Inevitably, Thanksgiving with the family is a holiday of questions. What’s your major? What are you ever going to do with that? Where’s your boyfriend? Is he Jewish? (He’s not? Is it serious?) Will you raise your kids Jewish? (Make sure you raise your kids Jewish. Don’t not raise your kids Jewish.)
Once the questions for which I do not yet have answers for abate, we get to more basic ones: How many people are in your suite? When are you cutting your hair? And, finally, when are you going back up to school?
“I’m going home Saturday night.”
My dad grimaced a little with hurt. I’m going home. My flippant little answer gave voice to his permanently-empty-nest truth: home, for me, has unexpectedly become Yale. When I return to New York, I bring an overnight bag, and worry about my probably parched plant back in New Haven. My “home” is no longer my childhood home: it’s now a different place, my first home as an adult. To my parents, calling Yale “home” carried the weight of my adulthood: I am probably not going to live with you, parents, ever again.
This sense of my house as an Airbnb is due, in part, to Yale’s residential college system. Residential colleges quickly become our new homes: where we do our laundry, go bra-less in the dining hall and sometimes go to bed without brushing our teeth. Although some may feel differently once they arrive, the admissions brochure allure of Yale comes from its homey atmosphere — residential college family, residential college parents, residential college laundry machines. Yet this Home-Away-From-Home model also ruptures emotional ligaments of childhood, prodding us — Yale’s undergraduate hermit crabs — into different, bigger shells: the shells of adulthood. In part, this is intentional. College is supposed to flex the muscles of independence, to plant the seeds of the forty-year-olds we will one day be.
So what are those seeds?
Yale is in the business of producing global leaders. With more than ten percent of the student body coming from abroad, and many more of us intending to disperse across the country and the globe, we are preparing for lives far from our childhood bedrooms. To continue the agricultural metaphor: Yale grows tumbleweeds.
This eventual cosmopolitanism is, as the late Harvard political philosopher Samuel Huntington wrote in his essay, “Dead Souls,” common for elites — particularly at an elite institution such as Yale. In a nutshell, Huntington wrote that American elites have more internationalist concerns than their counterparts in the general public. For example and by generalization, elites generally believe social security lies in “supporting international trade and migration” and “encouraging minority identities and cultures at home.” By contrast, the general public believes social security lies with fueling “existing patterns of language, culture, association, religion and national identity.” Elites hold allegiance to multi-national corporations, view international law as paramount to national law and prioritize transnational ideologies. This is very different than those who move back home after graduation — or never leave home at all.
In other words, Yale produces a fleet of well-educated turtles: alumni who carry their homes and histories on their backs wherever they go. We’re not only physically moving away from our homes, but also divorcing ourselves from the ideologies tethering us to our roots and folks in our community.
Huntington does not praise this Dead Souls identity, and neither should we. Our distance from the American public — distance manifesting socially, economically, politically, morally, religiously — undermines our democracy and, by extension, civil society in general. If we, the decision-makers, have different values from our home communities — the majority — then the eye atop of our proverbial pyramid wobbles dangerously. This detached Yale adulthood exposes a fatal flaw in our elite education: disconnect.
Herein lies the crisis of the Ivory Tower — once we’ve climbed up, it’s nearly impossible to scamper back down. As a 2012 Washington University in St. Louis survey found, most Americans live within a twenty-five-mile radius of their mothers. By contrast, adults with a college degree more often resettle elsewhere after graduation — with a Yale degree, that radius expands further. Leaving home — it’s naturally part of becoming an adult. Replacing home, losing home — that’s not, but it is for us. At Thanksgiving tables, we as Yale students should not feel (as too many of us have felt) distant and foreign from the faces and opinions surrounding us. Yale’s permanent repotting of its undergraduates creates turtles, hermit crabs, tumbleweeds. Pick your poison, but the metaphor holds: Yalies move out, up, up, and away — for good, although maybe not for better.
Amelia Jane Nierenberg is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .