‘Self-segregation’ myth affects all societies

Wednesday night was Pre-tap, but I’m a little hesitant to write about the group I recently joined. I know, we’re not supposed to talk about this stuff with our masks off, so I won’t name which one it is. Let’s just say I accepted the offer because I wanted to really get to know some great people I would have never otherwise met. It’s not that elitist, even though none of my other friends got in. And it will be a fantastic opportunity to network, meet alumni and maybe even get a good job after college. That alone makes it worth it, even if it’s going to take up my Thursday and Sunday nights.

Okay, okay, fine. I got tapped for Unite Here. A labor union. And even though it may not be the most prestigious or selective union (that phone call from the Teamsters never came), I’m pretty sure it’s the best fit for me anyway. The commitment’s short (only six weeks during the summer!) and the initiation process was minimal (I just had to apply!). Not to mention that my elite group of co-workers and I are going to be spending the summer outside, making friends with hotel employees and fighting for a socially just cause. The only downside is we won’t get to wear costumes.

Which is a pretty big downside, in my opinion. I struggled over it for a couple of days, but I ended up deciding that I had to put my career first, at least for now. So what if some of the organizing will be in hotel basements — when else will I get the chance to hang out with fourteen people in a hole in the ground?

What ultimately convinced me to join was thinking about how similar the union will be to the other groups I’ve been involved in. Yes, it will take up some nights and weekends, but what student organization doesn’t? It will probably be a lot of fun, I won’t have to worry about alienating friends, and I may even be tempted to disclose some things about myself that I would never say when sober. None of this is unique to the union: I must have told more secrets about myself to the riders on the Habitat Bike Challenge last summer than were actually true.

But the best thing about the union, and all of the other groups I’ve joined, is that none of them share a conception of community in which friendships are defined by their sheer exclusivity. When I meet new people in these groups, I can hang out with them and my old friends as well.

I’ve learned from Yale’s more cultured set to look for groups that don’t “self-segregate.” And, thankfully, the union fits this bill, too. I may go to Yale, but that doesn’t mean I need be programmed to seek out hierarchies, cocktail parties and dead white guys. One day, something socially beneficial might come out of that trifecta. Until then, I’ll try to share my power, not just my secrets, by working for good causes in open, egalitarian environments.

As you can tell, I’m pretty excited. I’ve basically done the hardest thing there is to do at Yale: be accepted by a group of people I don’t yet know. But with the union, I do know I’ll at least be working with a dedicated team for a common purpose that I can be proud to reveal to my friends, even the ones I’ve already had for three years. True enough: I won’t get to sit back and enjoy my privilege. But I will get to use the many advantages I have had to work side by side with the people we often ignore in order to build alternative sources of power. So when I come back to school next fall, don’t be surprised if I start a brand new club — a public society, if you will — on Thursday nights at Rudy’s to celebrate.

Because if you really want to make new friends, I don’t think the first place you should look is in a tomb. You may, unfortunately, have to go outside.

Niko Bowie is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. His column runs on alternate Fridays.


  • Anonymous

    Touche, Niko. Way to put scare societies in their proper place, embarrassed.

  • Buster Brown

    In my time as a member of Yale's union, I was told I was "making others look bad" (I was working too fast) and eventually paid to sit in an office, read the paper (USA Today, ugh!), and deliver the news to my supervisor at the first break.

    A friend of mine, working as a casual, was fired (I forget the actual term) because her computer-work "could be done by a union employee." Of course…it couldn't, and the position went unfilled (and the work, undone).

    Then there is GESO: their aggressive tactics were right out of some Communist guide (including the buddy system and harangues of attrition). Confrontations when I was just trying to get a cup of coffee. Lectures about how Yale was cheating me (what? By paying me $10K and waiving tuition? Cheat me some more, please!).

    And when the unions struck and "scabs" were brought in for custodial duty? The hospital was the cleanest it had ever, ever been! All the doctors (secretly, so that unionista wouldn't hear) whispered among themselves how they wished the strike would go on and on indefinitely… The replacement staff were hard-working, conscientious, polite--the OPPOSITE of what we were used to.

    Yes: working for and with the unions sure taught ME a lesson, one I keep with me still: BUST 'EM!

  • ex-officio

    Written lightly and fluidly. I'm almost a fan of this article. Thankfully, not ANOTHER whiny one.

  • Yonah

    Hear, hear!

  • Great!

    Thanks for the article, it's great and I agree 100%.

  • fabulous

    so true. great article. i thought yalies hated the exclusivity of princeton's eating clubs, but hey, we're no better. well written.

  • Yale Mama

    Niko I love, love, love your writing. You are truly a talented young man. I am happy thta someone close to me considers you a friend.

  • Anonymous

    Great article Niko! But now that the pre-tap list has leaked to Ivygate and JuicyCampus we're all wondering if you'll accept..? Is it possible to do both?

  • Old Blue '73

    Has Yale really changed so much in 35 years that people really give a damn about whether they or someone else is in a senior society? Reverse snobbery usually is a reaction to real snobbery. Is there a snobbery about senior societies now? Is membership seen as prestigious? It wasn't 35 years ago, but now I wonder.

    Oh, btw, Niko, tell us how abolishing secret ballots in worker elections on unionization is such a democratic and wonderful thing. Unite Here is pushing this, which they call "card check neutrality". Give us a report on that when next you write, won't you?

    "But the best thing about the union, and all of the other groups I’ve joined, is that none of them share a conception of community in which friendships are defined by their sheer exclusivity. When I meet new people in these groups, I can hang out with them and my old friends as well."

    This paragraph is a real laugher. Just make sure your old friends are pro-union and make sure your Unite friends don't know you hang out with any non-union new friends (assuming you don't define your friends by any exclusivity criterion, like only union folk).

  • Anonymous
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