In the spring of 2016, I fell in love. Our relationship reached a low point when he threatened to dump me a year and a half later. Then he abruptly switched tracks and lovebombed me, but I was scarred from before and didn’t reciprocate. I think we’ll part ways for good after graduation.
That, in rough terms, is the story of my anti-romance with Yale. It’s been a jarring mix of emotions, often cutting from one extreme to the other fast enough to give me whiplash. Yet through the highs and lows, one thing has held constant: Yale has always viewed me as a commodity first, and only incidentally a human.
I was in an unhealthy relationship in my sophomore fall. During a particularly tense confrontation, my partner began to strangle me. The incident didn’t last long but I struggled through several bouts of panic and hysteria that night. The next day I confided in my residential college dean that I’d had a mental breakdown. On her insistence, I spoke to the psychiatrist on call at Yale Health, who advised me to check into the Yale New Haven Hospital emergency room and commit myself to a stay in the psychiatric hospital seeking treatment for suicidal ideation. I had not attempted, nor at any point intended, to kill myself; but I went along with it naïvely because I was desperate for treatment. I had no idea of the stakes involved.
When I arrived in the ER, the psychiatrist there had already been notified by Yale of my case. I nodded along as she confirmed the details. At one point, I mentioned that I had tried to strangle myself, improvising a lie since I didn’t want to implicate my partner. After we spoke I was transferred to the psychiatric hospital, where I received excellent treatment and began to feel mentally stable once more. Then, a few days in, I learned that I might be forced to withdraw from Yale.
I was shocked. At no point had anyone informed me of the possibility of forced withdrawal. In hindsight, I feel incredibly foolish; there are many stories online that mirror mine. Yet it is not the sudden prospect of withdrawal, but rather the ensuing process of negotiating my way back to Yale, that has left me permanently jaded.
In the days that followed I was interrogated at all hours, without warning, as to whether I had attempted to strangle myself using my hands or a sheet. At some point since being admitted to the hospital I had mixed up my lie, and my interlocutors leapt at the opportunity, asking leading questions and exerting enormous pressure on me to admit that I had tied a sheet around my neck. I was extremely confused by the whole debate, as I could not see the possible relevance of this detail. Then I realized that, to Yale, this was the only detail of my entire case that mattered.
Despite the much-needed treatment I received from the hospital staff, the top concern of my dean and the Yale-employed psychiatrists who spoke to me was not my depression or even whether I had attempted suicide. It was the liability I represented to Yale. If I had used my hands, it would mean that I was, albeit suicidal, too stupid to actually succeed in killing myself; if I had used a sheet, that would be another matter entirely.
And so I found myself caught in the middle of an intricate calculus of tuition revenue weighed against potential liability, the twisted game which Yale has perfected to an art form. My medical records were distributed to Yale bureaucrats whom I never met. Around a week after they started reviewing my case, I was told that I would almost certainly be forced to withdraw.
My situation was abruptly reversed shortly after my mom met with my dean. During that meeting, my mom promised that, were I to die on campus, she would keep clear of the newspapers and the courts. My dean responded that this was very helpful information.
I will never know with complete certainty why I was not forced to withdraw. I remain very grateful that this was ultimately the case, and that my mom came to campus to advocate for me; without her support, I am quite sure that I would have lost nearly a full semester’s work and been forced to take the next semester off, as was the case with many of the other Yale students who were in the psychiatric hospital at the same time as me. But this series of events confirmed to me that Yale didn’t care whether I was alive or dead — that I was not a human to them, but an unknown quantity in a multivariable optimization problem.
In the last year, I’ve been awarded two national scholarships. Each time I received congratulatory emails from my dean and head of college, and I was profiled in Yale News with a headshot and short blurb. Yet afterward I felt a gnawing emptiness. It was very clear that Yale cared less about what I did than that I won awards for it: the emails were always just a bit too generically exuberant, the blurbs about my accomplishments riddled with mild inaccuracies.
I found out about the second scholarship this past December, and Yale began publicizing in January. At each step of the process I felt less and less myself. The Yale fellowships director, who had been uninterested in talking to me in October, became artificially friendly and sent a patronizing email to the scholarship committee profusely thanking them on my behalf. I was asked to talk about how Yale had helped me through the process of applying to the scholarship (it hadn’t really). The Yale News story highlighted my gender and the coincidence of my winning this scholarship in the 50th anniversary year of coeducation at Yale. Overnight, I’d become a featureless mannequin for Yale to mold and dress up and brand as its product. I couldn’t bear the mental dissonance, remembering how indifferent to my possibly dying Yale had been not so long before.
In February I declined the scholarship. The scholarship committee didn’t mind much at all, but the Yale fellowships director was predictably unhappy. She called me demanding an explanation and I wasn’t sure what to say. I couldn’t give her a simple reason for why I’d been so unhappy since winning the scholarship. After she hung up, I felt like myself again for the first time in years.
Catherine Lee | firstname.lastname@example.org