The first week at Yale is controlled chaos. From the beginning of move-in day to the start of classes, every minute is carefully calibrated to introduce first years to the seemingly infinite array of resources at Yale. But all this information can be overwhelming, compounded by the social pressures during Camp Yale.
At Yale, first years rapidly form little circles around themselves: suitemates, FroCo groups, preorientation programs like FOOT or Harvest. These circles act as safety nets, places where first years can meet each other and begin to form the bonds that will determine the course of their bright college years. And to be sure, these groups have their benefits: It gives all first years an initial set of friends to chat, hang out, walk around and grab meals with, which helps to ameliorate the fear of being alone many experience in an unfamiliar environment like college.
But one disconcerting facet of this system is the randomness of these connections. While there is always an element of chance inherent in friendship, it is never directly a product of algorithmic placement, as it is at Yale.
It’s weird to think your friends here — or at least those you start out with — are determined by nothing more than a computer lottery system and some bureaucratic query. Sure, there are opportunities meet other people through common clubs and interests, but most people find their friends through these socially engineered systems, particularly during the first few weeks.
On the one hand, there is a sort of odd beauty to random friendship. In the spirit of the residential college system, suites act as a microcosm of the Yale community — an initial hub of social activity, true to the idea that college is a place to meet diverse people and broaden your horizons. The system forces you to interact with people you might have never met through typical social channels, allowing you to experience the breadth of backgrounds here at Yale.
On the other hand, there are significant questions about the depth of these relationships. Are the friendships formed a result of genuine connection, or are they at least in part a proverbial marriage of convenience?
Everyone immediately forms bonds with those physically closest to them in order to have someone to converse with. When I see other groups of first years walking around campus, I think about just how easily I could have been a part of their social group if it weren’t for some binary numbers. Maybe most people at Yale are just genuinely compatible with each other, or maybe we just mold ourselves to fit whatever set of groups we are placed in.
These friend groups become limiting once first years settle into the routine of college. I can’t speak from personal experience — having been here a fortnight — but I have talked to a number of people from other classes who said they felt constrained by these support systems after the first couple of months, as if the groups were preventing them from branching out and meeting new and more compatible people. Cliques have already solidified, making it difficult to reach out to new companions.
I’m not professing to know whether these randomized groups are good or bad for the social life of first years. But whether you like the people you meet in these groups or not — and whether you’re happy with your current friend group or want to continue meeting people — I have faith that the Class of 2021 will use and transcend these predetermined groups to explore the wondrous abundance of knowledge and diversity at this school.
The students here are Yale’s greatest resource, and just like any resource at Yale, they are what you make of it.
Conor Johnson is a first year in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .