Freshman class starts new groups

It is a Wednesday night on Yale’s campus. While two students are sifting through song lyrics in their Durfee common room, another student plucks at his guitar in the Pierson Music Room. In Connecticut Hall, two slightly overworked Morsels are finishing up an Excel sheet titled “Members List,” while back in Lanman-Wright, two Piersonites nod their heads to the rough beat of their DJ set.

All these students have three things in common: They are working hard, though not on their homework, they are members of the class of 2010, and they are engaged in the newest wave of Yale’s entrepreneurial fervor — student organizations launched by freshmen.

“As much as we enjoy the academics around here, you’ll quickly learn that limiting yourself to studying is not what the real Yale experience is about,” Celina Krichner ’10 said. “Not at all.”

On their way to making the most of their Yale experience, a number of freshmen like Kirchner have decided to forgo joining existing extracurricular organizations and instead are founding their own. In recent weeks, Yale freshmen have founded two new a cappella groups, two comedy groups, a DJ company and a Kabuki theater ensemble. While they claim a variety of reasons for starting their respective groups, most of the students said they were inspired to action by a desire to earn their place on campus.

Kirchner recently founded her own improvisational theater group on campus, which yet has to be named.

“Auditioning for the already existing improv groups was a fun experience, but I soon decided that starting something completely new on campus has a greater appeal,” she said. “Within a couple of days, I assembled some friends and we were good to go.”

Gary Jaffe ’10, who is also part of the new improv group, said he thinks that the freshmen are not just trying to mimic established extracurricular groups but are trying to truly provoke change on campus.

“In the case of our improv group, we are not just trying to copy what’s already there,” Jaffe said. “We want to liven things up by adding something new to the mix.”

Unlike current campus improv groups, Kirchner’s new group will incorporate more competitive elements to their shows. Jaffe said the group plans to center its shows around a competition between two teams of three to four people who will fight for audience attention.

Alex Berggruen ’10 and Sam Shepard ’10 are covering a different extracurricular territory. The pair recently initiated the members of the newest a cappella group on campus, “The Sharpest Tools,” with a wild scavenger hunt around Old Campus.

“The main focus of the group is to have fun and become an actual a cappella group,” Berggruen said. “We intend to sing primarily ’90s songs that people sing in the shower and will remember from awkward sixth-grade dances.”

Although Shepard said some people discouraged him from starting an a cappella group due to the existing abundance of singing groups on campus, he decided to go ahead with his plan because he believes there is more room for expansion.

“When we went to our master to discuss our plan, he was very supportive but couldn’t help saying something along the lines of, ‘Oh, don’t we have enough a cappella on campus already?,’” Shepard said. “The answer is simple: No. Not as long everyone with a little talent and who enjoys singing actually has a chance to sing.”

Students give a variety of reasons for the freshmen class’s eagerness to distinguish themselves on campus. Alice Walton ’10 said she thinks the high expectations surrounding the class of 2010 may have spurred the new growth of groups.

“During the admissions process we’ve constantly heard how important [the class of 2010] to the colleges is,” she said. “After all, in Yale’s case, the admission numbers for this year were extremely low, which makes you think, if you were lucky enough to get in, shouldn’t you be living up to that reputation and contribute?”

Avinash Gandhi ’10 and Matt Eisen ’10, who are currently in the process of starting their own on-campus DJ company, said they believe that the class of 2010 has a coherent support system that makes experimenting with new groups easier.

“The Old Campus is on fire, because people have your back,” Gandhi said. “2010ers are a fun crowd, but they know what counts. I guess if you have a good home base, you are more comfortable with diving into crazy ideas.”

Eisen said he thinks the conflict over how to describe the class of 2010 contributed to this quick-forming bond.

“We freshmen still have no idea what to call ourselves,” he said. “Oh-ten, twenty-ten, two-thousand-and-ten, it’s very confusing. I guess it’s that conflict that made us all bond quickly beyond residential college borders.”

Eisen is a contributing reporter for the News.

While freshmen around campus take pride in their classmates’ inventive spirit, older students regard this movement with caution.

Edgar Diaz-Machado ’09 thinks that freshmen groups are in danger of disappearing after an initial period of excitement. Even if the groups survive until the freshmen class is the senior class, he said, they will not continue as Yale traditions unless they manage to attract underclassmen.

“I think it’s pretty thin ice they’re skating on,” Diaz-Machado said. “It’s the happy-go-lucky attitude freshmen have of wanting to do everything once they get here, like taking 6.5 credits … or starting an a cappella group. It’d be nice if any of these actually still existed in five years when 2010 is gone, but I’ve seen a trend of senior-heavy organizations that eventually disappear.”

But Yale’s newest crop of innovators said they are confident they will succeed and have started moving forward with their plans.

Naomi Bland ’10, who founded the Kabuki theater ensemble “NaiQin,” is getting ready for her first rehearsal. Kirchner and Jaffe already have three different gigs for their improvisational group — including a bar mitzvah and a Saybrook birthday party ­— even though they have not yet decided on a name for the group. Berggruen and Shepard recently finished their first week of a cappella rehearsals, and Gandhi and Eisen are eagerly distributing flyers for their DJ company around campus.

“We are Yalies, and as Yalies we are innately destined to be as active as possible,” Kirchner said. “Whether the groups work out or not doesn’t matter as long as we’ve tried.”

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