ZELINSKY: The need for reassurance

On Point

I wasn’t tapped last year. And I am hesitant to write about my own experience. What if I appear bitter and unhappy to my peers? But I find that risk worth taking — especially when I remember how much I drew comfort from those who listened to my anxieties last March and April.

nathaniel zelinksy headshot (by kat oshman)In his column last Thursday, Teo Soares ’13 started a public conversation about the tap process and society — I would like to take up where he left off.

In my case — and I believe for many of my peers — the process of society tap, more than the result, affected me.

Second-semester juniors are in a particularly vulnerable place — or at least I was. You have a perception that you should have reached the peak of your Yale academic and extracurricular potential — because, after all, if you’re applying to jobs or graduate school the next fall, your record ends with your junior year. You are beginning to think about life after Yale and are starting worry for the first time. A major fear for me: If I didn’t do a banking or consulting internship, would I have a post-college plan?

In short, I was in a place where all I wanted was some reassurance that everything was going to be all right. I wanted someone to tell me that I did OK at Yale.

Then the tap process happens. Society looks like an institutionalized stamp of approval — a way to give you the reassurance you so want. And all your peers (or so it seems) are engaged in the system. It’s all so shrouded in its semi-privacy that it acquires an air of legitimacy. You know that certain professors are involved in the selection process, which only adds to the sense that societies are a value judgment by Yale, as an institution. When Dean Gentry sends out an email to “stay safe” on tap night, he only contributes to the mix.

The entire combination — personal vulnerability, the seemingly legitimate system and administrative oversight — forces young people (we were only 21 after all) to lose perspective.

In my experience, the tap process (again, not necessarily its result) made me anxious beyond belief. I felt like the issue at stake was not just a student affiliation, but my entire worth as a person. Maybe mine was an extreme case — but society anxiety certainly seemed to affect many of my peers. In a particularly insidious twist, you can’t talk to your friends about it, because it seems uncouth.

Your worry gnaws at your stomach; you have nowhere to turn and soothe the pain.

I’ll admit that my particular case was compounded when I wasn’t tapped — I was incredibly dejected. I thought I was wholly unsuccessful — regardless of my academic interests and successes at Yale. Worse also, I thought that the university I loved disapproved of me. (In a particular fit of despair, I almost refused to recruit an admitted student from my hometown, New Haven, because I felt such a profound sense of alienation from my community.)

I regained my perspective with time, slowly though. I now know the process was not a value judgment or a stamp of approval. (It helps when you watch your friends, as a senior, tap others and realize they are not infallible.) I also know, though, that I could never, never, never have understood that simple conclusion junior year.

So if you’re feeling anxious and worried: I’m sorry to say I can’t stop that. Know you’re not alone. In fact, a lot of people, even the ones for whom it works out, feel the way you do right now.

Nathaniel Zelinsky is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at nathaniel.zelinsky@yale.edu .