Last summer, I walked into the URJ Kutz Camp for the first time, knowing barely anyone and feeling quite out of place. Upon passing through the gates, each staff member greeted me with “Welcome home!” At first, this rubbed me the wrong way — how was I expected to call this unknown place home? However, the associated attitude of familiarity diffused into my camp-self, facilitating my transition from my true home to camp. So, when Yale used these words in its post-acceptance videos and posts, I knew this could be the place for me.
Few phrases carry more weight in my eyes than “Welcome home.” When entering a strange environment, this greeting conveys that you are wanted, loved and appreciated. In fostering an ideal community, there stands no true alternative. A slight shift in the wording results in an entirely new meaning. “Welcome to Yale” carries the feelings of unworthiness and shock which still follow many incoming first years, while “Welcome, class of 2022” separates first years from other undergraduates.
From an outsider’s perspective, the slogan comes from truth. I judge communities by how their members greet others. The summer after sophomore year of high school, I moved from my childhood home in St. Louis to Charlottesville, Virginia, a city I barely knew existed. After the transition, I gravitated toward groups that left me with a kind first impression; saying hello to new people in your environment, a small gesture, signals that everyone is wanted. One night during Bulldog Days, a friend and I wandered into a concert on Old Campus. After, one of the performers walked us to her favorite buttery even though it was on the opposite side of campus from her destination. Along the way, she shared meaningful campus stories, told us about her life and explained what made Yale so special. She treated us as respected friends, not just prospective classmates. Yalies are eager to share their space with new members.
A strong home community stabilizes life’s unpredictable nature. Last summer, members of the “alt-right” and neo-Nazi movements descended on my new hometown of Charlottesville. Having faced anti-Semitism in school before, I feared the public display of hatred would ripple into my high school. Instead, people denounced the outside fearmongers and returned to school with a newfound enthusiasm for the exploration of other cultures. Rather than spending my senior year fending off people who now felt comfortable openly expressing hatred, I got to bake hamantashen, a traditional Jewish pastry, with my classmates in my Christian school’s kitchen. People cared about each other and would not allow Jason Kessler or David Duke to stand in their way.
There are going to be times in the next four years when we face communal hardships. Last year, when a fellow graduate student called the police on Lolade Siyonbola GRD ’19 for napping in a common room, Yale students stood up for their peers of color whose place in the community had been challenged. Establishing a strong communal foundation allows us to address the underlying issues which tarnish our school while still expressing love for it. People have complicated relationships with their homes, but at the end of the day, it’s still home.
There’s a reason that we colloquially call first-year orientation “Camp Yale.” This place isn’t supposed to be just a school — Yale makes it abundantly clear to incoming students that we are supposed to look out for each other. Between residential colleges, FroCos and clubs, an extensive peer mentoring networking has been arranged for us. As college students, we will live in a constant state of insider and outsider, simultaneously at home and away from it. Before we get drawn into our personal passions, let’s take time to forge meaningful relationships — let’s make this place our home.
Max Krupnick is a first year in Berkeley College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .