Yale recently sent out letters of acceptance to thousands of applicants across the globe, meaning it’s that time of year when Yale becomes one big advertisement. At Bulldog Days, professors, administrators and students will all try their hardest to sell Yale to admits, bombarding them with all the reasons Yale excels compared to its peers: the classes, the places and the people. We tout the last as especially important. Yalies are diverse and driven, passionate and precocious, sensitive and supportive — all of the things that one could wish for in a friend and classmate. Yalies are special, we insist; something separates us from everyone else. That’s part of what makes Yale such a cool place. It’s also one of Yale’s most dangerous qualities.
Yale students are separated from reality by several layers of insulation. Our physical gates and walls are one. The security we hire is another. But the most significant layer is the people we have the privilege of interacting with. The “Yale bubble” is about more than security measures; it’s about the ideas we hear (and don’t hear) on a daily basis. We are cushioned not just from physical conflict but also from certain kinds of intellectual engagement.
In that way, Yale is just one big safe space, predicated on excluding those who lack the relevant academic qualifications. This is a necessary and good thing. Yale has no business admitting people who won’t benefit from the education it provides. However, just like all safe spaces, Yale threatens to render us unable to engage in meaningful conversation with people from outside its walls. We factor diversity into the admissions process, which helps combat this problem by adding different voices to the conversation. But one voice is consistently missing: that of the less educated. The privilege to ignore the concerns of the least educated threatens to turn us into uninformed elitists, and to erase our capacity to sympathize with over half of America.
Of course, this is not just a Yale problem. The children of the cognitive elite, who increasingly act in the same ways and believe the same things, comprise most of Yale’s student body. Higher education is intricately connected to class stratification, and colleges have been attacked many times on the grounds that they just print job certificates for rich kids rather than providing a real education. Every time a qualified admittee can’t attend Yale because of financial circumstances, that claim becomes a little more true. But even an institution which handles this particular problem perfectly will still suffer the effects of a bubble. Colleges are, by their nature, packed with bright people destined for white collars, and thus some degree of cultural uniformity is inevitable.
Yalies know about the blue-collar experience on an abstract level, but it’s not an experience many of us are interested in pursuing. Between future doctors, future lawyers and future consultants, students get to know a broad array of diverse perspectives, but Yale offers little exposure to the farmer, the dock worker and the electrician. Their lives also matter, but one learns little about them at Yale.
The solution involves going outside our comfort zones, toward spaces less safe and ideas more dangerous. Talk to someone pursuing vocational training. Talk to someone whose highest ambition is to run the family farm. Talk to someone who’s voting for Trump. Maybe you’ll disagree with them or dislike them, and maybe you’ll end up an elitist anyway (that doesn’t have to be a bad word). The important thing is that you listen charitably and take their perspectives to heart. Their stories are as much a contribution to society as ours. Unless we try to understand why the blue-collar world differs from the cognitive elite in its beliefs and values, our picture of the world will remain woefully incomplete.
The Yale bubble is not just spatial but ideological. Just as Yale’s gates separate us from the outside world, so too do Yale’s mores. Engaging charitably with the experiences of blue-collar America — if we’re bold enough to take up that task — promises to make us better students, citizens and people.
Alaric Krapf is a freshman in Saybrook College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .