Yalies are many things — smart, ambitious, hardworking, upbeat, friendly. Are they honest, though? This might seem like an odd question, and I don’t mean to accuse the student body of serial malice and deceit. For the most part, students, faculty and administrators here are incredibly well-meaning and good-natured. Yet at times, our good intentions and hyper-positive attitude can do us more harm than good.
Yale is often portrayed as a utopia. We live in what many students describe as a “bubble,” largely shielded from a city prone to high rates of violence and poverty. We keep ourselves immersed in a regimented schedule of extracurriculars, schoolwork and social outings. Most current Yalies, I suspect, have seen the video “That’s Why I Chose Yale,” which has garnered over 1.5 million views on YouTube. The video captures Yale’s Disneyland ethos, with cheery students engaged in every activity imaginable. But is all this conviviality genuine?
As I’ve spent more and more time here, I’m inclined to say not entirely. Classmates and friends have confided to me that they sometimes feel isolated on campus, or that something specific has upset them. This is only natural: Disappointment is an inevitable part of life. What is more concerning is how many of these students are afraid to openly discuss their feelings on a campus where everyone seems to be in a perpetually good mood.
I have seen my fellow classmates attempt to downplay incidents of sexual assault, mental illness and racism as rare exceptions to what is generally an idyllic campus atmosphere. This is more than unhealthy; it is dishonest, too. By sugarcoating and idealizing their Yale experience, students lie to themselves and — more worryingly — to each other. Honesty is ultimately a collective action problem. No one wants to frown when everyone else in the room is smiling.
This brand of optimistic dishonesty also characterizes the relationship between students and faculty. Some professors have openly criticized rampant grade inflation, claiming that it harms Yale students in the long run. Yet the practice remains widespread. What if we went to a school where, once in a while, you received a C for a paper that wasn’t entirely up to par? It would certainly be devastating for some. But it would also serve as an opportunity for improvement. Yalies are not accustomed to failure — otherwise most of them wouldn’t have ended up here. But failure is over-maligned and underappreciated. Some of the most successful people in history have failed spectacularly, and have used their failures to guide them to eventual success. If faculty were truly honest with about their strengths and weaknesses, I do not believe it would harm the atmosphere of the college. Instead, it would make Yale a much healthier home.
It may be helpful at times to perpetuate a positive image of our campus and reassure ourselves that we are always thriving in this society of scholars and company of friends. But these reassurances should never come at the cost of being completely honest and genuine. The truth can hurt, but being exposed to it over time makes us better students and better people. If anyone can handle the truth, it’s a Yalie.
Franco Chomnalez is a junior in Pierson College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .