Society is just one of the strange things that we as Yalies can’t quite verbalize to outsiders. Our tongues tie when we try to explain naked parties — “you’re just … like … naked? Where do you look?” — because there are no comparable explanations. These are traditions undeniably Yale. But then there are the neglected traditions — the middle-child syndrome — not serious enough to command the other siblings, but not young enough to be nurtured. Rather, the middle child is always relegated to the back of the dessert line, with no clear place in the family. This metaphorical middle child is the junior society.
Ladies and gentlemen of Yale College, it is time for this nonsense to end. I recently went through the senior society tap process and am wrapping up tap for my junior society’s new class (#SKYPHOS4LYFE). I am, therefore, at least somewhat qualified to discuss this grave matter at hand, and I demand honest talk about society — both junior and senior — the culture that so fascinates, frustrates, and arguably, traumatizes us for the months of March and April.
Junior societies have incredible potential. But for the past eight months, at most seven of 22 members show up on a given Thursday to share a pitcher at Viva’s. We rally for interviews, but only because those are infamously entertaining. And let’s face it — they’re for our amusement, not yours. Your facial expression is priceless when asked whether you’d prefer to change gender every time you sneeze or not be able to tell the difference between a muffin and a baby (surprisingly difficult, especially if you’re either a muffin connoisseur or tipsy). You’ll squirm, dress up as Honey Boo Boo, and bring us food and drink. Do we juniors enjoy anything more than some semblance of power? As an added bonus, it’s a nice respite from being grilled in our own senior interviews.
But it’s little more than that. We can’t judge you by your joke choice or whether you know the square root of 69 (though for the record, it is neither 7 nor 9, but “8-something.” Your math teachers — and Rihanna and Drake — would be ashamed.) We’d rather not reject anyone, and on the flip side, Yalies are not programmed to accept such failure or rejection. But in this case, there is no trying again, no applying next year. It’s over.
And it’ll be over for me soon enough too. I adore the people in my society. It’s a pity I only just met (most of) them last week. A full year has passed since the haziness of Tap Night, and only now have they come out of the woodwork with their own flavor of interview questions, deadpanning, “Name me the three hottest Latin American authors,” or ironicizing, “Why does love always feel like a battlefield?” I wish they weren’t as cool or as funny so I wouldn’t miss these strangers so much. But that’s just how it is with junior society, and how it will likely continue.
As a junior, it appears that most seniors here are willing to commit their Thursday and Sunday evenings to their society. No one is willing to devote a few hours on Thursday to a junior one, because it’s not bio-based, it’s “drinking-based.” Don’t some of the best relationships, especially college friendships, form in these laid-back situations though? Yes, we might have been a randomly constructed group, but so are senior societies. The ostensible goal is the same: Meet a new group of amazing people. All relationships depend on luck and timing, on getting in the same room with a person for a five-minute chat. In a sense, junior societies seem more natural than senior ones. Once you are in the same place (say, someone’s apartment), organic connections develop; they follow the normal path of gradual disclosure — first hometown, major, how your week has been (“midterms, ugh”). Then ex-boyfriend issues, insecurity about school and life crises. You should have another school year to solidify these bonds — except senior society appears to usurp the budding relationships and reappropriate our already overused mental energy. I wonder though: Will you get to know me better in a one-shot “this is my life in five hours” bio than in five one-hour segments of lunch, coffee and yogurt over the course of eight weeks? We’ve relegated junior society to silliness, knowing full well that if we choose to do senior society next year, we’ll really commit, we’ll hardly question our choices to do so.
But we should, because if all any of us really want is connection — and from Yale Crush, YaleFML, Rump Chat, etc. that truly is all we want — junior societies can help. But we’ve inherently structured our social fabric around senior societies. Juniors run organizations from YIRA to Theta, and very few participate in junior societies. They save it for senior year, when they will be free to dismiss their other activities and commit to society. Indeed, junior societies constitute a much smaller segment of Yale than even senior societies, which statistically speaking, involve only a small portion of the student body.
Regardless of numbers, maybe we have a problem in our fundamental attitude. For instance, most of our in-season, dry athletes will not show up to just hang out and bond with their junior society. That mentality is inverted senior year — Thursday and Sunday you will be there, unless you have a serious emergency. After that, you have the personal choice to reconnect more throughout the week, but those two days are non-negotiable.
All Yale activities and classes draw on one shared interest — be it backpacking or Kant — to connect us in doing and learning. Junior society is about chilling. So that’s why, when we ask whether you would rather have a falcon permanently on your head or a cat as an arm, we don’t want you to choke up in discomfort. We want to laugh with you at the utter ridiculousness of your first AIM screen name (really, why waterbubble9897?), not at you.
None of us are 100 percent comfortable in a social situation — especially when the interview room gets progressively steamier — but we need you to roll with the punches, to join us in the good fun, because that’s how we make the most of our connections here at Yale — or the vast majority do. Not over a deep discussion of Hegel — maybe that’s how St. A’s works — but over a deep pitcher of beer or a deep karaoke battle.
Full disclosure: I’m partial to Skyphos, and we’ve been told we’re milder in our interviews, but in general, no society wants to shame or intimidate or mock you. Like senior societies, we are competing for the same groups of people. We need you to like us just as much as we like you. But that’s not to say the most incredible people don’t slip through the cracks — they do. For myriad reasons, inexplicable and stupid. And that’s what makes these processes sad and painful and chaotic.
Stripped down, societies are just an institutionalized way of forcing us complacent upperclassmen out of our shell, out of our rooted social circles. This construct of Skyphos Class of 2014 will soon be destroyed by X Senior Society Class of 2014, and I’m scared. We’ll lose Thursday and Sunday nights, but there are five other days in the week to take advantage of. It will be up to us to muster the courage — the courage not only to keep our GroupMe alive, but also to follow through with those Viva’s nights, those Woad’s pregames, those lunch dates. We can do it.