Yale’s social architecture encourages factionalism

With the front-page article published a week ago today, the infamous Zeta Psi picture that had made the rounds of panlists during the previous night exploded into the broader consciousness of Yale. The picture, showing several pledges holding a misogynistic sign in front of the Yale Women’s Center and the center’s decision to pursue legal measures sparked debates in dining halls, classrooms and suites all over campus. Undoubtedly, the controversy raises numerous critical issues in our society about gender relations, political correctness, the legal system and many others. For me, however, these debates have exposed a problem specific to Yale: its alarming factionalism.

For a university that prides itself on the sense of community among its diverse undergraduate population, Yale suffers too often from conflicts between sharply divided groups. First, it was the Independent Party versus the cultural houses and the journalists against the ethnic groups. Now, it’s ‘fraternity brothers vs. feminists’ getting all the publicity. Although these particular cases have called the most attention recently, divisions like them persist along a variety of lines at all times.

As a member of the soccer team, I’ve found the most noticeable and destructive of these divisions to be the one between athletes or “jocks” and non-athletes or “normies.” Athletes compose over a fifth of undergraduates. We tend to think the statistic is an underestimate, while non-athletes view it as an overestimate. The fact that athletes rarely hang out with non-athletes — and vice versa — may be the cause of such a discrepancy.

After I arrived for my first pre-season, freshmen year, I personally felt the tension created by this social divide. The upperclassmen on the team warned us about “normies: They said they were going to be weird, anti-social and probably ugly. Then, after joining the Political Union and attending a few classes, I started to recognize the general view of Yale athletes: They are dumb, anti-intellectual and probably offensive. Worst of all, there was very little effort on either side to combat these stereotypes through interaction. Each side was perfectly happy to remain segregated, distrusting and superior to the other. This is not simply a freshmen-year phenomenon.

The latest controversy is a microcosm of this general problem. The football and basketball players in Zeta Psi are labeled as stupid, misogynistic jocks. The members of the Yale Women’s Center are viewed as pretentious, overly serious feminists. I go to practice; hear one side. I come back to my room and hear another. Some of us may be satisfied with the status quo, with a sharply divided campus constantly bickering (or even suing), but I firmly believe that something needs to change.

The onus is first and foremost on the students — we could all do much more to foster campus unity. However, the Yale administration could be more proactive as well. More generally, Yale should direct some of its multi-billion-dollar endowment toward programs that would create a genuine sense of community: the creation of a student union would top my list. In addition, specifically addressing the jock-normie divide, Yale should stop rooming freshmen athletes with athletes. My freshman year, eight of the nine freshmen on my team lived in a room composed primarily of athletes. In Branford College, every athlete lived with other athletes. Athletes already spend much of their time outside of class with other athletes; why compound this problem with rooming assignments?

In the literature designed to attract its applicants, Yale trumpets its diversity. In reality, its effects are counterproductive as our self-segregation only reinforces the stereotyping that diversity is supposed to deter.

Joining groups of people with similar interests and backgrounds comes very naturally to us as human beings; venturing outside of these groups requires a lot more effort and can even cause some to feel discomfort and awkwardness. Yet, those feelings are part of a process of personal growth that Yale promises all of its students. Unfortunately, as proven by many of the recent events on campus, the University has not entirely delivered on that promise.

Max Rhodes is a junior in Branford College.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    This is what a column should be: an actual, thoughtful, and well-meant contribution to public discourse.

    I am sorry that it is an exception, and hope that it will become something else - perhaps another beginning.

    Branford, '09

  • Yawn

    This column bored me to tears.

    Who would have guessed that students with similar interests, backgrounds, schedules, friends would associate more with each other than not?

    This is lazy writing that makes a issue out of a non-issue.

  • Indoctrinate me

    Hanging out with ones friends, common interests, peer group etc. is a common thread that attracts people to people. Why should one force me to change who I choose to have common interests with? I do agree however, that rooming athlete with athlete limits the introduction of social diversity, especially in the first year of attending Yale. Unless the university declares athletes to be exceptions to some rule they think they are living by, then musicians should room with musicians and biology majors should room with biology majors, etc. Since this does not happen then diversity has accepted exceptions to its rules. I did not think that the administration allowed diversity exceptions, unless it was intellectual diversity.

  • Anonymous

    Bravo!!

  • Anonymous

    I'm not sure a Student Union would do that much--after all, we already have an inclusive dining hall (Commons), which tends to be more segregated by interest and ethnicity than college dining halls.

    But the point about housing is extremely well made. I thought it was just a coincidence when my entryway turned out to be "the jock entryway" freshman year, with almost no athletes in the other entryways of my college…

  • Hieronymus

    The absence of any (ill-named) "student union" is one of the central (or, rather, de-centralized) beauties of Yale. The college system (much like the US) is, despite its perceived flaws, better than all alternatives.

    Now: I hope that *most* of this article is tongue-in-cheek ("normies?!"), but it does point out the gravitational force of like interests. But one of the wonders of Yale is that it suffers much LESS factionalism than other institutions: jocks might be on stage (math majors certainly are); musicians hang in the sciences; roomies cross orientational barriers; and so on.

    So, like much at Yale, each potential flaw somehow gets magnified beyond all recognition. Relax. Enjoy yourself. Study hard. Make friends.

    Have a great day!