safety, education and stability for their families.
“I want to build bridges and lead, in some small way, a new conversation where we stop pointing out the perceived differences in each other, or this group vs that group, and start pointing out similarities,” he wrote.