New years bring new beginnings.
Even if you’re an upperclassman, the wrought-iron gates and the cobblestones seem a little fresher and more exciting. There’s no more faded sidewalk chalk on Library Walk. That mediocre term paper you turned in five minutes before the deadline in May is a distant memory. A million little misshapen colored boxes cover your worksheet on Yale Blue Book. Though you may have decided to stay here over the summer, the promise of a new year imbues you with a new energy.
This sentiment couldn’t be truer for the members of the class of 2021. If you’re a first year: Welcome. All of this — the cobblestones, the buildings, the seemingly countless faces you will come across — will seem even more overwhelming than it does to us old, jaded upperclassmen.
But the stakes are high for everyone.
We’re back to scheduling every meal again, stressing out over reading responses and emailing professors at the last minute for a spot in a coveted seminar. You may think that these academic pressures will be your only worries. Surely, straight A’s are the only thing that matter? Wrong.
Life at Yale is increasingly defined by extracurricular activities. You’d be hard-pressed to survive a day at Camp Yale without running into someone who wants you to join his or her club. According to Yale College Undergraduate Admissions, there are hundreds of active campus organizations. The variety of extracurricular choices can be overwhelming, especially for incoming first years. Try not to get inundated by the myriad of comedy troupe debating political philosophizing club soccer groups.
Much of my life at Yale has been defined by my involvement with organizations like the News and the Yale Political Union. Many Yale students join at least one club or extracurricular activity during their time here, which isn’t hard to tell from the number of Yale clubs and organizations that exist. Moreover, according to a News survey (“2021 by the numbers: expectations,” Aug. 30, 2017), at least 20 percent of incoming first years indicated interest in Greek life and 48 percent were interested in community service. Extracurricular activities give students the opportunity to make new friends and learn things that they may have never been exposed to within a classroom setting.
Given that so many Yalies are invested in these clubs and activities, it shouldn’t be surprising that recruitment season is a trying period for everyone. Because Yale students place so much emphasis on extracurricular activities, rejection is inevitable. How many people do you know who got rejected from the Yale Symphony Orchestra, club sports or an academic club?
For many first years and sophomores, rejection from an organization can be devastating. However, they aren’t the only ones who can feel the pang of social rejection. Elections for club positions sophomore year can turn brutal as people vie for positions of power. Even people who end up with positions are stressed by the trials of recruiting a new class, competing with other similar organizations for the interest of that “golden first year”.
But how seriously should we take our organizations?
Clubs are excellent, but we should not need them to survive or thrive at Yale. I’d be lying if I said that I regret becoming a staff columnist. However, this should not mean that we should have to join a club to get invited to parties or make friends.
Moreover, our fascination with clubs should not make us blind to some of the problems they pose. Every year we see stories about hazing deaths and racist parties on college campuses. In my first year, a fraternity was even accused of only letting white girls into a party. It’s clear that any exclusive club or organization has the potential to arbitrarily exclude people who want to join. It seems trite to say “don’t be racist,” so instead I will say this: Call out bad behavior when you see it. Our best option is to call attention to harmful behavior when we see it in recruitment. Programs like inclusion awareness training are possible ways to improve the climate surrounding clubs, but we should constantly critique our recruiting practices.
No, the social environment at Yale isn’t perfect, but we’ve come a long way from “no means yes, yes means anal.” Exclusivity can be harmful, but this is Yale; students are too in love with pomp and circumstance to do away with select clubs and midnight meetings. So don’t get too upset if you get rejected from a club.
But still, I’ll see you at the extracurricular bazaar.
Isis Davis-Marks is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .