Yale students are so fake. It’s hard to figure them out. People kept asking to get lunch with us and we knew what we were supposed to do — put it in our Google Calendars, plumb their Instagram for scraps of forced conservation and pray that Berkeley will have seats this time. Then we came prepared with our best cape shark jokes but always ended up eating only with each other. We couldn’t stand the enigma of Yalies anymore, so we left civilization behind and retreated to the perpetually empty place: the stacks. As we languished one sunny afternoon between bookshelves at the heart of campus’s gothic temple to knowledge, floor 4M, pondering our social shortcomings mid-problem set, we looked up and had an epiphany: the answer to Yale’s social strife lies hidden in plain sight, the graffiti of the study carrels. Here, finally, etched on the walls of our lonely study spot was the honest truth. Below are our interdisciplinary attempts to decipher it.

Photo by Jordan Cutler-Tietjen

Photo by Jordan Cutler-Tietjen


Any publication worth its Society of Professional Journalists Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards knows how valuable sources are. We have one, and he’s my (Jordan’s) Peer Liaison.

“I drew a dick once somewhere in Sterling,” he said. “It was really small.”

Galvanized by his unprecedented candor, we pressed further. Why did you do it and where can we find it, we asked him, knowing his answers could very well reveal the social secrets we had been searching for.

“I was bored af, and I forget where it is.”

Quantitative Analysis

There are 135 distinct scribblings present in the data set. They can be categorized as follows: 8 percent pretentious quotations, 15 percent cries for help, 14 percent lustful advances, 7 percent bad advice, 10 percent racist/misogynistic/homophobic/xenophobic comments, 6 percent bad jokes, 6 percent existential angst, 18 percent self-aggrandizement and 16 percent literally random shit that defies all attempts at demarcation. Statistically significant outliers include the first eleven digits of the Fibonacci sequence and a disastrously misspelled Latin expression. 35 of the messages provoked responses. There are nine disparate references to male genitalia and 28 exclamation points.

Artistic Analysis

Carrel IV M-05 contains a large variety of writing styles. We figured a calligraphic analysis might offer an insight into the minds of our fellow Yalies. The word “HELPFUL” stretches across the wall in haphazard, unruly handwriting. The graffiti author chose to use dainty, whispered pencil strokes, underlining the urgency and yet hopelessness of his or her search for clarity. We imagine that this Yalie has had enough with the enigmatic ways of other Yalies and just wanted someone helpful to explain what the hell “SSS” stands for or what a “soggy cig” is and where to get one. In contrast to this wild, large handwriting, the graffiti author of “Sic transit gloria mundi, motherfucker” chose a much more contained approach. Each Latin word lies in a different spacial quadrant so as to eliminate the feeling of clutter, and as the words cascade down the wall, they move slightly farther to the right, emulating a waterfall. Each letter is capitalized, so that the statement — translated to “Thus passes the glory of the world, or Worldly things are fleeting” — is forceful, abrupt and unapologetic. The final word — “motherfucker” — really ties the statement together, motioning away from the intellectual Latin into a more colloquial, everyday feeling, and the statement becomes something with which everyone can resonate. Our fellow Yalies, we have gleaned from the handwriting of these scribblers, are fearless and profound.

Close Reading

In carrel IV M-05, we happen upon a wonderfully profound poem fragment: “Berry air wary / ail wail nail / May fairy / Dale / dairy sale.” What at first seems gibberish actually harbors significant depth and nuance. The internal rhyme in most lines — “berry” and “wary” in the first — serves to enjoin disparate ideas, complicating our understanding of the world as we know it. Rhyming “berry” with “wary” delineates the progression from childhood innocence to adulthood apathy, as the graffiti author’s childhood memories of picking berries are now tainted by the wariness of growing up. The author tries to regain this innocence in the next line with a puerile rhyme — “ail wail nail” — and the next line, too, with the mention of the magical “May fairy,” but this all proves futile, as the author lands on the image of an empty, existentialist Dale. Finally, there is a “dairy sale,” wherein the carefree blissfulness of childhood becomes a commodity to give away, and people become mechanistic producers, caught in the unending, repetitious cycle of working and selling.

Conversation Practice

Despite rigorous research, we weren’t yet ready to engage with a living, breathing Yale student. But the beauty of the proto-tangible social media destination that is the Sterling stacks lies in its opportunity. More than 100 yet-unborn discussions awaited our pen. If we tried to talk to the Yale student body via the stacks’ message boards, we would be better prepared for the walking Canada Geese outside the library.

One message in particular caught our eye. “You are beautiful,” it read. Here was a student looking for love, eager for reciprocal attention. This would be easy.

Photo by Jordan Cutler-Tietjen

Photo by Jordan Cutler-Tietjen

Human Encounter

We felt prepared, we really did. We had exhausted our options — now that we knew what Yalies wanted, we were finally ready to go outdoors and meet them. As it happens, we had barely opened our bags for inspection and walked halfway towards the Women’s Table before we turned around and retreated back inside. Sad!

The stacks scribblings are insensitive and irrelevant and rude. But at least they’re honest and immediate in a way that everyday conversation is not. Their fears, foibles and fuck-ups are secret and public, anonymous and universal. We preferred the version of the Yale students we met in the stacks to the ones we found outside its doors. And underneath it, the question we all ask from time to time, when the lust and self-aggrandizement and literal random shit is over: “is all this worth it — the work, going to Yale, suffocating in this Ivy-League atmosphere, will it take me anywhere — make me anything?” [IV M-15].