Spring Break is finally here! Some of us are leaving for home, others are taking a trip with friends or staying on campus, but regardless, we are ready to break from the routine of life at Yale. Whatever it is you will be doing; something will change over the next two weeks. Being in another place, or the same place with fewer people, will almost certainly elicit memories of the past. If you are going home, memories of your high school and middle school years might resurface, pleasant or unpleasant. Many of us are uncomfortable returning to parts of ourselves we have forgotten since coming to Yale.
For many friends I’ve spoken with, the ways in which we change ourselves at Yale are tangible. We change our accents to better suit those of our friends. We feel shame at our parents’ accents if they did not grow up in the United States. We buy Timbs and particular winter coats to fit a certain aesthetic. These are stories I have heard and that I have experienced. In the process, we lose something of ourselves, of who we were before we entered this world.
All of us, in some way, are performing. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — and maybe it’s a natural thing, a byproduct of being in college. But we need to be more conscious of how and why we are performing, and of what we have lost in the process.
The evidence of the masks we put on to ourselves and our friends is clear in the increasing demand for mental health resources at Yale — and the view of many students that Yale does not do enough to address this issue. It’s hard to tell each other of our vulnerabilities, so we hide them.
Our performativity spills into day-to-day interactions with one another. I recently had a conversation with a friend in which we discussed the lack of sincerity that colors many social interactions here, from rush processes to “catching up” meals and coffees that do not extend past a singular conversation.
Amidst performances in social settings and in regards to our mental health, many of us might be left grasping for genuineness. A friend of mine expressed feeling as though he could find the genuine only at home, in an environment separate from the high-strung, performative environment of Yale.
Of course, there are many realities at Yale, many moments and conversations and spaces that transcend performativity. But the easiness with which we have learned to hide parts of ourselves in order to fit a mold makes me think. A few nights ago, I sat with a friend in her common room, and we talked about our parents, about how when we first came to Yale, we were ashamed of our parents’ accents, of how they stood out. We remember wishing for an instant that they could be like other parents, who knew this world, who spoke in the language of this place, who, perhaps, had gone to Yale themselves. We both wish we had never felt this shame.
Many of us take our shame, regarding where we came from, our mental health or anything else, and we cloak it in our Timbs and winter coats so as to not stand out.
But we do not have to hide how strange this world is, still, how strange it feels to have so much privilege surrounding us at every moment.
We have access to world-class professors and world-renowned artists. Politicians and journalists are walking around us each day. Chandeliers hang from the ceilings of our dining halls. When did all of this become normal? When did I forget what it was like for it not to be normal?
I’m returning home this spring break, and when I drive down the winding roads that house my high school and middle school, I’ll remember myself back in those days. I’ll remember my horrendous braces, how all of this would have been unimaginable to me. I’ll remember all the English phrases my parents taught me that were wrong — close your jacket, my dad still says, instead of zip it up. I never want my parents to sound like anyone else — and over time, I’m trying to unlearn that I have to be someone else, too.
Meghana Mysore is a junior in Davenport College. Her column runs every other Friday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org