Coming out of prep school, you wouldn’t expect me to worry about inclusivity at yet another old, academic, New England institution. Nevertheless, my small, often cliquey, often fancy high school did not prepare me for the withheld judgment, the open minds, and the social eagerness so readily available at Yale. I arrived fearing girls just as judgmental as those I left behind in high school.


I would classify my high school as a denominational school in the loosest sense.ts Episcopalian designation still built practices into my daily life that I no longer continued in college. Rather obviously, I no longer attended the mandatory twice-a-week chapel. Although it only lasted 20 to 40 minutes, it involved two levels of  participation. The first was listening to the reverend’s remarks (they were usually very insightful—she was a cool reverend; she boxed competitively and went to Yale Divinity), hopelessly flipping through psalms, and pretending to sing the required songs. Once a week, we would also listen to a “Chapel Talk” from a member of the senior class, allowing them to impart their experiences to younger students. The second level involved helping to continue a culture in part sustained by the practice of chapel. Of course, the practice more broadly perpetuated a Christian culture and tradition to some degree, but I think the practice also perpetuated a distinctly adolescent tradition. After all, we regularly recognized non-Christian holidays in chapel and gathered in the space to celebrate holidays entirely unrelated to Christian faith. Rather than simply advancing Christianity in a vague sense, the practice of gathering with 400 of your peers in your “formal” chapel attire (i.e., a skimpy dress rather than skinny jeans) and facing each other in the Episcopalian chapel style provided a regular opportunity to judge and be judged by other high school girls. It let you survey the latest styles donned by the cool boarding students from New York, speculate which pair unexpectedly sitting together had started hanging out the week before, and identify the former member of the popular group sitting alone as a new social pariah. The practice gave students, including myself, up to an hour a week to sit quietly and look at their peers, something teenagers already do enough of, and continue their practice of ruthlessly judging each other. 


Luckily, I think I gave up the practice of harsh peer judgment along with high school chapel since arriving at Yale. On one hand, I attribute it to outgrowing petty instincts and removal from toxic high school girls. On the other hand, I attribute much to Yale culture and the practices that uphold its inclusive and welcoming ethos. We collaborate as much as is allowed, leaving no one out to dry, no matter if another’s lower grade might improve the curve we’re graded on. Barring Covid concerns, we keep our parties open to anyone willing to bring positive energy. We overcommit because we want to go to all our friends’ performances, games, and concerts. Yalies want to learn and enjoy, not judge.


The practice of giving one’s life biography in 2+ hours most readily comes to mind as embodying Yale’s ethos. Incoming first years give bios during many pre orientation programs, and the Yale tradition of senior society (which luckily grows more and more inclusive and accessible every year) provides a space for many seniors to reflect on their time with a bio. Society can produce what might become lifelong friendships, but it is also an exercise in how to understand interpersonal relationships—listening to a member’s bio is the exact opposite of judging based on chapel apparel or seat choice. This year I’ve practiced learning the whole story, putting together pieces that make sense and accepting pieces that might not, because hardly anyone makes complete sense as a 22-year-old. The practice shows that we rarely know an individual’s whole story—only maybe if we listen to a 2.5-hour bio. Unfortunately, no one has time for the whole story in the real world, even as we encounter people with all sorts of personal life details that might lead an observer to harshly misjudge—we’ll need to learn with open minds, rather than judge with preconceived notions based on partial truths. This is a skill Yale teaches well. 


Practices like the bio help perpetuate Yale’s inclusive culture, helping relieve many, including myself, from judgmental instincts left over from high school. By extension, this of course extends to less harsh judgment of myself. I do believe attending a college that fosters collaboration and celebrates diversity and eccentricity like Yale teaches young people to move away from habits of harsh peer judgment. It does good work rehabilitating the recovering high school mean girl in many of us.

AINSLEY WEBER is a graduating senior in Silliman College. Contact her at