Over the past week, American businessmen and politicians have been popping up in the news for expressing their concern for those less fortunate than themselves. While visiting India to promote his family’s real estate brand, Donald Trump Jr. remarked that he likes India’s poor because they smile at him, unlike — I assume — other poor people. The next day, at a Black History Month presentation, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner took a sip of chocolate milk, rather than white milk, to demonstrate the benefits of corporate diversity and inclusion. “It’s really, really good. Diversity!”
What do these leaders have in common, besides their well-meaning yet amusingly tone-deaf observations of socioeconomic problems? They were born and bred in the distant world of family money, prep schools and of course, the Ivy League, which should come as no surprise.
I want to believe that Yale is an exception, that being part of Yale’s community equips all of its graduates with cross-cultural understanding and tactfulness, no matter what backgrounds they come from. After all, most of us love Yale primarily because of the people here: Our friends are intelligent, passionate, involved, kind, diverse. We learn so much from others that it would be too simplistic to call everyone elitist and disconnected.
Yet the majority of us really are closed off, by choice or by chance. The compact size of the school grounds, the high-pressure academic environment and the campus-centric social scene all contribute to the infamous “Yale bubble.” According to Wade Southwell, an Eli Whitney student who lives off-campus, “I can say that Yale students who stay in the bubble are missing out on something really great. But, everything Yale offers makes it easy to stay in the bubble, and I think it’s great to belong to a school that is able to offer so much.” Ultimately, the Yale bubble is an important reason why alumni have such fond memories of their college days, which leads to more alumni donations … and who doesn’t enjoy renovated dining halls?
Our general lack of exposure also has tangible consequences. Some of the wealthiest Yalies seem visibly nauseated by New Haven’s locals. Then at the other end of the spectrum, I’m always amused when students — especially those who live in literal castles like Branford — gush about Yale’s institutional responsibility; they talk about it like we’re a feudal lord obliged to throw scraps of food to the New Haven serfs, bridging the Yale-New Haven divide one loaf of bread at a time. The bubble lets us forget how to have normal interactions with normal people.
It’s not just Yale students though. Even the administration has demonstrated a lack of perspective before; for instance, I can’t be the only one who’s noticed signs on Yale’s public bathrooms barring construction workers and relegating them to a porta-potty out in the winter cold. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure construction workers are capable of using bathrooms properly.
Perhaps it doesn’t help that as a university, Yale is relatively lonely here in Connecticut. Many of our peers have regional rivals that double as symbiotic partners: Harvard and MIT — both offer cross-registration, Duke and UNC — both have significant research partnerships, Stanford and Berkeley — both fuel Silicon Valley, etc. Our main partnership is with the National University of Singapore, a college about 10,000 miles away from Yale, which makes socialization a bit tough.
And we can’t pin the blame on a lack of nearby institutions. Schools including the University of New Haven, Southern Connecticut State University and Quinnipiac University are widely viewed as afterthoughts, relevant to us only during hockey games or Saturday night Toad’s Place dance parties. Whenever I have meaningful conversations with students from these schools, I’m guiltily reminded that places like Yale don’t have a monopoly on smart and interesting people. These moments evoke the similarly refreshing feeling that comes from leaving Yale for a day to de-stress.
But students shouldn’t just leave the bubble every once in a while and call it a day, consigning all of the hard work to a few noble people at Dwight Hall. We should open up the Yale bubble.
Administrators need to continue strengthening Yale’s relationships with schools like SCSU and Quinnipiac through concrete actions that encourage inter-student interaction. Student attitudes have to reflect humility and respect towards people outside of our comfortable bubble. Yale must aim for first place in the Ivy League — for our capacity to be the most decent human beings.
Kenneth Xu is a first year in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .