In the first few weeks of school, I often heard my classmates speak of taking a weekend to get away from New Haven. They wanted to go somewhere exciting, somewhere like New York or Boston. They accepted New Haven as a second-tier city; Alpha Delta, they said, will never compare to, say, New York’s Tavern on the Green. Yet, after all this, I feel as if I owe New Haven gratitude, not disdain, because this city, with all of its flaws, acts as something remarkable: an equalizer.
In the past, I’ve visited other colleges located in more metropolitan areas. There’s no denying that these huge, cosmopolitan cities offer a colorful variety of just about everything. Skyscrapers grandiosely tower over streets filled with various cafés, bars and clubs. The options are seemingly endless for someone living in a city brimming with elegant restaurants, high-fashion shopping and everything else imaginable. That is, if you have the money.
It’s true that there is a huge income disparity within colleges, most notably Ivy League universities. Campuses host a diverse array of people — students ranging from wealthy princes to a family’s first high school graduate mingle together, as equals. But the truth of the matter is that while the University treats us as equals, socioeconomic differences do become apparent. And while that ought not to affect the relationships formed on campus, it’s an uncomfortable truth that it sometimes does, and in metropolitan cities, this phenomenon is merely exacerbated.
Cities like New York can be unimaginably extravagant places if you have the income to support that kind of lifestyle. However, many don’t — particularly college students. For these people, life in big cities becomes a veiled existence where the good life is painfully visible, yet unreachable, seemingly taunting those who can’t partake by refusing to disappear, refusing to be forgotten.
When someone’s peers frequent restaurants and shops that are out of his financial reach, he becomes self-conscious of his own financial position. Even worse, he stops seeing himself as equal to his peers. And without this equality, the concept of what it means to be peers can dissolve.
So while many cities do offer spectacular activities that can inject excitement into the vein of life, they do not do so equally. And this is where New Haven finds its strength. As ridiculous as it may sound, the sheer grayness of New Haven acts as an equalizer.
Wealth can only get one so far here. Yes, we may have stores such as a Gant and J.Crew, but Broadway here is nothing compared to Fifth Avenue, or for that matter, the Big Apple’s Broadway. We do have some large, expensive stores, but they haven’t become the center of our social lives. Money becomes much less of a factor in a Yalie’s social life by the mere fact that frankly, money doesn’t open many doors in New Haven — at least compared to more metropolitan cities.
Instead, at Yale, social life becomes centered on campus. Rich or not, everyone can usually be found at the same parties, the same coffee shops and the same dining halls, and while many lament the boredom that can accompany this routine, I think it does more good than harm. And it’s not that we are trapped in New Haven either. With New York only an hour or two away, we’re situated in a place where we can live the fast-paced city life when we want to without being burdened by the implications, namely the visibility of economic differences, that it holds.
Sometimes, it becomes too easy to forget this, and fall into the rut of believing that this city is somehow inherently subpar. But this shouldn’t be the case. New Haven isn’t only “not bad.” It’s a place where the impossible happens, where the sons of senators and farmers alike can be seen sharing a Wenzel. It’s a place where students live and learn together as peers, where one is not constantly reminded of one’s own financial situation, where the amount of money a student’s family makes is not a totally limiting factor on social life. And most importantly, New Haven is our home, and a place to love with all its flaws.
Leo Kim is a freshman in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.