Here’s an understatement: Yale is a competitive place. From the moment we move into Old Campus, the giant application that is the Yale experience begins. We apply for majors, a job, seminars, fellowships, committees, boards, peer liaison programs and any other prestige-toting position on this campus. Yale can be described, in the best light, as a high-achieving place. In sallow shades, it is an anxiety-riddled place. We all know this.
It is not just applications alone that render Yale stressful. What truly puts the cherry on top of every anxious student’s mind is of our own making. Let’s call it “The Horse Race.”
With the sheer number of activities on campus that require applications, it is likely that most of us have been rejected at one point or another. But the way we operate in the face of exclusivity belies this fact. We operate without empathy. Yale becomes a horse race, in which we bet on each other and ourselves.
How many times have you talked about the qualifications of another student for a job? When was the last time you questioned the GPA of a friend? Have you ever cried when your rejection letter turned into an existential crisis?
I also don’t need to tell you that there are many miles of Yalie self-worth wrapped up in these competitions. We are people who value externalities, the thrill of an acceptance letter or high grade. Exclusivity is the shiniest, easiest metric by which to compare ourselves. Getting the fellowship means we are worthy, according to someone. But, what does not getting it mean? For too many, it is personal. We fail because others say we did.
The harder something is to get, the more we value it. We put those with Fulbright scholarships on pedestals, just under those who get the Rhodes. We discuss acceptance rates at Ivy League institutions, expressing concern for the miniscule rise in Yale’s after adding two new colleges. We are scared of being valued less by this metric. Even after we got into the “good” school, we are at risk should Yale suddenly drop in ranking. This is a fleeting sense of worth.
There are activities on this campus that don’t require application. College councils, for example, are such an activity. The problem is that no one goes (at least in my own college, Berkeley). Without a badge of elitism, our priorities lie elsewhere — there is no self-worth to be obtained here. Our lack of attendance is a symptom of a greater problem.
We all know disappointment is painful. Yet disappointment is different from dejection. It is a healthier emotion. It says that we understand an element of arbitrariness in many external decisions. Dejection takes denial personally; it makes us feel worthless, valued less than those who obtain the shiny gold star we wanted. A little caring is good. But the amount of self worth we have invested into externalities is cruel to ourselves.
This past week, I met with the Women’s Center Board for seven hours conducting interviews and doing board deliberations for the coming year. It was a painful process; too many qualified, passionate and talented applicants for too few spots. I left the day feeling drained, excited for the new board and sad, wondering how many applicants will take denial personally, as I am prone to do.
I am happy that previous board decided two years ago to select to serve. However, I now see an arbitrariness to the decision that I wouldn’t have felt had I been rejected from the board. On the other side of the process, some things are made more clear. Sometimes, you’re in the right place at the right time, and you strike the right impression. Other times, maybe less so. That is how our life is shaped.
Here at Yale, we are so surrounded by arbitrary things. It is a fundamental part of any place in which external decisions about us are being made. But to give the arbitrary more importance than it has, to create our own arbitrary system of assessing worth based on exclusivity — this does a disservice to us all.
Vicki Beizer is a junior in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .