I miss a great many things about freshman year. It was a simpler time back then — a time when Commons was not yet the Schwarzman Center, GHeav was not yet Good Nature, and all of our residential colleges were actually named after alumni of Yale College. The one thing I don’t miss at all, however, is our class of 2018 Facebook group. It seems that anyone who posts in those class groups more than once or twice before freshman year ends up making a fool out of himself.
The multitude of preachy posts and self-aggrandizing comments ended whatever notions I may have had that everyone in my class was amazing. As the class of 2020 will figure out shortly, Yale’s no utopia. Not everyone here is a genius; most of us are fairly lazy and everyone is neurotic in some way or another. For every Rhodes Scholar that’s been named from Yale, I’ll guarantee you that there are several Woads Scholars that have graduated as well (which, I suppose, is an accomplishment of sorts too). Not that the freshmen this year are much better themselves. By second semester, you, too, may realize that you were incredibly annoying during your first couple of weeks on campus.
But what makes us so insufferable as we enter our first year? The answer probably lies in the media-driven mystique surrounding Yale. It seems that the press cannot decide whether we’re spoiled brats or influential leaders. This past year, we’ve been simultaneously eviscerated for cocooning ourselves in intellectual safe-spaces and praised for having the maturity to openly discuss minority students’ struggles; former English professor William Deresiewicz thinks that Yalies are “excellent sheep” who lack the creativity to actually impact the world, but The Wall Street Journal seems to think that some bickering between a few 20-something Yale Republicans constitutes national news.
Further, the student body of Yale and its peer institutions are continually treated as topics of interest. Even if we’re not special, we’re certainly expected to be. Whether we’re being praised or criticized, our collective actions are under constant scrutiny. On the one hand, all this attention is probably why we aspire to do so much. It’s why so many of us want to be legislators and businessmen; it’s why we want to establish nonprofits and charities; it’s why so many of us want to save the world — whatever that means. But it’s also why those Facebook pages are so insufferable. Even after freshman year, Yalies have an inflated sense of self-importance, which is why we talk past one another. We proselytize — not speak.
This is why campus discourse amounts to little more than factionalism. A telling example of this phenomenon is the Facebook group “Overheard at Yale,” which has transformed within a few years from a place for Yalies to post amusing quotes to a different type of forum. Now it’s a space for Yale’s more politically inclined to earn their conservative/liberal cred by posting “edgy” pictures coupled with some holier-than-thou platitudes. And look at where it’s gotten us.
As I’ve pointed out for a long time now, for all the hot air we blow in forgotten opinion pieces in the News or during meaningless Facebook arguments, we talk much more than we actually act. A year after a maelstrom of bad press for Greek life at Yale, High Street is as active as ever; sexual assault is still as a big of a problem as it ever was and it’s not immediately obvious whether any of the so-called victories we scored after the protests regarding racial issues at Yale actually changed anything.
But perhaps that can change this year. With a new class comes a new opportunity to change the culture of this campus. My greatest hope for the class of 2020 is that all of you realize that you aren’t special — but you could be.
Shreyas Tirumala is a junior in Trumbull College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .