My first impression of Cris came from a spattering of blue Post-it notes around our entryway: One next to the bag of free condoms, another smack dab between the doors of my suite and his, and a third one on his door. They all read, “follow @czillo.” I glanced at them, pulled one off the wall and crumpled it up.
Step foot in Cris’ suite, and you’ll immediately be greeted by a large jar of protein powder propped on top of the minifridge. Swing toward your right, and you’ll see a small canary yellow Post-it note that says “no softies allowed” plastered onto the door of his room. Cross over into his bedroom, and there’ll be a Taft lacrosse jersey pinned onto his wall. Glance into his open wardrobe, and it’ll be filled with collared shirts, interspersed with muscle tanks.
As a petite Chinese girl who is barely 5 foot 3, I was both wary and intimidated by Cris. Protein powder and muscle tanks? Probably a jock similar to the ones who bullied me back home. Throughout middle school and high school, my survival tactic was to label people with stereotypes so that I could easily make sense of them, putting them into boxes that I understood. I planned, subconsciously, to avoid him as much as possible.
The only problem was that I came to Yale to get away from the toxicity of high school. I remembered Head of College Stephen Pitti’s assertion during opening days, that our most important homework assignment at Yale is to get to know our peers — yes, it’s more important than that math problem set. So, I bought into the idea. I went out to dinner with Cris and his suite, welcomed the idea of them coming over for movie night — especially because they essentially gave us their couch — and played cards with them until 2 a.m. I learned that the protein powder is actually his roommate’s, that the minifridge is filled with cheese that his mom brought him from home and that he’s a friend I can count on, especially when my life’s a mess (which is to say, always).
Yale’s culture of community depends on us buying into it year-round, even after the leaves become crisp. In a couple of months, I’ll fail to look up at the intricate spires of Harkness Tower as I walk back to Lawrance Hall, ignore the fact that I eat my meals under chandeliers and forget that my “Why Yale” short answer was about the fascinating classmates I would meet. By the time the leaves frost over, it will become taboo to sit down in the dining hall with people that I’ve never met, and the class of 2021 will settle into its various niches.
It’s up to us to fight against that. What makes Yale different from any other college is that it strives for community over competition and asks us to consider the whole over a mere part. From day one, Yale sells that idea to us — that this is a place where people are happier than most because it’s a place of acceptance. It’s our responsibility to continue investing in this idea, even when midterms threaten to drown us in coffee and our Google Calendars evolve into mosaics.
Being at Yale is about being in community with the diverse people that fate has placed us with for the next four years. It’s about remembering that community isn’t always comfortable and that it pushes you to consider perspectives of people whom you didn’t think you would get along with or relate to. In my first month here, I’ve realized that people will surprise you, but only if you let them.
So, if you ever meet Cris, just know that he’s going to put up a “tough guy” act. He’ll wear a dad hat low on his head, flex his biceps more than he probably should and tell you about how he’s going to lift after dinner. But at the end of the day, it’s all an act.
In his spare time, he’s just a softie who blasts Jennifer Lopez.
Katherine Hu is a first year in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at email@example.com .