There is one part of our history and tradition that the tour guides frequently leave out of their “guide to Yale.” Yale is home to a strange, rare form of mythical creature. It has haunted the classrooms since Yale’s founding in 1701, and lives among us: eating in our residential colleges, and taking up much-prized space in Bass Café. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, this monster is much more fearsome.
The section asshole takes many forms. As spring semester gets underway, and discussion sections begin to take shape, I can’t be the only one wondering who in the room is the embodiment of this mythical being. Part of the fear comes from the section asshole’s great manipulation and power, as he waits until sections are locked in place before revealing himself, leaving you with no time to escape.
And unfortunately, you can’t guess who he is from an initial glance. Even the most unsuspecting of students can turn into this deadly creature when his favorite passage from the Iliad becomes fair game. Moreover, Yale Facebook doesn’t offer a “section asshole” filter, making the search that much more elusive. But in my short time at Yale, through observations in seminar and section alike, I have come to identify the two distinct types of this foreign species.
This section asshole reads every word, and then some. They will usually dominate conversation with cross-references and discussion of obscure and arguably irrelevant comments on historical background. They seem to know more than everyone else in the room, and usually evoke a sense of “How on earth did I get into Yale?” We “laymen” should probably aspire to reflect their hard-working nature, but the Know-It-All separates himself from the average Yalie by trying TOO hard. They read the entire syllabus (not just the paper syllabus, but all the books on it, too!) during reading period, “just to make sure they were going to enjoy the class.” You can count on them to reference one of the minor footnoted texts in the optional supplemental reading during section. Among most Yalies, there is a gentleman’s agreement that we will do what it takes to get that 25% participation grade, and nothing more. But unfortunately, the Know-It-All breed of section asshole has taken it upon himself to break this honor. It remains unclear how they even have the time.
In contrast to the Know-It-All, this particular species of section asshole never reads, yet always seems to get away with it. His most popular weapon is the “general statement,” often recognizable as the first line of the introduction to the text in question. He combines this with a charming nature that convinces the professor that he spends all day in the study carrels of Bass and that the SAE sweatshirt was just borrowed from a suitemate. A special technique you may notice in a subdivision of this form of section asshole can often lead to them being mistaken as a “Know-It-All.” They’ll continually reference the first, and probably only, text they read. Alternatively, they’ll just reference random texts that probably showed up in previous courses, on the New York Times Bestseller List or on their Amazon Recommendations. You’ll fear them because their confidence is so convincing that you may find yourself mesmerized by what they’re saying — even if your conscience is telling you that it’s all a farce.
So, be prepared for the emergence of your section assholes this semester. But, before you light your torches and begin the witch-hunts, remember that we have all evolved from the same originating force. We don’t like to admit it, but there is a bit of the section asshole in each of us. Maybe that’s why we’re so obsessed with hating him — his charm, style and cunning are, ultimately, enviable. I’m probably someone’s worst nightmare in section. You might be mine. Bring cookies and we can come to an agreement.