The handkerchief I received at my Freshman Assembly still sits in the corner of my desk drawer, carefully folded so that the “Y ’18” shows every time I need to grab a pen. I remember standing in Woolsey Hall with my new classmates, waving our scraps of white fabric in the air as we sang “Bright College Years.” Together, we symbolically joined something supposedly greater than ourselves: the Yale community.
The word “community” is thrown about quite a bit these days. In its most basic form, community refers to a group of people who live in the same area. By this logic, Yale is a community — if only because of our shared geography. Yet we all know that community means more than just a zip code. Instead, community is at the ephemeral feeling of Freshman Assembly, new people and new possibilities facing an unknown together.
For most of us, the “community” part of Yale never really came into focus. We fractured into our different groups and clubs and began worrying about titles and resumes. One of the only universal experiences we have here is that of loneliness, dislocation or alienation. We all rush toward our own personal ends rather than trying to build anything together.
More than anything else, Yale teaches us how to produce. How many times have you made something here not because you felt a desire to but because it was required of you? How many words have you written that you don’t remember? We are prolific, but often thoughtless. This drive toward productivity at the expense of intentionality detracts from a sense of community at Yale.
Yale is a community of individuals. The problem is not that we identify as individuals — everyone does. The problem is that we identify as individuals before all else, consistently prioritizing our personal concerns over all else. How many times have you left rehearsal early to finish a paper? Or shown up unfashionably late to a friend’s party because you had other things on your personal plate? At Yale, it’s acceptable to feel beholden to anything other than ourselves. It’s how we all succeed here.
This individualism is built into how we define intellectualism. Free and creative thinking is one of our most prized traits, but it is also individualistic. From the dinner table at home to seminars at Yale, we have learned to question and reason. Yet as a result we prefer to sound smart alone rather than say something a little less flashy but more constructive to group conversation. We don’t like section assholes because they clearly are thinking only of themselves. This is a fair critique, absolutely, but section assholery is just the extreme of a practice we all hold dear.
Community means — more than geographic proximity — sharing a communal goal. My closest encounter with this sort of community happened in church. Growing up, my mother would drag me to morning services where I often did homework instead of listening to the sermon. And religion plays a very small part in my life as an adult: I was neither confirmed nor do I identify with a religious community. Yet despite my best whiny efforts, I learned something sitting in those pews. In many ways, religion is one big project. The goal is simple: lead the best life you can — however you see fit. And religious sanctuaries are places to think with others about how and why we live like we do. That is what community means: being better ourselves because we are better together.
Yale is one of the loneliest places I know because it lacks this sort of larger picture. I am using religion not as an ideal, but as an example of a functioning institutional community. Often, our thoughts are turned more toward the product of our actions than the process of our project. It’s hard to be intentional here. People and events move quickly. Usually we don’t have enough time to breathe, let alone to think.
Let’s place more value on our intentions, rather than our product. Intentionality invites us to pause and think more about our relationships with the people that surround us, and with whom and how we spend our time. Otherwise we are productive but isolated individuals, nodes in a network that hold each other at arm’s length.
Julia Hamer-Light is a junior in Silliman College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .