Introspection is an admirable endeavor, but at Yale introspection has become strangely standardized. Around campus, certain refrains about Yale and student life have developed, universally vocalized but rarely subjected to critical investigation or active engagement. These rote criticisms have become so commonplace as to become clichéd. We have developed a comfortable vocabulary that has the veneer of critical consideration while actually protecting us from it.
Take, for example, the idea that “Yalies are incredibly busy.” In seminar, in campus publications, in discussions with friends, we continually hear the refrain that students at Yale are always going full throttle. That we do not chill, waste time or relax with friends because we are always juggling a thousand different obligations. We apparently work superhuman hours. Someti
mes this is presented as praise, sometimes as criticism, but the universal “busyness” of the Yale student is never brought into question.
Well, last night I stayed up late trying to get reading done for a class. But that day I had also watched an hour of television, taken a nap, gone for a run and had a long lunch with a friend. Now, I am far from the busiest student at Yale, but I suspect that my experience is not all that different from many. We talk about how busy Yalies are, then go to our dorms and read every comment on “Overheard at Yale” before starting work.
Or consider the common refrain that Yale students rarely take the time to relax with friends; that we are so focused on building our resumes that we do not bother with developing relationships. Really? I feel like every weekend I hear stories of people deciding to bake cookies with one another or spend all night watching Disney movies. I know people who sit in the dining hall for hours, chatting with the waves of friends rolling in. There are countless groups on campus that exist primarily as an excuse for students to sit around a bottle of wine or a keg and make jokes.
Another popular mode of self-flagellation is bemoaning our careerism. Apparently Yale, and the Ivy League in general, lacks passionate students. People simply jump through hoops to build up their resumes, approaching their schoolwork and extracurriculars with workmanlike efficiency but little real intellectual curiosity. And yet when I talk to peers about their senior theses, it is clear that they have poured their hearts and souls into them. If you take the time to listen to a friend talk about his role on a team, publication or club, more often than not you will find intense enthusiasm and real engagement.
The campus discussion has devolved into a series of catchphrase criticisms, repeated with little thought given to how well they actually apply. Of course, there is a grain of truth to them. Yale students are often busy, they sometimes do not leave enough time to develop relationships and they are not always motivated by passion alone. But our catchphrases have undermined our campus’ genuine diversity — they compel us to see ourselves as less than we truly are.
The point here is not to celebrate how awesome we are. We all have very real failings and the school culture has significant room for improvement. But an accurate understanding of our failings is critical to any actual growth. Right now, we are content to repeat the same tired gripes — in seminar, on the couch, at the dinner table — without ever changing our behavior. They have become a security blanket. By acknowledging some rote set of failings, universally agreed upon, we absolve ourselves from the multitude of other, more troubling ways in which we fall short.
“What is wrong with Yale?” That question ultimately boils down to the question each of us must ask ourselves: “How can I improve?” It is only by tossing aside vague and inaccurate criticisms that we can then approach this more fundamental question.
Isa Qasim is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at email@example.com.