On a pleasant sunny afternoon, I lay on my sage green duvet, indulging in a common pastime: Instagram scrolling. Sunlight speckles into my tiny but homey Davenport double as I “like” some posts, commenting on others. And then it hits me, the pieces falling together: All my friends, in their filtered Instagram glory, are Asian.
The first puzzle piece was handed to me earlier this summer as my friend, a 5-foot tall girl from Hong Kong joked, “Michelle, you’re the center of Asian Yale.” While I definitely was no heart in Yale’s complex anatomy, the “Asian” detail stuck. Her comment was surprising, yet accurate. It prompted a defensive response before inviting deeper reflection.
On that warm afternoon, as I scrolled through my Instagram feed, I realized that it was merely a slew of posts of Chinese and Korean girls traveling, studying abroad or posing with delicious foods. If I had to categorize them, many of whom are my close friends on campus, they’re all a variation of Chinese girls — Chinese-American, Singaporean-Chinese and Australian-Chinese — but Chinese. After all, in a room of new faces, I gravitate toward people with whom I feel a familiarity and similarity. People who understand the delicacy and struggles of an immigrant family, who share habits that our Chinese parents ingrained into us, who could carry on a Chinese conversation past “wo ai ni.”
Let me preface this by saying that it’s completely okay to spend time with people with whom we’re comfortable. Almost all my first-year memories of spontaneous thrifting trips, exploring New York during fall break or stressing in a Bass Library study room have been with people who are Asian. But it makes me wonder, have I allowed myself to become too comfortable?
To be quite honest, my first year of college felt a lot like my four years in high school. I grew up in a white suburb with a name no one’s ever heard of outside of Dallas, Texas. It’s that stereotypical large green lawn, red pickup truck, low crime rate sort of town. My public high school had a class size of 950+, composed of fewer than 100 Asians. My prom group photo would, however, clearly expose my friend group as half Korean and half Indian. The only white friends I saw outside of class — a varsity water polo athlete who excels in calculus and a stunning, tall and quirky girl who rowed crew — I met during a random seat pairing in AP English junior year. We called ourselves the “Fooling Frogs.” With them, I wasn’t just watching Korean dramas or discussing familial pressures — I learned how to make pizza from scratch, tried my hand at antique hunting and picked up rock-climbing as a hobby.
I don’t want my time here to be a repeat of high school. I got a taste of how meaningful it is to befriend people who are unlike me only by chance — but it doesn’t have to be that way. My story is a call for Yalies to socialize beyond the comfortable cliques we wrap around ourselves, insulating us from those who may seem different. If this sounds lofty, here’s a more direct solution: Break your patterns. Some would argue that “trying new clubs and classes” is the solution, but it’s easy to join one and merely talk to the one or two people who look like you. My English 120 seminar, for instance, had people of all heights, colors and stories, but I grabbed breakfast with the only other Chinese-American in the room. After a few weeks of sticking together, this pattern solidified and became a barrier for me, trapping me in my comfort zone. My point being — your actions have to be intentional if you want to seek diversity in your life, in your social circles. Yale’s undergraduate class is 17.3 percent Asian; I don’t want to go through four years only learning the stories and intricacies of less than one-fifth of our class.
I challenge the starry-eyed freshmen, slowly slumping sophomores and slightly jaded upper-level students to start anew. In your new classes, clubs and social spaces: Go talk to the intimidating freckle-faced brunette decked in Yale athletic gear, the soft-spoken boy whose afro is crowned with hot pink Beats or the quirky-looking Chinese girl typing on her Mac. Who knows? It might become your most meaningful friendship yet.
Michelle Fang is a sophomore in Davenport College. Her column usually runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .