SOARES: Antisocial behaviors

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On Monday, the News ran a half-page ad undersigned by societies that are meant to be secret. It announced that “Tap Night” would fall on April 11, preceded by a week of revelries that would begin today. Tonight is pre-“Tap Night,” when juniors will learn whether they should block off every Thursday and Sunday next year.

Teo_Soares_headshot_by_Julie_ZhuOn my pre-Tap Night, I sat suited and dress-shoed in a Branford room with the other would-be members of Linonia, a debating society and my only sort-of pre-tap. There were scraps of paper on which to take notes, and there was wine on which to get drunk. (I didn’t take many notes.) Our debating was periodically interrupted by chants coming from assorted societies gathered in the courtyard. Theirs seemed to be the more typical pre-tap experience: capes, masks, silly costumes and carousing. Leaving Branford after the debate, I felt overdressed.

Tap Night came and went. Linonia, I suppose, didn’t approve of my sub-par note taking and above-par imbibing.

The tapping process sucks. I’ve heard folks defend societies writ large, but I’ve never heard anyone defend the protracted, untransparent and downright mean way societies select their members.

Last year, my spring semester felt like one long application process that I didn’t remember entering and had no chance to opt out of. Through unexplained methods, the class of 2012 was appraising my life. My friends had invitations slipped under their doors and were attending interviews at the Study, and I fretted about not having invitations slipped under my door and not attending interviews at the Study. (In one fit of self-delusion, I wondered whether living in an apartment was disadvantaging me. How could seniors slip invitations under my door if they couldn’t enter my building?)

I was told the tapping process was arbitrary, but I still came to think of it as a measure of my self-worth. One former member of Scroll and Key told me her society devised a complex system to rank the incoming class. But even the non-meritocratic societies were implicitly judging me. Was I cool enough to join them? Smart enough? Funny enough? Interesting enough?

This year, the tapping process has left me tasting ashes. I’ve heard about objections raised against one junior because “he was awkward last night at Box.” I’ve heard about junior women being blackballed by senior women for no apparent reason. Admittedly, my understanding of this process is based on hearsay, but the picture that emerges would be comical if it weren’t awful. “There were voices raised, tears shed and hearts broken,” said a friend about deliberations for her landed society.

Why does it matter? This is the question I ask when friends in societies complain about their seven-hour deliberations. The seniors picking the next tap class are graduating in little more than a month. When I’m told a junior has been barred from society because he was awkward at Box, two things come to mind. First, the senior doing the barring probably won’t be at Box next year. And second, are these really the grounds on which these decisions are made?

One senior conceded the process’s insidiousness but not its irrelevance. When we talked, she was debating whether she should attend Tap Night next week or watch the Yale hockey team at the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. This was an actual dilemma: She is close to the guys on the hockey team, and she’s close to her society. Whatever she does, she’ll be turning her back on one set of friends.

When seniors say their society-mates are some of their closest friends, I believe them. But here’s the rub: The gossipy and untransparent tapping process does nothing to ensure that the incoming class will share a bond of friendship. If it did, I wouldn’t hear stories of seniors napping during other people’s bios. I wouldn’t hear secrets spilled from supposedly closed meetings. I wouldn’t hear people complaining about the time commitment. For every senior who is close to his or her society-mates, there’s another senior, often in the same society, who doesn’t care.

Societies rely on a broken model. Friendships can’t be preordained. They are forged at Wednesday night Toad’s and over roundtables at Viva’s. In a society, they will only emerge if members put in the effort.

Which brings me back to the seniors who will be wearing capes and masks this week: They are powerless. They have no control over whether their taps will even like each other. Their interviews and seven-hour deliberations are not legitimate processes that keep the best interests of juniors in mind. They are bonfires of vanities, and everyone gets burned.

Teo Soares is a senior in Silliman College. Contact him at teo.soares@yale.edu .

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