DUBIN: A sense of place and belonging

The weekend before I was due to fly across the country to New Haven, I returned to Deep Springs College, the school I attended for two years prior to transferring to Yale. Three good friends from my class were working there over the summer, and I wanted to get one last taste of the desert before heading off into the unknown and spooky world of “real” college.

Deep Springs is a small (read: about 26 students) two-year liberal arts college located on a cattle and alfalfa ranch in the desert of eastern California. It’s based on what we call the “three pillars” of labor, academics and self-governance. In practice, this means that while engaging in a standard liberal arts curriculum, we students run most of the administrative functions of the school (hiring professors, admitting students, designing curriculum) in addition to spending 20 hours a week working on the ranch and farm.

I decided to attend Deep Springs because I wanted an education in the machinations and inner workings of community. Simultaneously, I was inspired by the college’s enigmatic mission to prepare young men for “a life of service to humanity.” I wanted to participate in all the separate activities that we usually take for granted in a place where the consequences were evident and inescapable. This is what I found at Deep Springs — a sense of the interrelation and love that only a subtle combination of proximity and complete reliance can generate. It was a complex love — not the unconditional love of a parent or the all-consuming passion of a romantic relationship, but the love that arises from the realization that you are nothing without those around you.

At points I hated it, loathed it, and wished I could stick my thumb out on lonely Highway 168 and hitch as far away as possible. But I didn’t, and eventually came to realize that these were all natural reactions to dealing with people — contingent, unpredictable, reasonable, petty, incredible and intelligent people. Often, it was all too easy to stop at those visceral emotions of rage, sadness and disgust, and forget about that secret reliance that undergirds each place that we exist in. For too long, that veil has been cast over us, the one that gives us license to believe that we can exist as islands, isolated and completely self-sufficient. Just because this was apparent at Deep Springs doesn’t mean that doesn’t exist elsewhere. It’s just easier to ignore.

Ultimately though, Deep Springs was only preparation, and after a while, I recognized that it could not and should not provide everything that I needed to flourish. That is what Yale can be as well — preparation, not an end in itself. But this preparation is nothing unless we recognize that our subjective existence is also nothing without the subjectivity of others, both to generate some sense of reality outside of our own heads and to reach our full potential. The highest ideal that we can aspire to is the creation of a meaningful community — the collective generation of a sense of place and belonging for all those who choose to call a spatial or temporal location home.

The last two years succeeded in illuminating the inherent possibility of such an ideal, despite the fact that my experience in the desert was flawed in many ways. So while I have next to no idea of what to expect at Yale this year, I know that we have a responsibility to act collectively in the name of what we see to be good and right — not just as atomized subjects, but for “us,” as a true community. This could be something as drastic as taking more control over the running of the residential colleges, or something as simple as sitting with people you’ve never met. What seems to be important, for me at least, is to begin to understand what makes this place function, whether that means the school’s budget or the miscellaneous positions and jobs that govern our daily lives. It seems simple, but if we know these things, then we can begin to make informed decisions about how we ought to act. Whether that means radical change or the status quo is up to us.

Above all, this is not a plea for adherence to a rigid moral framework (even if I did have one, it would be foolish to include it here), but rather an ignorant and unfamiliar man’s call for dialogue and discourse. Perhaps it’s more of a mantra than anything else, an expression of personal excitement at the possibilities that exist. We have been blessed with the incredible privilege and opportunity to act together with some of the best and brightest in the world, and it would be a shame to let it slip by.

Rhys Dubin is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact him at rhys.dubin@yale.edu.

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