In a first year’s first few weeks, the pressure to be socially successful is tenfold. Friend groups seem to be forming faster than you can squeeze into them, and you see groups of hollering frat boys while walking home from Bass, wondering if all that studying was really worth it.
You feel guilty, knowing that if only you were more “extroverted” that maybe you could have secured an invitation to that party, but what’s more, if you’re like me — a financially struggling student with strict parental expectations and who finds solace in other forms of socialization — you’d be frustrated.
In a place like Yale, imposter syndrome is treated like an academic topic, talked about to the point where everyone seemingly knows exactly what it is and how to give each other advice on growing out of it. But the truth is, we aren’t even close to that level of expertise, overlooking that there are aspects to imposter syndrome that extend beyond academics and the professional world.
The feeling also applies socially, and because of it, we tend to forget that there is no one way to be social. At first, the idea of a “social imposter syndrome” at Yale can be confusing. What happened to the world-leading research university we know Yale to be and the connections that people say you’ll get out of being a student here — shouldn’t those things be more important than going out and partying?
What we don’t realize is that Yale is as much a social institution as it is a professional one; among a group of the very talented and emotionally intelligent, we feel a need to create a name for ourselves. Part of that does involve putting yourself out there and connecting with unfamiliar faces. It only becomes a problem in the face of elitism, where either the underprivileged are barred from something — or in our specific context, only one perspective about social success is declared superior. All others are subverted.
The result of this social elitism is the nurturing and normalization of a culture of partying, euphoria and social commitment that undermines the unique situations of others at best and in the worst-case scenario, spawns classism and racism. Why should we have to limit our options to being upset over a party that only lets in white girls, or have to decide between a normal sleep schedule and fitting in as a “party person”? Ultimately, it’s up to every person’s individual choice whether to participate in these activities or not, but social cues and pressure should never at any point be a factor in that choice.
The pressure that forms Yale’s party culture arguably lies in the inequality we were born into — legacies have a better grasp of Yale’s extremely expansive campus even before their first day of classes; the students who attended high-ranking private schools know to take advantage of hidden curricula and social connections; and the wealthy can go out every night without experiencing the frustration of never-ending email chains with the financial aid office or being short 20 cents for a small-size basic boba milk tea — without the boba.
The second part of the problem is more a question of social preference than it is a problem: If you’re like me and your mind starts glitching by the time you’re talking to the 20th new person you’ve met, you might prefer to socialize in smaller, tightly knit groups under more manageable settings, and if you’re like many others, you might choose to prioritize relationships in the religious, cultural and work spheres. We must refrain from condemning a mindset of academic, cultural and familial obligations — which is ironic, given that they are things we all had to do to get into this school.
Though parties are made out to be the epitome of socialization, they are not the end-all be-all when it comes to finding friends for everyone. If you have, I am happy for you, but either way, not attending a party, refusing a drink or not doing whatever’s typical of Yale’s overly emphasized social scene should not be seen as a sign of social weakness, loneliness, or a target for judgment.
To those not on the victimized side of the spectrum, take a moment to realize that different personal backgrounds entail different values. Stripped to the barebone, college is a place for us to learn, change and grow. No one should have the right to coin social success, nor is it okay to tell people where and in whom they should find that happiness.
To my friends grappling with this special type of social imposter syndrome, know that you are not alone and that you do belong. Yale’s doors have opened for you, and if you look just a tad bit closer, there are more ways in than climbing over a fence in high heels while intoxicated.