Campus buzz is often difficult to identify. Yale does not have any regular opinion polling, and the surveys students receive are self-selecting and thus often of dubious value. Yet on rare occasions student passions will be stirred in such a way as to cast aside all doubt about our sentiments. We didn’t need Gallup in 2014 to tell us that we loved the course, “The Structure of Networks.” We don’t need a poll to know that chicken tenders are Yale Dining’s most popular dish. And we don’t need a survey to know that everyone’s favorite Instagram is of Harkness Tower.
This year we have seen student opinion coalesce around our shared love of pups! The winds began to turn last year when Sasha Pup, the Timothy Dwight college pet, won the student vote for Rumpus’s 50 Most Beautiful People, perhaps Yale’s most sought-after honor. Since then, Sasha Pup’s social media presence has blossomed and other dogs, such as Vandy’s Napoleon Bonabark, have followed suit. Most recently, our love affair with pups was invigorated by Chi Psi’s new golden retriever, Buck, and his precious Instagram with over 250 followers. Of course, these dogs collectively supplemented our pre-existing affection for the ultimate Yale campus dog: Handsome Dan, now in his 17th iteration.
I think many are tempted to take these realities at face value and push the envelope no further. The pups are adorable, that’s why we love them — end of story. However, like the scene in “The Lion King” in which Rafiki shows Simba his reflection in the pond, I’d encourage us to “look harder.” What, really, is going on here? Why have the campus pups engendered so much ebullience and good will?
Their cuddliness is undoubtedly a decisive factor, but I think our enthusiasm also speaks to the lack of exciting alternatives on campus. As Yalies, we don’t really have anything, other than the name of our school, which binds us together as one community. Previous events that fostered such unity — the Safety Dance, Bladderball, etc. — have been sentenced to a premature death, quashed for a variety of reasons. Sporting events, without beer inside the stadium, unfortunately gain little attention or attendance. Spring Fling is probably as close as we get to a shared communal experience, but even that event is not embraced by large swaths of the student body.
Particularly as the long malaise of winter approaches, we need something exciting to happen. It’s time to let the dogs out.
In practice, I think there are a number of different ways we can make this happen. Improving campus morale could be as simple as increasing the number of animals at Yale. These halfhearted, once-a-semester “barn babies” study breaks are not going to cut it. The Law School, for example, has a permanent mental health dog that students can rent to relieve their stresses and heal any pain in their hearts. We could have more than just dogs at Yale — cats, turtles and bunnies — that students could borrow for the weekend and have a good snuggle. If we really wanted to experiment, we could even allow students to apply to have pets in their suites.
Alternatively, I think we would benefit from a new big event for the fall that incorporates the pups of Yale. Seniors and juniors will recall the conviviality and excitement that permeated campus during President Salovey’s inauguration in fall of 2013 — the community was energized in a unique and memorable way. Much of the history and pomp that characterized that event cannot be replicated year to year. Nevertheless, adding a signature college-wide event to the fall calendar would promote school spirit and improve morale, especially if we had fireworks.
Sometimes when I look around Yale, I feel like so many students, for all intents and purposes, are going to different schools. What binds together the football player in Silliman with the a cappella performer in Ezra Stiles? Where can the frat star on High Street and the bookworm in Berkeley find common ground?
I don’t want Yale to become an amorphous entity streaming classes from other schools on projectors and failing to provide a shared sense of identity. We are the Bulldogs, and that should be source of pride!
Perhaps by looking to our campus dogs, we can draw inspiration to create that sense of community. And, at the very least, we’ll have a few more cuddly pups running around.
Michael Herbert is a senior in Saybrook College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .