That first glimpse of my beloved Pierson tower was a welcome sight for eyes habituated to the repetitive landscape of Greater Boston suburbia for the last six months. The accompanying hit of serotonin briefly transported me outside the world we do, in fact, inhabit.
Returning to my senses, I confronted the contrastingly harsh reality we face this semester as Yale students, as New Haven residents, and as global citizens during this pandemic. The existential issues that confront us are threefold: the looming threat to our health and well-being but especially to our teachers, Yale staff, and New Haveners around us; the Presidential election in November (please vote!); and the possibility that the Yale that the sophomores, juniors, and seniors have known since our own arrivals on campus — particularly outside the classroom — could be lost.
Concerning Yale as the set of people, places, activities, and relationships that turn a set of beautiful buildings and well-manicured green spaces into a campus where life happens, I cannot help but predict that at best, this fall and spring will present us with a hugely diminished experience. At worst, Yale could become unrecognizable no matter how many optimistic emails from Yale’s seemingly endless list of deans suggest otherwise.
I deeply respect Silliman Head of College and Head of the Good Life Center at Yale Laurie Santos for admitting that, for once, the broader world has pierced Yale’s iron-dome-like bubble. When one of the world’s leading scholars on the psychology of happiness writes sentences like “we all should be emotionally prepared for widespread infections — and possibly deaths — in our community,” perhaps we should ready ourselves for a rather unusual and strange existence.
Since professor Santos wrote those words on July 1, the same day Yale announced its return plan for the fall, I have been impressed with the testing regimen Yale has created so far. Certainly, Yale seems to have given much more care and consideration and spent more money than other schools to make a return to campus somewhat feasible.
As students we must contend with the knock-on effects of the necessary health and safety measures Yale has instituted on the clubs, activities, and communal spaces we hold most dear. Take my cherished YDN sports desk, the best desk at the YDN and by that virtue the best single desk at any college newspaper in the country.
While we have over the years covered stories of national importance like the college admissions scandal two years ago and more recently Yale’s partnership with the NBA for a saliva-based COVID-19 test, much of the desk’s day-to-day involves previewing and recapping the results and endeavors of Yale’s 35 varsity athletic teams. However, on July 8, the Ivy League became the first collegiate sports conference in the United States to call off fall athletics with the potential for cancelling the entire year still possible.
This decision fundamentally undercuts the desk’s ability to carry out its mission. With experienced sophomore reporters barred from campus and the sell to first years more difficult, the new editors this year will face unique challenges maintaining and recruiting for the desk. Beyond the loss of excellent reporting opportunities, what saddens me most is that new students and existing writers will be unable to experience the community as vibrantly as I could for three years. The YDN sports desk has been a bedrock of my Yale experience, and the source of many of my closest friendships and most treasured experiences.
College life is incredibly cyclical, particularly for extracurricular activities. First years join in the fall, get inducted by semester’s end, take on more responsibility sophomore year, become leaders junior year, and sail off into the sunset as seniors. This system has an incredible inertia that the coronavirus has disrupted. Large organizations like the YDN and the sports desk within that have been around forever and overcome the disturbances of World Wars will survive this moment. But not all clubs and activities that provide their own spaces and value to this campus have the momentum and institutional might to avoid a critical blow in these times.
People, but especially upperclassmen, need to draw on their creativity and innovative spirit to hold this campus together as best we can. The task in front of us is no less than to stem the hemorrhaging of institutional knowledge and the diversity of experiences Yale can offer its students both present and future. If we fail, Yale will not only be different on the other side, it will be lesser.
We are Yale students though. We got this.
Caleb Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org