When former Navy SEAL James Hatch entered Yale as a freshman in September, he didn’t know what to expect, especially from his much-younger fellow students.
The 52-year-old Hatch had heard that college campuses were chock-full of “snowflake” students who melted down if they didn’t have the comfort of a “safe space.”
The reality turned out to be much different, Hatch explained in a recent post for Medium titled “My Semester With The Snowflakes” that has since gone viral.
Hatch said many of his friends have asked him, “How are things up there with the liberal snowflakes?” but he said he has not met one kid who fits that description.
“None of the kids I’ve met seem to think that they are ‘special’ any more than any other 18–22-year-old,” Hatch, who uses a service dog for his PTSD, wrote in the post. “These kids work their asses off. I have asked a couple of them to help me with my writing. One young woman volunteered to help me by proof-reading my ‘prose’ and, for the record, I believe she will be the President someday.”
Hatch admitted to being nervous about whether his fellow students would accept him, and found many willing to help proofread his work and thank him for his 26 years of military service.
He was especially grateful for the relationship he built with “an exceptional young woman from Chicago” who, after a police shooting, wrote a piece for the Yale Daily news expressing the importance of public demonstrations.
“She and I are polar opposites,” Hatch wrote. “I am the ‘patriarchy’ at first glance, and she is a young black woman who is keen on public protests. Not the type of soul I generally find myself in a conversation with. We come from different worlds and yet we both read classic works with open hearts and minds.”
Hatch said the experience opened his mind and also his vocabulary — such as when a female student used the word “safe space” in his presence:
I come from a place where when I hear that term, I roll my eyes into the back of my vacant skull and laugh from the bottom of my potbelly. This time, I was literally in shock. It hit me that what I thought a “safe space” meant, was not accurate.
This young woman, the one who used the phrase, isn’t scared of anything. She is a life-force of goodness and strength. She doesn’t need anyone to provide a comfortable environment for her. 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 explained that he began to appreciate the term when he and other students were having potentially touchy debates on topics such as “the Aristotelian idea of some humans being born as ‘natural slaves’”:
She was quite comfortable in that space. The question was, how comfortable was the 52-year-old white guy in that discussion? Did it make me uncomfortable? Yes. I’m grateful for the discomfort. Thinking about things I don’t understand or have, for most of my life, written off, is a good thing.
Hatch confessed that before he began the semester he looked for reasons to disregard the opinions of those he didn’t respect and “discounted the ideas of people I felt like hadn’t earned the right to share what was in their mind.”
Now, Hatch says the real “snowflakes” are “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 ended the article by declaring solidarity with his fellow students by calling himself “a snowflake with a Purple Heart.”
Read Hatch’s piece at Medium.com.
Disclosure: Hatch is a relative of a HuffPost reporter, who was not involved in the creation of this article.