I’m not yet sure exactly how I feel about being a senior — besides the blunt existential terror that accompanies any attempt to shoehorn “anthropology major” and “employability” into the same sentence, that is.
But I do appreciate some of the perks that Yale, as an institution, bestows upon me in the final year before it kicks me out of the nest. Chief among these is the opportunity to meet with fellow Branford seniors every two weeks to consume food (catered!), drink (stewarded!) in return for making a presentation to the group about our senior projects.
This, poor, uninitiated underclassmen, is called the Mellon Forum. (Every college has one. Wait your turn.)
The theory behind the Mellon Forum is that even students who have lived together for three years have few opportunities to talk at length about their academic lives and passions.
Personally, I feel like I spend most of my time talking about social theory, but I have those conversations with friends who I already know to be interested in philosophy and culture, and whose friendships with me are (in large part) built on that fact. I certainly don’t name-drop Foucault while grilling burgers at the Buttery.
In moderation, this is obviously a good idea — even I’m aware that some people just don’t care about Foucault. But allowing relationships with others (academic, residential, extracurricular, professional, familial) to dictate the topic of our conversation feeds into a tendency to compartmentalize different spheres of life entirely. I understand that dividing life into hard and fast categories sounds sensible. But since each category pushes the individual into a different role (student, suitemate, teammate, intern, daughter), separating them risks separating the individual as well.
The super-limitation of relationships from one aspect of much more complicated social issues at Yale. It’s part of what causes people to decide that they can’t date anyone they’ve hooked up with (though I won’t deny that sexism also plays a role here).
But it’s also what prevents freshman counselors from serving as role models for moderate drinking. You see, Yale policy attempts to keep the froco/freshman relationship limited and inviolable by preventing frocos from being in a room where freshmen are present and alcohol is consumed. As a result, of course, the upperclassmen who teach freshmen drinking at Yale aren’t the ones they (and their deans) know to be responsible.
If these examples seem tendentious and unpersuasive, think about them this way: If the circumstances under which a relationship develops dictate the terms of that relationship, its end is written in the beginning. Speaking as someone who in a matter of months will be leaving a place where I’ve formed so many meaningful relationships, that’s a pretty darned scary proposition.
Obviously, the prospect of “leaving” geographically isn’t nearly as daunting as it would have been 10 years ago: Internet, Facebook, connectivity blah blah blah. But when the problem is one of taking friendships forged under particular circumstances outside of their native habitat, Facebook stops being an asset — in fact, it becomes a liability.
How could I possibly use a site that has me enter the origins of each friendship I make, that encourages me to split friends into “lists” and change what parts of my profile they can see accordingly, to extend such friendships? Isn’t it more likely that this would encourage me to see these people as relics of the past once I click the “Alum” option on my profile and they are no longer in my primary network?
It’s for this reason, among others, that I’m switching my networking allegiances from Facebook to Twitter, and I encourage other people to do the same. Twitter is the opposite of Facebook insofar as it doesn’t label relationships: once you’ve chosen to “follow” someone, you’re as likely to get his evening bar itinerary as his thoughts on the bailout.
Sure, each tweet is condensed into 140 characters, but most of us could stand to work on our brevity anyway. Twitter is a madly free-ranging conversation driven by what’s on the minds of its users — and to be honest, I’d rather have my friends identified online by what they think, rather how they already know me.
Of course, pushing the boundaries of pre-labeled friendships, like so many other things, goes down better with a good meal and good wine than it does on the Internet.
But the real world doesn’t have the Mellon Forum, and Twitter’s the next best thing.