An ongoing lawsuit against Harvard University for allegedly discriminating against college applicants is moving forward, raising fresh questions about the fairness of Ivy League admissions policies.
In an email to all students who applied to Harvard since 2009, the college reassured students that any application information provided to the courts as part of the lawsuit would be kept confidential. Harvard is required to release to state investigators its admissions data from the last six years of first-year and transfer applications, impacting hundreds of thousands of students.
In compliance with the court order, Harvard will begin releasing this information to court on Friday.
The lawsuit, filed by the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions, alleges that Harvard illegally discriminated against Asian-American applicants by setting quotas for the racial group.
“The aim for SFFA is to eliminate racial classification and racial preference in the admissions process at all American colleges and universities,” said Edward Blum, SFFA leader and conservative legal strategist. “Harvard, we allege, has an unfair, unconstitutional quota that limits the amount of Asian students it will accept, much like the quota it had in the 1920s, 30s and 40s limiting the number of Jewish students it would admit.”
SFFA has also filed a similar lawsuit against the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. And in May, a coalition of more than 100 Asian American organizations filed a federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice over claims that Yale and other Ivy Leagues schools unlawfully discriminated in admissions.
In the recent lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs asked Harvard to provide the academic, extracurricular and demographic information of its applicants. Earlier this month, Harvard announced that this information would not include the names or social security numbers of applicants and promised that strict confidentiality rules would prevent the data from being shared outside the lawsuit. Harvard stated on an FAQ link in its email to former applicants that it believes that the allegations are without merit, and said it will defend its admissions practices.
All eight Ivy League schools cite a commitment to diversity on their admissions websites, and several challenges to the legality of Ivy League admissions policies have come to naught.
“Yale aims to cultivate citizens with a rich awareness of our heritage to lead and serve in every sphere of human activity,” Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said. He added that to this end, Yale has long demonstrated a strong commitment to diversity in admissions, including the admission of students from minority racial and ethnic backgrounds.
In September 2015, after Princeton had two complaints alleging that its admissions policy denied Asian applicants entry on the basis of race or national origin, the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education issued a review that stated these complaints were ungrounded. The OCR wrote that Princeton “pursued a broad definition of diversity, for which race and national origin were among many other factors that were considered in the University’s effort to assemble broadly diverse classes of students.”
And in June, the Supreme Court ruled that the University of Texas has the right to consider race in admissions decisions, setting a controversial precedent for policies at private universities like Yale.
Still, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy noted in his majority opinion that the University of Texas case would likely not set a significant precedent because UT Austin has a unusual admissions policy which guarantees spots to students in the top 10 percent of their classes at Texas public schools.
Alice Yang ’19 said that while she thought that the issues SFFA brought up were “tricky,” she still thought that there should be race-based considerations in admissions.
“It is more important for minorities that are even more underrepresented than Asians to have opportunities that wouldn’t be as accessible to them,” Yang said. “It seems instead that colleges ought to turn their attention toward achieving socioeconomic diversity.”
Blum said the Supreme Court ruled 50 years ago against racial quotas of any kind in higher education, which he believes makes Harvard’s current admissions practices unconstitutional. Blum said he believes the lawsuit will show that Harvard sets racial quotas in its offers of admission.
Blum added that this summer’s ruling in favor of the University of Texas would not influence SFFA’s current litigation against Harvard. Blum also said that the SFFA believes colleges and universities “should consider the socioeconomic background of its applicants in order to create a fully rounded student body,” not any information about “a student’s skin color or ethnic heritage.”
Still, Kennedy acknowledged the importance of enrolling a diverse student body, which he said promotes “cross-racial understanding, helps to break down racial stereotypes, and enables students to better understand persons of different races.”
Harvard admitted 5.2 percent of applicants to its class of 2020.
Correction, Oct. 27: A previous version of this article misidentified Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as Robert Kennedy.
In response to Harvard University’s academic policies, the American Automobile Association issued a lawsuit claiming that the school’s grading infringed on its trademark initials. The motor-club federation alleged that the “triple-A” grading given to an estimated 78% of students damaged its branding and left AAA members confused.
“Our organization has a rich history of safety and reliability on the road,” said Ophelia Dayton, Deputy Chair of the Connecticut AAA Board. “It’s untenable that we lose this tradition to a few thousand students in Cambridge who think they’re too good for just an AA+ or A+++.”
The university came under fire after announcing its change last December from its previous grading system, where students would receive anywhere from a 3.0 GPA to a 4.0 GPA, depending on whether they make eye contact with their teaching fellows, whether they turn in assignments more than once, and whether they ever set foot on campus, said Rakesh Khurana, Dean of Harvard College.
“The new system was adopted because the 3.0 GPA frequently caused classroom disruption, as many higher-level math students would ask what the ‘funny hat on top of the nine meant,’” said Khurana.
This system was preferable to the American Automobile Association, said Cox, because it did not infringe on the brand of the association. Nor did it make the motor-club’s name synonymous with deteriorating academic standards, entitlement and childish grade-grubbing, Cox added.
Three cease-and-desist notices were sent since December, said Clinton Chamberlain-Wallace, a partner at Chamberlain-Wallace & Grommet LLC, the firm representing AAA. The university’s response, he said, was sent late and primarily in crayon, he said, and alleged that Chamberlain-Wallace was comprised of glue, while the university was comprised of rubber.
Reception of the new grading system has been mixed. Jason Anderson, a Harvard lecturer in political science was unsure of his role in the classroom given the change.
“I don’t know what they expect of me. I was told to spend the first third of class complimenting the students who show up, and then let them out early after an extra credit ceremony. When do I lecture?”
Students, however, are more optimistic about the program, despite the potential payout to the American Automobile Association. In a poll sent to the entire student body, the one respondent mentioned that the grade would reduce competition and sabotage between students. Last fall, an estimated 30% of Harvard juniors were impersonated by other students for grade-sabotaging purposes. Under the new program, preliminary reports from the university’s security office suggest that the sabotage has dropped by nearly one percent.
The university is expected to release an official statement on the lawsuit by mid-December. The $750 million lawsuit is the second-costliest suit the university has faced this year, after the $35 billion class-action lawsuit by the citizens of the United States for producing so many inept leaders.
You have your ticket. You have the t-shirt from your acceptance package. You secured a spot in a bound-to-be-uncomfortable carpool to Cambridge. You’re staying with “a great, responsible Harvard student, Mom.”
You’re ready for The Game. But … it’s all a bit off, right? Are you forgetting something?
If you feel empty at the thought of blue face paint, you might be suffering from Harvard Hate Deficiency. You’re not alone: One in 8 Yale students experience symptoms of this condition in mid-November. Some attribute HHD to complications during early infancy, while other cases form later in life. Studies cite opinions such as, “I have friends at Harvard, and I really like them,” “Harvard is also an amazing school, what’s the point of hating it?” or, “I don’t care, give me Thanksgiving” as severe warning signs.
Luckily, health professionals have developed new methods of treating HHD other than the popular 10-week IV drip. The FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has released a new list of mental exercises for combating HHD, meant to trick the brain into forming instinctual Harvard aversion. WEEKEND is the first publication to bring them to you.
Directions: Read statements. Internalize. Do not ask questions.
Warnings: Immediately stop exercises if rash appears.
• When the dining halls are out of Special K with strawberries, it’s because of Harvard.
• Harvard took your seat in section, and Harvard knew it.
• When Yale Secure is down, Harvard Secure isn’t.
• When it’s too humid for Command Strips to stay on your wall, it’s because Harvard told Command to “not worry about it” during product testing.
• Harvard cancelled “Arrested Development.”
• Harvard made season four of “Arrested Development.”
• Did you read that New York Times interview with Jaden and Willow Smith? Harvard made that happen. (But don’t worry: Harvard is not Will Smith.)
• If you rearrange the letters in “Mail delivery failed: returning message to sender,” it spells “Harvard.”
• Harvard made all the gates that are too heavy to open gracefully.
• Harvard sent you those Farmville requests.
• One time, Harvard said “awk sauce.”
• You thought it was Fox News who interviewed Harvard students about ISIS. It was Harvard.Do you understand? Harvard is Fox News.
• Harvard is DJing at this chill party and you should totally come out.
• You know when you get into someone’s car, and there are crumbs all over the seat, but the person doesn’t say anything about it or try to clean it up before you sit down? Harvard.
• Harvard did all the DS reading, you lazy ass.
• Harvard made Avril Lavigne change into what she is now.
• When the top news story on Facebook was “Guy Fieri: Altered photo surfaces, showing celebrity chef without bleached hair and goatee,” Harvard was also trending.
• Guy Fieri went to Harvard.
• When you’re in New York City, Humans of New York is taking pictures of Harvard and not you.
• Harvard cast the live-action version of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and NBC’s telecast of “The Sound of Music.”
• When your essay is being workshopped, Harvard tells you, “It’s not really working.”
• It’s called a “Harvard” when you open your computer in public and the lyric video for “Hey Juliet” starts playing because you forgot to close it.
• Harvard believes in equal rights for all genders but loves men too much to be a feminist.
• Do you feel sad sometimes? Harvard!!!
• The reason you couldn’t get a ticket for The Game is Harvard. Trust us.
Ah, Thanksgiving break — the time of year when I finally get to relax after months of strenuous pipe-smoking, poetry-writing and colonialism. This old boy doesn’t have the energy he used to, back when I was an undergraduate at Harvard, rowing on the sun-dappled Charles and getting belligerently drunk with my cohort of young, muscular, snow-white peers. I still get out my old letter sweater and cry into it once in a while.
Where were we? Ah, yes, Thanksgiving. You know, Ezekiel Barnabassus Twillingsby III — who sat next to Squanto at the first Thanksgiving — is my great-great-great-great uncle thrice removed. Thanksgiving runs deep in the Twillingsby family. And I have a lot to be thankful for: Boston, this City on a Hill, whose founders I am also directly descended from; the reelection of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, whose father, also named Henry Cabot Lodge, would change me from time to time when I was a baby; and finally, the fact that I know the Crimson lads will give the Elis a good, old fashioned whupping, like they did back in my day. You know, I sometimes worry that lads these days don’t know how to give a good, hard whupping. I certainly got my share at Harvard. And when I was growing up, Father (I still don’t know his actual name) would give us a good licking if he caught us cavorting with any Irish Catholics. God forbid they ever let any of their ilk into Harvard.
But in any case, the Cantabs seem to have this game well in hand. I’d bet my moustache and my monocle on it. Our defensive line will hold like the Yanks did at Gettysburg. Our quarterback will sock it to ’em just like Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders did at the Alamo, which I will never forget. But it only makes sense. Harvard seems to win whenever we go head-to-head with the Elis. It’s Harvard money that’s driving the Industrial Revolution, which we are now in the middle of; it’s Harvard money that keeps Washington, which is now our capital, moving. If I’m sure of two things, the first is that Europe is headed for a thousand years of peace, and the second is that Harvard will beat Yale in this year’s Game.
Why do they keep shooing me away? Harvard students are so damn exclusionary. And pretty waspish themselves, in my opinion. Seems to me awfully hypocritical.
Buzz. Buzzzzzzzas;dlkjasdfffffzzzzzzzzbooooola. Boola. Boola. What does that mean? Boola Boola. The chant of a benighted race.
I will sting you. You, man of the crimson cap and beer-stained hands.
Stung. Serves you right for swatting at me. The blood will come out in the wash. Oh tush, it’s the same color as the sweatshirt anyway.
It is awfully hard to reach skin with all of these “layers” they have on. It’s not even cold! Not for a true wasp.
For where are the “WASPs” they all spoke of? I thought to meet enormous, queen wasps, I thought this was a wasp capital. Why else would you capitalize it? Instead I find bloodless, pale, shivering men, drunkenly cheering, beer-sloshed and belligerent.
Descending, I cleave the air, faltering, buzzing, whirring, plunging into day. Buzzzasaazzzzzzllkjhdasadsf. Hummmm Hmmmm buzzzzzzz. Football is boring from the cheap seats. I hover on the field, floating and observing. Much better view up here.
On a helmet, on a blade of grass, on the finger of a player who shoos me away, I see The Game. I see all.
What is this roar? Faces contorted in joyous stupidity. Mass hysteria. Have these people no shame? To adulate a man dancing around in the end zone, clutching a pigskin in one hand, his crotch in the other, parading his meaningless success … !
And yet I am softened at the sight. Some stand up in synchrony, in a sort of wave-like motion. That one hurls a baton into the air and flashes a smile. One kisses another in bliss at the sight of a touchdown.
Sight hateful, sight tormenting! Here they all join in song, and I, cut off from the world, among a species not my own, sting aimlessly hither and thither. Buzzzzzzsdfasdfdsf boolllabulldogs bulldogs, bwewwwww — I cannot enunciate the words. I am cursed with this voiceless buzz.
In 1916, Yale head coach T.A.D. Jones gathered his team in the locker room before the game and said, “Gentlemen, you are now going to play football against Harvard. Never again in your whole life will you do anything so important.”
He wasn’t far off.
Yale and Harvard first met on the gridiron in November of 1875 at Hamilton Park in New Haven. A ticket was 75 cents and 2,500 fans showed up. Harvard won. Since that afternoon, The Game has inspired fanfare and history, and Yale-Harvard has become the quintessential college rivalry.
In reaction to the popularity of The Game, in 1903 Harvard built a colossal U-shaped stadium out of reinforced concrete — a novel engineering idea for the time — on the far side of the Charles River, across from the campus. The seating capacity 30,323. In 1914, Yale erected an even larger stadium. Dug deep into the West Haven soil, this structure was the first of its kind: a full, oval-shaped, wrap-around bowl. Since its completion, the Yale Bowl, as they decided to call it, has served as the prototype for modern football stadiums. Its seating capacity: 61,446. The two stadiums marked the permanence and grandeur of the rivalry. Sprawling across their respective landscapes, the structures symbolized each university’s enthusiasm and respect for the game.
Since that November day at Hamilton Park in 1875, The Game has generated an unparalleled history. Presidents, politicians, movie stars, singers, people from all over the world have attended The Game. It is reported that even the governor of Hawaii attended the first Yale-Harvard game played in the Bowl, in 1914. In 1920, 80,000 fans, the largest crowd ever assembled at The Game, made the trip out to the Bowl to witness Harvard goose-egg Yale 9-0. (The Bowl’s capacity used to be higher.) In 1930, The Game became the first U.S. football match broadcast in England. In the 1940s, columnist Red Smith affirmed the popularity of the Yale-Harvard football contest when he dropped “Harvard-Yale,” and capitalized “The Game,” elevating the matchup from normal sporting contest and defining it as the collegiate athletic event par excellence.
Both teams have produced casts of characters of equal historical importance. Walter Camp, “the Father of American Football,” a player and a coach for Yale in the 1870s, ’80s and ’90s, created the modern scoring system, the positioning of players on the field, the system of downs, the line of scrimmage and the snap back from the center. The list goes on, from Tommy Lee Jones, to Stone Phillips, to Ted Kennedy, to Larry Kelly and Clint Frank, to John Hersey, to Archibald MacLeash and Calvin Hill. Players have gone on to become politicians, pioneers in business, Pulitzer Prize winners, poets, actors, television personalities and NFL stars. One can’t help wondering which of the current players will fulfill this legacy.
The cast of characters and the rivalry’s storied history distinguishes The Game. Quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16, who is from North Carolina and played one year for Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) powerhouse Clemson University, said, “In the South, the only Ivy League game people really talk about or think about is The Game. It’s the only game people ever really put any thought into because ESPN puts some broadcasting on it. They give it some national coverage because of the history and legacy of it […] It’s America’s amateur pastime.” Former Yale linebacker Kerr Taubler ’14 added, “It’s our bowl game.” Yale-Harvard is at the forefront of America’s old football rivalries. That November day in 1875 marked the birth of the great Ivy League rivalry, the first of a line of many collegiate rivalries like Michigan–Ohio State, Texas-Oklahoma and Army-Navy.
But despite the Bulldogs’ upper hand in the overall record, 65-57-8, in recent years the Crimson has owned The Game, however one may measure it. Harvard has won 12 out of the last 13 meetings, including the last seven in a row. The Crimson have out-scored the Elis 202-75 in that seven-year span. Last November, the Yale faithful watched as the 8-1 Crimson steamrolled the injury-stricken Bulldogs 34-7.
This year, though, things are looking different.
* * *
The evidence is everywhere. Last year, Yale went into The Game with five wins and four losses. After their victory against Princeton last Saturday the Bulldogs are 8-1 and in contention, with Harvard and Dartmouth, for a share of the Ivy League title — a distinction the team hasn’t enjoyed since 2006. And the improved record comes as no surprise. The Yale offense leads the league in just about every category: passing, rushing, total yards, first downs, conversions and total points.
Asked about the differences between this year’s offense and last year’s, Roberts responded, “Certainly more confident. Once we’ve put some good numbers and score some points and get some guys involved, you get to the point where you become really confident.”
Anchored by a seasoned line that Roberts says “is just unreal,” this year’s offense features a host of Ivy League standouts. Senior Tyler Varga ’15, a two time All-Ivy running back, has had a record-breaking season, leading the Ivy League in rushing yards and touchdowns. His numbers double those of the runner-up in the category.
As for the aerial assault, the Elis feature dangerous weapons in receivers Deon Randall ’15, the team’s captain, and senior Grant Wallace ’15. In his first year as quarterback for the Bulldogs, Roberts is having an exceptional season, leading the league in passing yards, touchdowns, completion percentage and passing efficiency.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have had similar successes. Although the core of the defensive unit is young, starting mostly sophomores and a few freshmen, a number of key players have returned, three of whom — Cole Champion ’16, Foyesade Oluokun ’17 and William Vaughn ’15 — earned All-Ivy honors last year. As sophomore linebacker Darius Manora ’17 — who took an interception into the endzone against Brown — asserts, “We obviously don’t have as much experience as a lot of the teams we’ve been going against […] but we’ve been growing steadily every game. We’ve been getting better and better. Just recently we had our best defensive game against Princeton.” He went on, “We’re very strong up front […] We have guys who like to come up and hit. That’s what we preach, that’s what we strive for in our defense. We want hitters.”
This new success has much to do with to a new approach to training the Bulldogs have adopted. A sign hangs above the entrance to the tunnel that runs under Derby Avenue, connecting the Smilow Field Center and the football practice field. It reads, “One Play Warrior.” Every day before practice, players walk beneath the sign. Its message: Focus, stay in the moment, one play at a time. The team has embraced these ideals since last April when mental conditioning coach Brian Cain began to talk to the team.
Asked about the effectiveness of the mental training, sophomore fullback/tight end Jackson Stallings ’17 noted, “The mental approach is 90 percent of athletics […] Your ability to control the game mentally allows you to do more physically […] It has really changed the culture of Yale football from someone who looks to the last game of the year and says, ‘All right, we gotta beat Harvard like everybody says,’ and instead focuses on a small picture and executes his job each play.”
Manora adds, “[Cain] preached to us to focus on the process rather than the outcome. And our defense tries to do the same thing. So each play we try to play as hard as we can, rather than get caught up in if we gave up a big play or made a big play ourselves. And I think that is the key to us winning games. We don’t get caught up […] We just keep playin’.”
The team adheres to this system of beliefs. And they’ve proven their devotion again and again throughout the season. In the first game, Lehigh scored three unanswered touchdowns in the first quarter. Unfazed, the Bulldogs got to work, creeping back, and then winning the game 54-43. A week later they pulled off an even more stunning feat, upsetting Army 49-43. Since those two games, this faith in the process and focus on the moment have served the Bulldogs well in countless situations throughout the season. One can only wonder how it will help against Harvard tomorrow.
During halftime of the Princeton game last Saturday, Calvin Hill ’69, likely the most accomplished living Yale football player, stepped out from under the archway at the 50-yard line. Hill had returned to the Bowl as part of the game’s “Legends of the Bowl” ceremony.
When asked how it felt to be back, he smiled and said, “It’s wonderful.” Then he motioned to the field, “I haven’t seen Bruce Weinstein in 40 years.”
Really? That’s it? Here he was: Calvin Hill, perhaps the greatest player in 142 years of Yale football. A guy who played in the NFL for 12 years, four-time all-pro, two-time Ivy-League champion, record-breaking track star, an athlete so good legendary Yale football coach Carm Cozza said he could have played all 22 positions on the field — and this struck him the most upon returning to Yale.
He wasn’t aglow with memories of past glory, his victory over Harvard in 1967, or the legendary tie game in 1968. He didn’t seem awestruck at the grandeur of the Bowl, or the exuberant crowd, or the medal he was awarded as an honorary “Legend of the Bowl” to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the stadium. Instead, Hill was happiest to see Bruce Weinstein, his pal and former teammate, whom he hadn’t seen in ages.
Later that evening a couple more recent alumni affirmed Hill’s statement. When asked what he missed most about Yale football, Kyle White ’14, former Yale defensive tackle, said, “It’s all about the brotherhood. There’s a really special bond with Yale football. It’s really quite unique.”
Former Bulldog left tackle Wes Gavin ’14 said: “The bottom line is that Yale football is a brotherhood. It takes a lot to become a part of it. It has a long history behind it. And it’s something really special.”
Yale football is unique. And the Yale-Harvard game is special. In terms of fanfare, publicity, and hype, Yale-Harvard doesn’t hold a candle to Florida-Florida State, Auburn-Alabama, or USC-UCLA. The Yale Bowl has no jumbotron, there will be no 300-person marching band performing at halftime, Mariah Carey won’t sing the national anthem, and it’s been decades since the Yale Bowl has seen a full crowd.
Nevertheless, ESPN’s College GameDay will cover the Game on Saturday, instead of any of the number of ACC, SEC, or PAC-12 games. As Roberts states, “This game means so much to the community. It means so much to Yale. It means so much nationally […] I think there are great rivalries in the ACC, great rivalries in the SEC, that might get a little more media coverage than we get, but … I think the emotional investment, the equity over 130 years is much greater than any other rivalry. And that is why it’s so special.”
Irrespective of media attention or massive fanfare, this “emotional investment, the equity over 130 years” places Yale-Harvard in the same echelon as any of the great collegiate football rivalries across the country. It also creates the brotherhood Gavin, White and Hill touched upon. A brotherhood, the three alumni suggested, which transcends the final score of the Game, which lasts so long that when they return to the Bowl, after one year or 40 years, their old friend’s face brings back more fond memories than the Bowl, The Game, or the University itself.
There’s no complex explanation to it. “In all honesty … It’s just fun,” Stallings admitted. “It’s fun to go out there and play with your buddies, it’s fun to play with confidence.”
For Morgan Roberts ’16, Candler Rich ’17, Khalid Cannon ’17, Jackson Stallings ’17, Darius Manora ’17 and the 101 other players on the Yale football team, The Game has an entirely different meaning. For them, the fun comes from playing The Game well, doing the job right, “sticking to the process,” and knowing that, when the clock hits zero, the final tally will take care of itself. It comes from all of their 106 teammates. And the ultimate reward they may draw from The Game will come years from now, when, stiff-kneed and gray-haired, they walk into the Bowl once more.
When I asked running back Candler Rich if, with everything on the line, he was feeling anxious about The Game. He smiled, almost holding back a wink, and asked, “What’s there to be anxious about?”
(The following is excerpted from a sad, sad diary found on the bathroom floor of a Harvard freshman dorm, atop a pile of empty Adderall bottles.)
Friday, Oct. 17
Tonight. Tonight will be different.
A sign: My roommate, Ralph, came back from the library. I haven’t seen him in a week. He’s wearing his contacts. He showered. He still hasn’t made eye contact with me, but something tells me he might attend the pregame in our suite. I heard a rumor that the Finals Clubs will — for the first time ever — open up.
I can’t be sure about the Clubs, but I do know that this isn’t going to be like every other Friday night. No way. This I swear: I will not end this night alone, drunk and screaming/crying at one of my FIFA players.
Maybe I’ll even get high.
Nah, what if I have to admit that on a job application someday?
The suite is bumping. I’m several shots into my handle of Smirnoff (which I’m obviously not sharing, why would that guy even ask?). Kennedy, the hot girl from psych class, just showed up. Oh, yeah! Sorry, Xbox, there’s a different set of buttons that I’ll be pushing tonight.
I’ve been talking to Kennedy for the last ten minutes.
She’s totally down.
Ugh, my 27-year-old proctor shut down the pregame. (Ed. Note: A proctor is a FroCo, if a FroCo were a fully fledged adult with absolutely no connection to Yale.) He says his toddler can’t sleep, but I suspect that Ralph, who’s studying in our room again, snitched.
The rich kids are going to Hasty Pudding. (Ed. Note: Contrary to popular belief, this is neither an a cappella nor an improv group, but an actual club with a single criterion for membership — a familial tie to a Manhattan socialite.) Whatever. I didn’t want to be punched (trans: tapped) by them anyway.
Still, the second I go into investment banking, I should set up a trust fund for my future kid.
All aboard the party shuttle!!!!!!! (Ed. Note: The “party shuttle” is a vehicle with a single purpose — to transport Harvard students from “party” to “party” over the weekend.) I think I can see nearly half a dozen people RAGING under this strobe light! I’ve promised myself that the party shuttle WILL NOT be tonight’s highlight. Not this time.
Kennedy’s taking us to Pigeon. (Ed. Note: Pigeon isn’t a Finals Club. It is believed that the inebriated author misidentified one of the other fowl-themed institutions.) We’re right outside and I think I can see some bodies moving behind the windows. I’ve never been inside before, but I’ve got a hot girl with me. Kennedy won’t leave my side.
She’s so down.
I can see the inside of Pigeon! A dude in a maroon blazer has opened the door. He looks at Kennedy and introduces himself as Preston.
“Freshman?” he asks me.
“No,” I lie. I have to. I can’t go back now, dammit! I’m inside! My right foot is in the hallway!
“Yeah … Okay, you’re not coming in.”
He puts his hand on the small of Kennedy’s back, guiding her into the house. I watch the backside of her head and feel her yearn for me.
“Please.” Come on, man, see my foot? It’s basically your foot!
“See ya, brah.”
Preston shuts the door. I am outside. I hear the music through the walls. My foot and I, we had some good times in there. I’m waiting for Kennedy to stick her head out the window or something.
She’s so down.
She hasn’t stuck her head out the window yet.
You know what? When I’m in a Finals Club, I’m going to make it my policy to let one freshman guy in per night. Just one.
Nah. I’m way too bitter for that. I’m going to slam the door in their stupid faces.
Still outside. Remember: I am the shit. I go to Harvard. Number one. The best school in the country. Literally. For sure. At least I haven’t been waiting outside for 20 minutes in NEW HAVEN, am I right?! Haha, that place is totally sketchy! Totally…
Yeah, she’s not coming back.
Since I got home three hours ago, I’ve been playing Call of Duty against TheNext_Zuckerberg. It’s become a sort of Friday night routine: the two of us playing Xbox. I wonder what he’s like IRL? He regularly calls me a “little bitch,” so at least I know he has a good sense of humor.
I hear him cuss through my headset. The green light of the Xbox wavers in front of my drooping eyelids. My fingers go slack.
You know, this night may not have gone according to plan, but it’s still been my best night at Harvard ever. And the climax wasn’t even when I grinded on the party shuttle pole.
It was when I (or, my right foot) got into Pigeon.
Like many other Yalies, I pretended to be incredibly, unprecedentedly and obscenely excited to watch The Game, since football is my favorite sport ever. (Go … blue? (We probably say that, right? Or maybe we say “Old Blue,” for like, Yale?)) Now, however, (and I’m *crying* on the couch as I write this) I will no longer be able to sit in twenty degree weather and watch twenty college boys run around playing a sport I neither understand nor, to be honest, enjoy.
What changed? Why can’t every Yalie cheer for “Old Blue” this year? Because tickets sold out at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and at 1:00 p.m., I was too busy enjoying my Kitchen Sink Cookies to leave the dining hall and get in line. It was also thirty degrees. And finally, as you may have gleaned from the previous paragraph, I do not actually like football. So, after several texts that described the line for tickets as “over an hour long,” I contentedly dunked what was probably my fifth cookie into a glass of milk and I resolved to spend the weekend exploring Boston, maybe becoming a Hip Big City Girl in the process.
I was settling down to Google trendy thrift stores in Cambridge, and wondering whether anything near Harvard could possibly be trendy, when it started. Traumatized by the long wait outside of Payne Whitney, friends and acquaintances bombarded my phone with desperate and arbitrary group texts. “DJD U GT GME TCKTSz!1!” was one message, written painstakingly by frostbitten fingers. “Must game” reads another, sent to twenty numbers, six of which I don’t know. And then, “NO U?” “NO ” “CRYING” from at least four people per group, most of whom had probably, earlier that day, complained to their friends, “I don’t even, like, want to go to The Game! I don’t even like football! LOL WHY AM I GOING LOLOL HARVARD SUCKS LOL!” These same people were now reduced to (frozen) tears when they couldn’t find tickets. (A record number of Yale students purchased them this year.)
Anyway, given all that, I almost threw my phone out the window, before thinking to myself: It will probably get better tomorrow! And, of course, it didn’t. At lunch, my friend told me he bought tickets for a hundred dollars online. I lol’d. He said, in all seriousness, “Yeah, it’s a little expensive, but I’ve never made it to The Game before. I was too drunk last year.” Hopefully he’ll manage it this year, but I suspect those hundred dollars may go to waste. Indeed, even my suitemate Ydna Gineok ’16 has reactivated his Facebook for the SINGULAR purpose of obtaining Game tickets through friends (but probably actually “Free and for sale.”)
This anxiety is so palpable that even I (I!) am becoming nervous. What will I do at Harvard? In Boston? What if I can’t find trendy thrift shops and I’m stuck doing random things in a city that is, to be frank, New York’s weird and conservative cousin? If I hadn’t already bought bus tickets, I probably wouldn’t go at all. I don’t want to attend stupid mixers; I’m already scared of Yale people, I can’t imagine talking to Harvard kids. Nor do I want to go to my friend’s random a cappella concert, or even my own random slam poetry show. And I’ve seen “The Social Network” — I know you have to be either a Kennedy or Mark Zuckerberg’s cooler younger brother to get into Harvard parties. So, the question remains: What am I doing? Why am I getting on that bus?
Here’s an answer: part of me (okay, most of me) feels that I should support Yale this weekend in Boston. Even if I don’t go The Game, I’ll be cheering “Old Blue” in spirit.
1636 was a great year to be alive. People gave their kids fun names like Prudence and Chastity. No one had to bother with Daylight Savings Time. Colonists were content to live in harmony on the East Coast, not yet haunted by a bucket-list desire to see the Grand Canyon. Besides the widespread pestilence and despair, things were going pretty well.
But John Harvard, a minister from Cambridge, Massachusetts, was not so happy with colonial life. Dismayed by the youths he met in his ministerial work, Harvard worried for the future of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. “These young men are kind, simple and God-fearing,” he wrote. “How will they learn to become assholes?”
Harvard decided to found a university, one that would educate future generations in disciplines like Attending College and Telling People Which College You Attend. However, after a cursory visit to Ye Olde College Confidential, Harvard discovered that the university of his dreams already existed: A School Near Boston, a Cambridge divinity school famous for its vague and condescending name.
Eager to make a difference, Harvard donated his entire fortune to the university. He also donated his personal library — 87 Bibles, plus one of those word-search placemats from Applebee’s.
In honor of his generosity, the school would be renamed Harvard College. “We wanted to thank him with a gift from the Hallmark Store or, like, an Edible Arrangement,” wrote A School Near Boston president Francis Smith. “But then you have to send someone to the market, and that could be a whole big thing. This seemed easier.”
Campus beautification ranked first among John Harvard’s priorities. Describing his architectural ethos as “lots of red rectangles,” Harvard designed the new campus in about ten minutes. For six days Harvard labored, laying bricks until his wrists were sprained and weak. And on the seventh day John Harvard rested, for he had an interview with Goldman on the eighth.
In an early interview with The Early Crimson, Harvard described his vision for the University. “Finally, a place where white, Christian, land-owning men can flourish,” he said. “If they’re on the list, that is. Also, no freshman boys.”
But Harvard was also surprisingly progressive for his time. “We look forward to admitting women in the 1970s,” he continued. “We want to wait for the only historical period with worse pants than the ones we wear now.”
In the years that followed, Harvard College grew in size and clout. On-campus culture expanded with the creation of various social and academic clubs. James Dorner, class of 1639, wrote one of the oldest known diaries documenting Greek life. “I have decided to rush a fraternitee, that I might growe closer to God and bro,” he wrote in the fall of his sophomore year. “Verily, I be so shwasted right now.”
But for all its salmon-shorted whimsy, Harvard was an incomplete institution. Alone like a yin without a yang, like the YDN without WKND, Harvard College staggered through the rest of the seventeenth century. Adrift. Aimless. Despicable.
Then everything changed. The year was 1701 — the dawn of a fresh new century filled with horrifying sickness and no penicillin. America was ready for a new university. A university with the size of a small liberal arts college and the resources of a world-class research institution. A university with a more flattering school color. A university better than Harvard in every way.
Eli Yale made it happen. The donation of his own, far superior personal library (two Applebee’s word-search placemats) to a New Haven college changed the course of human history. The school was renamed Yale in his honor. Harvard students, paralyzed by their school’s competitive social atmosphere, grew jealous of Yalies’ fun parties and sexy, rebellious Gothic architecture. Thus the greatest rivalry in history was born.
And then a lot of other things happened, and now maybe we might win The Game.
“I want to end with something to the Muslim Students Association. Why don’t you spend all the energy that you’ve devoted toward me to exposing…the men and women who poison the minds of children as impressionable teachers. Don’t you think you should go after them instead of me?”
On the evening of September 15, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, clad in a black leather jacket, grey slacks and cork wedge heels, stood in front of more than 300 lecture attendants, occasionally pushing her brown-frame glasses to the top of her head.
Delivered in her soft, childlike voice, the words almost sounded like a lullaby. Almost.
Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born activist and writer whose repertoire of issues spans feminism, female genital mutilation, atheism and Islam, stood behind the podium on the stage of SSS 114. The event was titled “Clash of Civilizations: Islam and the West,” but Hirsi Ali was intent on addressing more than just religion.
Tonight, she said, is about free speech. Tonight is about hearing opinions we don’t want to hear. Tonight is about the central purpose of a university.
The audience members—a significant number of whom were alumni whose 30th, 40th, perhaps even 50th reunions had already passed—responded with a booming round of applause. They—especially the members of the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program, which was hosting the event—may not have agreed with Hirsi Ali on abolishing state funding of religious schools, legalizing drugs or increasing access to abortion. But on this, they stood firmly behind her.
Five days before, members of the Yale community had opened their inboxes to a letter from the MSA expressing wariness about this very talk.
“Our concern is that Ms. Hirsi Ali is being invited to speak as an authority on Islam despite the fact that she does not hold the credentials to do so,” the email read. “[W]e are hopeful that the discussion is constructive and that Ms. Hirsi Ali speaks only to her personal experiences and professional expertise.”
But on this evening there stood Hirsi Ali, speaking on not just her personal experience, but also Islam’s role on the world stage.
Less than a month before, President Peter Salovey had stood behind a similar podium in a similarly-adorned lecture hall to deliver his freshman address. He made clear where he and his administration stood on the issue of free speech.
Much of his speech had been written 40 years before, in the wake of free speech incidents involving segregationist George Wallace, former commander of the US Armed Forces in Vietnam William Westmoreland, and eugenics proponent William Shockley.
“‘The history of intellectual growth and discovery,” he said, quoting directly from the Woodward Report, “clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable and challenge the unchallengeable.”
His blue robes draped by his sides, his mustache absent, and his eyes bespectacled, he signaled his vision for speech and expression in the years to come.
“I recognize that all of us here…might also like to live in a campus community where nothing provocative and hurtful is ever said to anyone. And that is the part that I cannot—and should not—promise you. For if we are not willing to be shocked, then we may not be allowing ourselves to be open to life-changing ideas—ideas that rock our worlds.”
* * *
In May of 1974, a team of distinguished professors and scholars, headed by the preeminent American historian C. Vann Woodward, convened to craft a document that would articulate the University’s policies on free expression.
The resulting 51-page Woodward Report was brought to President Brewster’s desk on December 23 of that year. The University released it in January 1975, under the title, “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale.”
The report was clear. Yale would staunchly defend free speech on campus—something it arguably hadn’t done so well twelve years before.
In 1963, the Yale Political Union invited George Wallace, of block-the-schoolhouse-doorway segregationist fame, to speak. Then Mayor of New Haven Richard Lee wasn’t happy. His eyes set on a fifth term as mayor of a predominantly African-American city, he was adamant against Wallace setting foot in New Haven.
“The Mayor of New Haven…told Brewster that he feared there would be terrible riots [if he did come],” Sam Chauncey, who served as special assistant to President Brewster throughout his 14-year tenure, said. But, Chauncey continued, “I don’t believe there would have been terrible riots.”
Brewster bent, and the YPU revoked the invitation.
“It was a question of a naïve administrator under great pressure from the Mayor of New Haven, and maybe others,” Chauncey said.
Brewster had fallen into his position by default; the Yale charter calls for the Provost to become acting President if the President dies in office. He had only spent a year in the Provost’s office before President Whitney Griswold’s death, and was acutely aware of how his decisions might impact his own future—he was the leading candidate to become President of the University.
But, Chauncey said, Brewster realized he had made a mistake after the fact, and he was willing to admit it.
The Wallace incident was the first free speech incident Brewster confronted as President, but it was later, more heated incidents that would lead to the creation of the Woodward Report.
According to Nathaniel Zelinsky ’13, who won the Kaplan Prize for his senior essay focusing on free speech and co-education in the Brewster years, the President’s first disruption came not from an outside speaker, but from within the University.
In 1969, Yale fired a black dining hall worker for being, according to a News article on November 4, 1969, “uncooperative” with students, almost all of whom were white. In response, sixty students, affiliated with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), occupied what is now the L-Dub basement post office, and what was then the dining hall manager’s office, demanding that the dining hall worker be brought back.
Administrators had little precedent for this type of situation; Chauncey would later note, “we were kind of winging it.”
He and Provost Charles Taylor (Brewster was away on vacation) ended up suspending forty-seven students who refused to leave.
* * *
In 1972, then Army Chief of Staff William Westmoreland, who had led the US armed forces throughout the peak years of the Vietnam War, including during the Tet Offensive, was invited by the YPU to speak.
Westmoreland’s visit soon became more than an issue of free speech.
“His staff was very concerned about his life. Not free speech, but whether he might be killed,” said Chauncey, who was in charge of securing the event in his role as special assistant to the President.
Prior to the event, the administration, worried that some might go off the rails, reached an agreement with students. Protesters could stand with placards at the back of the Law School auditorium, where the event was to be held, but they could not speak.
The administration had worked out other details, too.
“I had arranged for a very large number of plain-clothed policemen to be in the room, in case there was a real coup,” Chauncey recalled. “In case someone pulled out a gun to shoot him.”
Asked if he actually believed someone might attempt to assassinate Westmoreland, Chauncey delivered a history lesson.
“This was a period in American history when there were the Weathermen bombings,” he said, referring to the Weather Underground Organization, a radical left group that formed from Students for a Democratic Society, and delivered a slew of bombings, mostly to government buildings, from the early to mid-70s.
The administration made sure that, if anything were to happen, Westmoreland could escape as quickly as possible—they had chosen the Law School auditorium for its layout.
“You could get from the podium to the [off-stage] door in two seconds, and be out of the room. And behind that door were more police officers ready to open it and bring him out,” Chauncey said.
But at the last moment, right before Westmoreland was to make his way from dinner at Mory’s with the YPU Party chairmen to the auditorium to deliver his speech, either he or his security team balked. To this day, Chauncey doesn’t know what led to the last-minute 180 degree shift. He just knows that a lieutenant approached him as he waited in the YLS auditorium to inform him that General Westmoreland would no longer be speaking. He was afraid for his life.
* * *
I think back to Hirsi Ali. Police officers adorned SSS 114, posted at every entrance. But no bags were searched, no attendants escorted out, and although the side doors stayed tightly sealed until the moment she walked on stage, it seemed more of a toying with suspense than a true security concern. And no one, inside or out, went as far as to protest.
I ask Chauncey why this is.
He pauses. I listen to silence on the other end of the line.
“I think students today are incapable of outrage,” he says. Incapable of outrage, but not apathetic, he specifies.
“They are deeply concerned about social issues, but I don’t think they can act on their concern,” he says. “They’re paralyzed,” either because they are worried about not getting a job with a black mark on their record, or because they believe they aren’t informed enough to insert themselves into the dialogue.
While Chauncey seems more worried about a lack of outrage with social and policy issues, Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History, who has also spoken at several Buckley events, worries about a lack of concern for upholding free speech principles themselves.
“In the earlier time,” he says, “there was a division of opinion among the students, but there was a pretty strong sense of the opinion of [the importance of] freedom of speech.”
Today, Kagan thinks there are more student groups willing to suppress the speech they don’t like.
“And my feeling is that the great mass of students are prepared to accept that,” he says.
* * *
The tipping point came in 1974, just one year before the Woodward Report was released. The Conservative Party of the YPU asked William Shockley— co-inventor of the transistor radio, for which he won the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics, and a believer in eugenics—to speak in front of the Union
Unlike Westmoreland, Shockley made it into the building. But he was never able to speak. For over an hour, shouting students drowned out his words. Shockley walked out of SSS, defeated.
* * *
Placed side by side, the Shockley and Westmoreland events pose an important question: Is there a difference between those who simply espouse beliefs—Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for instance—and those who have participated in acts that some members of the community find reprehensible, like Westmoreland?
Shockley had made his pro-eugenics beliefs known to the world, but he wasn’t implementing any eugenics policies. Meanwhile, Westmoreland had served as Commander of the Armed Forces, making decisions that impacted the lives of U.S. soldiers and Vietnamese civilians every day. Shockley was a speaker, but Westmoreland was a doer.
When members of the Rutgers and Smith communities made clear to former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde that they were unwelcome on their respective campuses, they were operating on the “doer” principle. Rice, they said, was responsible for the War in Iraq, and Lagarde for the “strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide.”
In November 2013, Brown University students invoked the same principle. New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who had implemented the city’s highly controversial stop-and-frisk policy, came to speak, but student protesters shut him down, standing up inside the lecture hall and heckling him.
Signs outside the event read, “Stop police brutality,” “Brown is complicit,” and “Ray(cist) Kelly.”
I asked Salovey: for the purposes of honoring free speech on campus, should we differentiate between the Shockleys and the Westmorelands, the speakers and the doers?
Not in University policy, he said. To Salovey, the distinction isn’t meaningful enough to merit different administrative responses.
Asked how he would respond if Bashar al-Assad, responsible for the deaths of thousands of Syrians, were invited to campus, he demurred from the extreme example, but reinforced his position.
“Let’s say a group on campus wants to invite a mass murderer to speak,” he explained, sitting in his office on the first floor of Woolsey Hall. “I might question that group’s judgment. I might even question why they would like to dignify that person by giving them a platform. But if they invite that person, and they do it in a way that the event would be safe for all involved…it would be inappropriate for me to try to pressure the group to disinvite a speaker.”
According to William F. Buckley Program, Jr. President Rich Lizardo ’15 and the Program’s founder and executive director Lauren Noble ’11, pressuring another group to disinvite a speaker is exactly what the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) did.
“The MSA asked me if the Buckley Program would reconsider our invitation,” Lizardo said.
From the outset, Lizardo said, he made clear that revoking the invitation was a non-starter. The MSA then presented other options, he said: the first that Hirsi Ali be limited to speaking about personal experiences, and the second that other guests—who they deemed more qualified—be invited to speak alongside her.
To Lizardo, the second request was downright disrespectful.
“If the initial invitation is for a lecture [and not a debate], you have to stick with that,” he said.
Lizardo was also bothered by the very premise of their requests.
“It was somewhat uncalled for,” he said, “for another organization to be making demands of us.”
But MSA President Ahmad Aljobeh ’16 denies ever asking the Program to disinvite Hirsi Ali. As to asking the Buckley Program to invite other speakers, and limit Hirsi Ali’s comments to her personal experience, Aljobeh said, “The MSA is exercising our own freedom of speech.”
* * *
To many Yale students, the same is true of Reverend Bruce Shipman, former priest-in-charge of the Episcopal Church at Yale who made headlines with his response to an August 20 op-ed in The New York Times.
A month ago, Deborah E. Lipstadt, professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, wrote a piece about rising anti-semitism in Europe. The crux of her opinion: People who worry we are on the “cusp of another Holocaust” are wrong. But people who aren’t worried at all about anti-semitism are also wrong.
“This is not another Holocaust, but it’s bad enough,” she concludes.
In response to the op-ed, Rev. Shipman, who did not respond to requests for comment for this story, wrote a letter to the editor stating that there is a relationship between increased anti-semitism in Europe and Israel’s policies in Gaza. In what would become his most controversial point, he wrote, “the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.”
Two weeks later, Shipman resigned from his post because, as he told the Yale Herald, his board simply wouldn’t stand behind him throughout the onslaught of criticism. (Ian Douglas, bishop of Connecticut and president of the board of governors for the Episcopal Church at Yale, counters that it had more to do with “institutional dynamics” within the Church.)
Feelings ran high on both sides. Some students said the comments justified anti-semitism. Others said they showed a complete inability to separate the policies of the Israeli government from the lives of millions of diasporic Jews.
But other students felt Shipman was simply speaking up for the plight of Palestinians, broaching a taboo that others have been too reticent to touch. They didn’t believe the letter condoned anti-semitism.
Two days after the Times letter, on August 28, Shipman followed up with another one, this time to the Yale Daily News.
“If I seemed to suggest in my letter that only Jews, who actively oppose present Israeli policies have a right to feel safe, that was not my intention nor is it my belief,” he wrote. “Personal safety and protection by the rule of law is a fundamental right. Nothing done in Israel or Palestine justified the disturbing rise in anti-semitism in Europe or elsewhere.”
Exactly a week after the second letter ran, Shipman resigned.
For Chauncey, the Shipman incident called up memories of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. At that time, Chauncey was leading the charge on co-education and increasing the number of minority students at Yale. Yale’s affiliated organizations—what Chauncey calls “parasitic organizations” because they wouldn’t exist if Yale did not—Mory’s, the Yale Club of New York City, and secret societies, refused to let women and African-Americans within their folds.
Chauncey literally laid down the law, recruiting Yale Law School faculty to sue Mory’s, which had thus far refused to even talk about admitting women. If these organizations wanted to maintain any affiliation with the University, they had to abide by its principles, he said. (After being threatened with losing its liquor license, Mory’s began admitting women in 1972, three years after the University had gone co-ed.)
He views the Shipman controversy as analogous.
“Here’s the Episcopal church, apparently letting a man go because he said something they didn’t like,” he said, emphasizing that, because of conflicting accounts, he doesn’t know the real reason why Shipman resigned. “From my point of view, there can be no distinction: If a person is part of Yale University, they have a right to free speech.”
In a follow-up conversation, he clarified. “I’m not saying that the Episcopal church shouldn’t fire a priest that says something that’s inconsistent with their values,” he said. “But if the organization’s values are inconsistent with Yale’s values, then there’s a question.”
To Deborah Lipstadt, the Emory professor who wrote the op-ed, free speech is a “smokescreen” in this case.
“[Shipman] is the representative of a major organization associated with one of the major universities in the US,” she said. “It’s not that he’s not allowed to say [what he said]; it’s that you take responsibility for it.”
She offered another example: if someone said that rape on college campuses simply wouldn’t happen if “‘those girls [that’s usually the language that’s used] didn’t wear those short skirts, or go to frat houses, or get drunk,’” or that Michael Brown wouldn’t have been murdered if “‘black people didn’t wear their pants around their ankles, and if they would just shape up and behave,’ we wouldn’t think twice about firing them.”
To her, along with focusing on whether a person had the right to say what they said, we can’t forget to ask ourselves: “Do you want someone ministering or counseling to students who makes these kinds of simplistic and glib comparisons?”
She tied her thoughts back to former Harvard President Larry Summers’ comments on women in the sciences. (In 2005, Summers suggested that the underrepresentation of women in the sciences could be due to a “different availability of aptitude at the high end.” After a no-confidence vote by Harvard faculty, he resigned.)
“If you choose to be the President of Harvard or the Episcopal Chaplain at Yale, you’ve got to be a little more careful about what you say,” Lipstadt said.
Leaning back in a swivel chair on the second floor of the Slifka Center, where she has been invited to give a talk on rising anti-semitism in Europe, and flashing colored polka dot socks (“I need some happiness for an otherwise dour topic,” she said), she concluded by quoting the Talmud.
“Wise people, be careful with your words.”
* * *
In the stifling humidity of Woolsey Hall, Salovey, looking out on the faces of 1,361 new students, drew to a close.
He had acknowledged the difficulty of fostering “friendship, solidarity, harmony, civility, or mutual respect” while listening to views we find deplorable. But, he said, if we value the former over the unfettered exchange of words, we risk sacrificing the very purpose of a university.
Programs with “Bright College Years” lyrics doubled as fans, and a colorful cadre of robes speckled the stage. Veteran administrators, along with a slew of the president’s newest hires—freshmen in their own right—stood immediately behind Salovey.
The president— his voice at once exuberant and earnest—concluded.
“Isn’t the opportunity to engage with [life-changing ideas, ideas that rock our worlds]—whether to embrace them or dispute them—the reason why you chose Yale?”
“Acceptance” is in many ways an archetypical movie. The high-pressure prep school environment, the nerds who want to be cool but aren’t, the girl who can make said nerd look cool by holding his hand — all clichés of the high school drama. However, what makes this film unusual and therefore interesting is the fact that the protagonist, Rohan Patel, doesn’t gain “acceptance” into his school’s highest social circle through merit. Instead, he lies. The film, then, is not another narrative of a lovably flawed main character working his way to the top. It chronicles Rohan’s introspective journey towards discovering the meaning of true acceptance.
Created over the course of three years by Ryan Chan ’14 (director, producer and co-writer), the film is inspired by his and co-writer Vishnu Hari’s high school experiences. During their own admissions cycle, Hari lied to Chan about being admitted to Harvard, and the stressful academic environment depicted in the film is strongly influenced by both Chan and Hari’s memories of their highly competitive international high schools.
Rohan learns at the beginning of the film that he has been rejected from every Ivy League school except Harvard, because the Harvard decision date has been delayed. Given the mindset surrounding college application season, this is in many ways traumatic, particularly for students at his top-tier high school in Singapore. Rohan is made so insecure by his classmates’ obnoxious “X University Class of ’14” Facebook statuses that he decides to falsify one of his own, to Harvard. He wears a Harvard sweater to school the next day — and voilà! — he is invited to parties with the cool kids and dances with the most popular girl at school.
The film’s premise and execution lack some nuance. In his unprecedented social ascension, Rohan predictably leaves behind his equally lovable roommate and sidekick, Hyo, demonstrating his lack of appreciation for what is revealed to be the truest kind of acceptance — the acceptance of a best friend. The dialogue is stilted and unnatural at certain times, such as when the characters curse. When Rohan is clubbing with the cool kids, the stock bully approaches him and says, “This is a place for fucking. I’m gonna fuck you.” What he means by fuck, we will never know. The purpose of these scenes, I imagine, is to make apparent the characters’ staged ambivalence, but they come across as a heavy-handed attempt to remind the audience that they are, in fact, teenagers.
The drama of Rohan’s rise in popularity borders on the inconceivable. The moment Rohan reveals at school that he’s been accepted to Harvard, a classmate he does not appear to know invites him to a party that night. (It’s a Tuesday.) At the club, an attractive girl named Amber wordlessly approaches and begins dancing with. At school the next morning, they’re seen holding hands. While it clear that the two share a romantic relationship, Amber says little over the course of the film, leading him silently from party to party.
The film does, however, poignantly highlight the psyche and attitudes of second-semester seniors. Each character’s vulnerabilities are well illustrated, regardless of whether they have been accepted to their school of choice. Hyo, who is initially admitted to Cornell, develops a painfully uneasy — and entirely convincing — relationship with Rohan. As the only person privy to Rohan’s deception, Hyo is placed in the uncomfortable position of triumphing over his best friend in the college admissions game. The aforementioned bully character, who isn’t admitted to any Ivy League school, retorts at Rohan upon learning the truth, “At least I was upfront about my rejection.” His honesty represents a group of students, who in the face of failure, are nonetheless secure in themselves. As they each overcome the pressures of college decisions, the students’ shared humanity is revealed.
While the film is beautifully shot and successfully emulates the aesthetic of a private, academically rigorous high school, in the creation of this aesthetic it relies heavily on well-worn tropes. Nevertheless, “Acceptance” is an enjoyable viewing experience, rife with nostalgia and humor. It will no doubt bring audiences back to their transformative adolescent years.
Correction, May 5.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Ryan Chan’s class year as 2015 instead of 2014. It also referred to him as the film’s writer. In fact, he co-wrote “Acceptance” with Vishnu Hari.
Sol Goldman Family professor of social and natural science Nicholas Christakis ’84 joined Yale’s teaching faculty just last year and now heads the ambitiously and eye-catchingly titled Human Nature Lab, where he and his students study phenomena at the intersection of the social and the natural sciences. Last fall he co-taught the wildly popular residential college seminar “Great Big Ideas” with Adam Glick, and now offers an iteration of a course he used to teach at Harvard, Sociology 126, “Health of the Public.”
Besides his high-powered teaching career, Christakis has a natural flair for storytelling and is an eminently accessible conversationalist. He carved out some time to kick his feet up, drink a Diet Coke and tell stories about his adventures inside and outside of the ivory Tower.
Q. What’s your connection to Yale?
A. I’m one of those guys that has a picture of me as a one-year-old baby with a T-shirt that says “Yale, Class of ???” because my parents were graduate students at Yale — my dad in physics and my mother in chemistry. Apparently I was on Science Hill even in utero. My mother was very happy when she went into labor with me, because it meant she got out of a very, very difficult chemistry final exam. My parents left New Haven when they got degrees and I came back here as an undergraduate many years later and was in Ezra Stiles College and studied biology. While I was a student here I took a year off, which I think is a very good thing to do.
Q. Why do you say that?
A. At the time, I couldn’t decide whether to major in biology or French. And I was a good French speaker. So I wanted to go and work in a laboratory in France if I could. It was not easy to find such a position, but through sheer serendipity my mother ran into a neighbor of ours in Washington, D.C. who had a laboratory at the National Institutes of Health. He was hosting a French scientist and suggested that I write to him. This was between my sophomore and junior years in college. So I wrote to the French scientist and he said, “We’d love to have you, because you could help us translate from French to English to publish in English journals.” That was about the only skill I had that could be useful at that stage in my life — I could speak English.
So the summer after my sophomore year, when I was working in a biology lab at Woods Hole, Mass., and when I was still waiting to see if everything was going to work out, I get a letter confirming that I was going to work in a laboratory with a French virologist. I was ecstatic. The postdoc with whom I was working that summer said that we should go and look him up and see what kind of work he did. And of course I hadn’t cared until that point. So we went to the library and we pulled dusty thick volumes and pulled out hard copies of his papers and saw he was very interested in viruses that stay in pets and cause diarrhea. And it said in the “materials and methods sections” of the manuscripts that research assistants “were dispatched to the streets of Paris to retrieve dog feces” to bring back to the laboratory.
The postdoc with whom I was working started laughing and he said, “This is going to be your job when you go to Paris — not to translate papers from French into English.” And he was right. (Laughs.) So when I got to Paris one of my jobs was to take a stainless steel Pooper Scooper and go out into the streets of Paris — and if you’ve ever been to Paris, in those days especially there was dog poop everywhere — collect specimens and bring them back to the laboratory, where we would extract the corona virus. That was my job during my year in Paris, collecting dog poop and translating things into English. It was a good time.
Q. You’re a professor of sociology, evolutionary biology, and medicine, and while at the University of Chicago you did work in hospice. What got you interested in that side of things?
A. When I was growing up, my mother was seriously ill and she died when I was 25, so all through college and medical school she was quite sick. I think partly as a result of that, I always wanted to be a doctor ever since I was a little boy; and also partly as a result of my clinical training, when I became aware of the low quality of care that we give to the dying in our society, I became interested in how to do a better job of caring for the dying. If you think about it, it’s very fashionable to speak about vulnerable populations in our society, but it’s hard to imagine a more vulnerable population than those among us who are terminally ill, and we neglect them. And that’s how I became interested in networks, because part of my interest in care for the dying led to my interest in the “widowhood effect,” which is the fact that you’re more likely to die when your partner dies.
Q. Tell us about your work now.
A. I direct the Human Nature Lab, which is a group of people who are focused on an interrelated set of topics at the intersection of the natural and the social sciences. We’re interested in how the social becomes biological and how the biological becomes social. I’m interested in the part of human nature that relates to our sociality — how we interact with others, why we interact with others. What does it mean for our lives that we create networks and live in networks?
Q. How does that research play out?
A. We look at the evolutionary biology and the genetics and the sociology of social interaction, and we do experiments to see how we can intervene in the world to make it better. How can you form groups or target people with information to change people’s behavior? For example we’re doing a big project in Honduras, where we’re trying to identify who the influential people are in villages, and to get them to adopt clean water interventions or maternal health interventions. We’re trying to change the whole village’s mindset by taking advantage of our understanding of how people interact and how they influence each other.
Q. You sound like an optimist.
A. I’m an inveterate optimist. I just think that it’s possible to do things. I mean, who would want to be pessimistic and nihilistic? To me it’s not a very appealing way to go through one’s life.
Q. Do you still do field work?
A. My graduate students tease me that I don’t do field work anymore. In fact, they laugh at the thought. They say that I wouldn’t survive without hot showers. I don’t think that’s true but I let them mock me. [He pauses.] I’m going to revise that statement. I know that’s not true, but they can tease me anyway.
Q. What do you like about working with students?
A. I love the energy of young people. I like the enthusiasm and optimism of young people. I have hundreds of students who are Facebook friends of mine because I was a House Master at Harvard before I came here. I was in intimate contact with the slang, with the music, with events that were happening. I know weeks before my peers what’s going to be cool because I hear it first from 20-year-olds. Six weeks from now a friend of mine will say, “Did you see this?” and I’ll say, “Yes, I saw it six weeks ago,” because of my connection with students. (Pauses.) I have a rule though, which is I never friend anybody because it would be creepy if I did; but I accept all friendings.
Q. You were at Harvard when Facebook started. How was that?
A. Well, I wish I had bought stock. (Laughs.) Jokes aside, at the time we were very interested in network structure. One day this student came to me, and she said, “You know there’s this new thing online called Facebook, where you can map the whole graph of the network of Harvard. You should look at it.” And to look at it I had to get an account. So I got one and I looked at the graph of Harvard students. I thought it was incredible – I mean, scientifically incredible. I wish I had realized how commercially incredible it was too, but scientifically it was obvious.
Q. What is your goal as an educator?
A. I think the best thing I can do for my students is take them by the shoulders, move them to the scientific frontier and tell them, “Stand here and look out: that’s where the new stuff is.”