A little more than a year ago, a group of op-eds chided Yalies for living in our own little worlds entirely devoid of uncomfortable ideas. This is not new — we have often been described in the media as children trapped in a bubble. There has also long been discussion of the town-gown divide — a cultural bubble that separates the ivory tower of Yale from the rest of New Haven. Describing Yale as a bubble makes for an interesting metaphor; it implies that we should pop the bubble and escape.
Maybe we should. There’s certainly plenty to dislike about what happens at Yale, after all. The town-gown divide is certainly real. Most students rarely venture beyond a three-block radius from campus. Too many of us put an enormous amount of unnecessary stress on ourselves to achieve some nebulous goal of “success.”
The Yale bubble isn’t all bad, though. There’s something about seeing students running around with more responsibilities than we should have at our age—putting out fires that any reasonable adult would never have even started. Behind the pristine websites and polished LinkedIn photos is a student body that has no idea what it’s doing and is figuring things out as it goes. And that’s OK. Figuring it out is part of growing up, and this is the last time we have the freedom to make so many mistakes. If the News misreports a story or misses a deadline, it’ll be chalked up to college students messing up; if a Yale club runs out of money, it can simply apply for funding next year. The “real world” is far less forgiving.
Of course, as last year’s op-eds make clear, the “real world” isn’t very forgiving to us while we’re in college either. As The New Yorker author Hua Hsu wrote, college used to represent a space for students mold their social and political consciousness outside of the public’s eye, but today, we grow up under the full scrutiny of mainstream media outlets and political figures alike. And in many cases, figures in the “real world” have no understanding of the context in which today’s college students have come of age.
Yale serves as a perfect case study of this phenomenon. Last year, during a tense period on campus, a girl was caught on video lashing out at former Silliman Head of College Nicholas Christakis. Twenty years ago, such an incident would be unlikely to even register as a blip on the radar of most Americans. Today, because of the pervasiveness of social media, millions of anonymous strangers vilified the her as representative of how coddled college students have become — all because an adult from the “real world” happened to be carrying a smartphone. To add insult to injury, many commentators conflated the role of a professor with the role of a head of college, turning the event into a bizarre attack on academic freedom of expression rather than a discussion about boundaries between the classroom and the dorm room.
Such inaccurate commentary is no accident. It fits right into the narrative of the lazy, coddled millennial that previous generations have been so eager to portray — despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary. Such commentators did get one thing right though: College is indeed unlike the real world — and that’s actually great. It is precisely because of our isolation that we’ve been able to act as cultural forces for self-reflection. The college student has become the symbolic mouthpiece for critiquing injustices in the world. It is the college student who drives conversation about how best to address them. It’s rare to find a social movement that isn’t led by or at least largely supported by a college community. Perhaps that’s why campus life has become such a huge topic of interest for adults who have long since forgotten what it’s like to sit in a lecture hall.
We’re not always right about what we protest about — and as I’m loathe to mention in such pieces, our penchant for slacktivism is irritating. But nobody has it all figured out, least of all at the age of 20. I, for one, am happy to live and learn in the Yale bubble for at least a little while longer.
Shreyas Tirumala is a junior in Trumbull College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .