This past Friday, the first years apparently attended the annual freshman dance —or screw, as it was called for my class. Seeing their posts on social media reminded me of how strange Yale seems when you first arrive. When I walked on to campus my freshman year, I found myself inundated with advisors. I had a peer liaison from the cultural groups. I had a personal librarian. I had a dean, a head of college, a freshman counselor, a freshman advisor. I certainly met with a few of them — my dean, head of college and FroCo were particularly big parts of my first year at Yale — but for the most part, I don’t think I spoke to most of my advisors more than once. Nonetheless, they were all there — logged in a database somewhere as the institutionally recognized figures to whom I should turn for help with all things Yale.
When I reflect on my freshman year, these kinds of experiences really struck me. The sheer amount of programming Yale puts on for underclassmen is astounding. I can’t even keep track of the number of resources that Yale continually reminded me to take advantage of. But that all changed the next year. When I finally moved into Trumbull College proper, that cadre of advisors and liaisons were nowhere to be found. Gone were the days of having classwide events such as Freshman Olympics. I felt a little bit alone.
Yale has developed a reputation for having what it calls an “undergraduate focus.” It seems more accurate to dub it a freshman focus, really. Upperclassmen don’t get nearly as much attention. Some of that is natural; freshmen need more resources and programming to begin their integration into the college community. But communities need to be nurtured — not merely started and then left alone.
The lack of campuswide events has a profound impact on the college career of the average student. As we get older, it seems that most students meet fewer and fewer new people. This is part of the reason why so many members of my junior class are excited by senior societies right now; the idea is that societies are a respite from the ossified social circles that form over the course of two years without University-wide excuses to bond with new members of one’s academic class. It’s also why the Sophomore Class Council and Junior Class Council elections aren’t particularly exciting. Nobody runs because nobody cares about the rest of the class; we just care about the members of our residential colleges and clubs. And that’s a real shame. There’s no real way to quantify the “sophomore slump” that I can think of, but an important reason the phenomenon occurs is the that once the newness of being at Yale wears off and we’re familiar with the little communities that we join in through extracurricular clubs, there’s just not all that much that’s surprising about campus anymore.
The advising matters too, of course. Arguably, upperclassmen need more guidance about academic matters — not less. Are you considering graduate school? If so, I hope you’re on good terms with your director of graduate studies or a few professors, because that’s about all the institutional help that you’re going to get. If there are Yale-specific resources that tell you what matters and what doesn’t in graduate school admissions, I certainly haven’t heard about them. Do you understand how acceleration credits work? I’d guess that you probably don’t, and unless you’re proactive enough to ask your dean about them, you probably never will. I’m sure there are a number of Yale resources that now, as an upperclassman, we would appreciate far more than we did when they were all thrown at us haphazardly during Camp Yale. It’s just that we don’t have any way to find out about them.
A lot as has changed around campus in recent weeks, which makes it easy to forget, as I’ve noted before, that it’s the small things that define our Yale experiences the most. Much of the onus is on us to make our campus experiences memorable, but support from the University beyond our freshman year would certainly help. With how busy everyone around here is, it’s always nice to have more venues for those chance encounters with people that we otherwise would never see. A little serendipity can go a long way.
Shreyas Tirumala is a junior in Trumbull College. His column usually runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .