We all know one when we see one. We all hate one when we see one. We know what they look like, what they dress like, what they sound like, what they smell like. The odious creature who rockets his hand with an arm outstretched, flicks back that lone tuft of immaculately coiffed hair and bellows in that brazen, bombastic voice some vapid remark whose relevance somehow justifies itself in that cushy little head of his, or sometimes hers.
All this when the hapless young TA has barely uttered some semblance of a question. We love to hate them, and we’d hate to love them. They are the inimitable Yale section assholes as made famous by Rumpus, Directed Studies and EP&E.
Now, in this colonoscopy, what does one look for? Traces of academic excrement? Perhaps; perhaps not. All joking aside, I think what’s important is to understand how our response to this section-asshole invasion has affected our academic life. Has the witch hunt that haunts our dear, despised assholes come back to haunt us ourselves? I think, perhaps, in some way, it has.
It’s staggering how many times I’ve unwillingly found myself in section some weekday afternoon, and a question has been raised, upon which ensues that agonizing pause, that piercing crisscross of sharp glances as we all wait for the wretched soul who dares raise his hand first.
Section assholes seem to be everywhere. Every section simply must have one; without one, the class somehow wouldn’t be complete. We all love to have a good whinge about someone after section. It’s great. It makes us feel great. And, let’s face it, we all take part.
But sometimes this very witch hunt in which we all join, frankly, makes us become no better than they are, cackling at the miserable chaps thrust into section to sink or float.
Now, let’s clear the air; by no means whatsoever do I want to imply there are no real assholes on campus. This is clearly not the case. I would merely venture to argue that the vast majority of people we dub “section assholes” aren’t nearly as loathsome as you think they are. Yes, they might seem really sure of themselves. Yes, they might have that infuriating twang. But the reality is that they might just be really smart too. And that’s great. In a sense it’s why we’re here. Everyone here is all extra-crazy brilliant.
The way I distinguish between real assholes and the majority of the misjudged is that the former will annoyingly make a comment very obviously of little intellectual value. The latter types might “irritate” you, but if you stopped repeating, “Asshole, asshole, asshole,” in your head every time they spoke, you might actually learn something, however irrelevant the comment might be or however outlandishly made.
I remember as a freshman in history section listening to a girl rant about Shakespeare. Though wholly irrelevant to the discussion, it was actually rather entertaining, and, dare I say it, interesting to listen to her seemingly random thoughts. Though this is an extreme example, there are many other much milder cases in which people actually do make intelligent comments but are silenced by the massive clan of witch hunters who invade our classrooms.
Remember: People in section don’t have to be our best friends. They can just be really smart people we listen to and who subsequently provoke thoughts within us that we can discuss with our real friends. Unfortunately, this latter idea has now begun to occur much less.
This, I believe, is because the reticence and often outright silence of students too afraid to speak lest they be judged “the section asshole” have moved beyond the classrooms and into suites, dining halls and college courtyards. It means that, on the whole, some people are afraid to speak out about things or come across as too intellectual to their peers over dinner, while walking to Bass or whatever.
Worst of all, this phenomenon seems to be most prevalent among freshmen, who haven’t yet developed strong enough social foundations to feel comfortable discussing the very questions and ideas that, at least as freshmen, they supposedly came here for. It means that sometimes people seldom discuss and exchange ideas beyond section, as if everyday life outside the classroom has adopted the same behavior as that during section itself.
I know this certainly might not be everyone’s experience. And, of course, there will always be multiple exceptions to all the phenomena I’ve spoken about above. I just think if we all stopped whining and worrying about being the section asshole and, perhaps, just listened to each other more, we might improve the intellectual experience at Yale and create a system in which, believe it or not, you might be able to learn much more from your fellow students than from your professors.
So relax, and don’t be so fearful. It’s only 50 minutes, after all.
Gabriel Perlman is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College.