Sophomore year is here. Ours is a year of uncertainty regarding majors, extracurriculars and our relationships with other people on campus. These queries, among others, are on our minds when all of a sudden, everything changes. It –– that horrible horrible thing –– happens.
You might be walking down the street, through the dining hall or to GHeav after Woads when suddenly, you make eye contact with … them. They could be a girl you shared a section with, a guy you grabbed a meal with early last year or that suitemate you never really got to know. And you guys have to interact. You, bravely, offer a slight smile, you slightly raise your hand in greeting or your muttered “hello” feels weak and silly in your mouth. And they walk blankly by, strangers by circumstance. In that moment, your very existence is called into question.
I’m being dramatic, of course. But how we treat the people we know, however well or not-so-well, should be our main priority. It’s the cornerstone of every interaction that we will have — not our superficial interactions, but our meaningful ones.
For example, if you have a “friend” for a semester, but stop interacting with them as soon as the term is over because you no longer see them, they weren’t really your friend to begin with. You used each other because you were both available and because we all need to feel loved. Ostensibly you were friends, but in reality, you just happened to be in the same class. This is a friendship of convenience, an acquaintance-ship at best. I do not mean to imply that you should count someone as “friend” only if you intend to share your deepest secrets with them, but rather that if you do decide to use someone as a means rather than an end, respect them and the social contract that binds you together, enough to say “hi” on the street.
Then there’s the infamous electronic ghosting of Yale men (shoutout, the Rumpus), though I’m sure all Yalies are capable of this behavior. The real problem is when electronic behavior manifests in real life. It’s easy enough to electronically block someone in a fit of rage, and while being blocked isn’t fun, your identity isn’t tied to your electronic persona. However, when someone tries to “block” someone in real life by going out of their way to ignore each other, the effects of ghosting become real.
This happened to a good friend of mine when her semi-romantic interest refused to even look at her after he decided their relationship wasn’t going anywhere. A simple, “Hey, I’ve had a great time so far but I think we should just stay friends” would have sufficed, and even if they didn’t stay as close as they once were, they would still acknowledge each other’s existence. But for some reason, he found it acceptable to ghost and block in real life, when these things should be constrained to the electronic realm from whence they came.
Finally, there is a class element to this discussion. There are Yalies who can afford to throw their textbooks into the trash during move out — and do, and there are those who cannot. The wealthier people on this campus have more means to curate their social spaces, opting into more expensive clubs or organizations that require more social cachet to join. Although this is not an exact science, the wealthy at Yale have more social mobility, and therefore can leave their poorer friends in the dust. It seems to me that when these two groups are forced to inhabit the same spaces, whether that be a suite or a party for an organization, the distance between people is never more present.
Therefore, some members of Yale’s aristocracy can quarantine themselves within their own circle, forgetting to see those on the outside as human beings with names and stories for whom the rules of etiquette also extend. I think this is the most insidious form of non-acknowledgement at Yale because you live with someone for a year, interact and get along, conform to the expectation that you are supposed to like your suitemates, but then be ready to drop this charade as soon as the clock strikes noon on the final day of the move out period. If this isn’t toxic and exhausting, I’m not sure what is.
This isn’t an issue that the administration can solve. The change has to come from within each of us. We must all resolve to have basic respect for our classmates, friends, acquaintances and enemies alike. We don’t all have to be friends, but as we have to live and work together for four years, it would be nice if we tried. At the very least, we can say “hello.”
Adrian Rivera is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .