On an early Friday morning after a late Thursday evening, my friend David and I woke up at the crack of dawn (around 10 a.m.), threw on tennis shoes, shorts and T-shirts, and met outside the fitness center on the fourth floor of Payne Whitney for an invigorating workout. We proceeded to pump our muscles up to their maximum capacity while reviewing the night we didn’t remember and proposing half-baked theories about the biological mechanisms that would give us huge pecs.
After our workout, feeling energetic and ready to seize the day, I convinced David to come with me to check out the career fair, which was happening on the basketball courts in the same building. We were both, as graduating seniors, casually interested in job opportunities. We headed down to the courts and found ourselves amid a throng of students in pressed black suits, professional skirts, and shined shoes. Did David and I, sweaty and underdressed, fit in? Of course not. But we didn’t care too much; we just wanted to see the booths and the different employers. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t make it that far.
As we approached the sign-in desk, a nicely dressed woman appeared from the crowd and gave some general directions: “Please make two lines, so that we can get you in faster.” David and I seized the opportunity and moved to the newly created line. Then the woman caught sight of us. She looked back at general crowd, and said “If you received our previous communications, you should know that we recommended business casual attire,” and looked right back at us. “Can we just go in like this?” I asked, motioning to my gym shorts. She came closer to David and me, and told us that we would be making a bad impression and that we reflected “poorly on the school.” She asked us “Do you feel comfortable wearing that here?” David and I mutually agreed, “Yeah, we feel fine.” “Well, you shouldn’t,” she responded. And that was pretty much it. David and I did not get into the career fair, because we were wearing gym clothes. The woman was the dean of Undergraduate Career Services.
Now, I understand that some events require formal attire. If I were going into a real interview, and my employer had requested that I come dressed nicely, I would. But were job representatives at a career fair really going to discriminate against students who came wearing gym clothes? The painful irony, if it needed pointing out, was that the career fair had been held in a gym.
I had a plan before going in. If an employer wouldn’t look beyond a pair of gym shorts, I wouldn’t waste their and my time at their booth. But it wasn’t the employer I should have been worried about. It was the dean of UCS. It was because we didn’t look good (despite our svelte post-workout physiques). She didn’t care about who we were, nor about our abilities or merits. To her, we were a smudge on UCS’ image, on Yale’s, and she wasn’t going to let us tarnish the event that she had organized.
Rules are important. You need them to run a large establishment. But at a school, an institution whose primary purpose is to enable and encourage, students should be given every opportunity possible to grow. Yale, unfortunately, does not focus on this kind of education. The people who run the various services at Yale are generally more concerned about maintaining order than with helping individual students. This is what the dean of UCS was thinking when she rejected David and me from entering a career fair. For her, it wasn’t about helping us find a job. It was about having a room full of nicely dressed, finance-and-consulting-looking people.
Yale does not do all it should to enable and encourage its students; instead, it forces them to learn to survive on their own. At times, students will find themselves struggling against unreasonable formalities, because the very people who enforce such regulations don’t focus on educating and encouraging individuals, but on making sure that the rules stay in place.
I imagine that many of you reading this will disagree with me. I probably come off as an anti-establishment, idealist T-shirt-wearing meathead. I can only voice two points in my defense: first, it is not okay to deny someone a potentially life-changing opportunity because he didn’t put the right piece of fabric over his body that day. Second, I’m not nearly strong enough to be considered a meathead.
Will Moritz is a senior in Trumbull College.