William Kentridge defines a new dimension in his latest installation. His “The Refusal of Time,” on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York until May 11, is a fascinating but conceptually challenging immersive experience.
The South African artist collaborated with Peter L. Galison, a history of science and physics professor at Harvard. Galison discovered that both Albert Einstein and Henri Poincaré, late 19th century mathematician and theoretical physicist, concluded that time is a relative experience rather than a universally fixed phenomenon. Whether we take this claim to be true, Kentridge does his best to convince us of it.
Kentridge is best known for his animated films in which he repeatedly draws, erases and modifies to produce narrative. I expected a two-dimensional display when I turned into the dark closed-off room, leaving behind the bright and loud artwork of the Modern and Contemporary wing.
Instead, I entered what looked like a storage space with broken screens lining all four black walls. Tape and paint spills cover the floor in incomprehensible patterns, and chairs are scattered throughout. The scene converges upon a central wooden machine, pumping and churning with precise, continuous movements but without ostensible purpose.
Suddenly, massive projections of a metronome materialized on all four walls, ticking loudly and with increasing speed, quickly changing from hypnotic to alarming. The projection changes abruptly, maps of Africa popping up and fading away. Clock faces spin out of control, as if to say that time is entirely obliterated — or perhaps irrelevant — in the artist’s nondescript space. In typical Kentridge fashion, drawings appear and erase themselves, only to be redrawn again in slightly different iterations. Here, he represents the human ability to defy time by correcting past mistakes or versions of reality with even the simplest of tasks.
However, Kentridge simultaneously challenges the assumption that everything can be rewritten. He alludes to European colonial attempts to transplant Western culture onto African societies, which possessed strong local identities that could not be erased. African figures dance and stride across all four walls of the installation, weaving their own story.
The lines are blurred between art and observer, as visitors are welcomed to take one of a haphazardly grouped set of chairs in the center of the composition. Each visitor’s experiences differ based on seat location. Each wall bears a different video projection, and the central machine blocks some parts of the narrative from view — what the visitor is able to see depends on where she has chosen to sit. Kentridge appears to be making a statement about industrialization altering the experiential narrative. He simultaneously comments on its role in history as well as on the increasing disconnect that accompanies technological advancements.
Though the experience is immersive, the exhibit is not interactive. Visitors are invited only to view, not to engage. The video depicts no cohesive storyline, and everyone in the room experiences the exhibit differently. Based on the chair arrangement, no two visitors can come away with the same understanding.
When I returned to the brightly lit Metropolitan atrium, I was silent. I had no idea how to comprehend the overwhelming scene I had just left behind. I could not believe that only 30 minutes had passed, as the exhibit’s time warp seemed much longer. For but a moment, I believed what Kentridge strove to argue: that time was only relative.
In his address to incoming freshmen on September 13, newly appointed University President Peter Salovey remarked that one of the “last taboos among Yale students” involves talking about socioeconomic status. “When the issue of money comes up, students are often profoundly uncomfortable,” he said. “To the Class of 2017, I encourage you to be sensitive and open to one another. The uncomfortable conversations that you will certainly have represent opportunities for true understanding and true friendship.”
What Salovey did not mention was mental health. Since becoming University President, the closest he has come to publically addressing this topic was a convocation speech he gave at the Hopkins School — a coeducational institution for grades 7-12 in New Haven — on Nov. 13. Salovey discussed his work as a psychologist, focusing on “emotional intelligence,” a concept he developed with colleagues in the 1990s. In an interview with the News after the speech, Salovey said that he wanted to show how observing emotions provides useful data about people, and that it is important to persist in the face of struggle. (Contacted by email in late October, Salovey wrote that he would be unavailable to comment for this article.)
As reports issued by Yale undergraduates and their graduate and professional school counterparts have indicated, it is not uncommon for students to struggle with mental health; Yale’s Mental Health and Counseling (MH&C) department sees more than 20 percent of the entire student body each year, and that number only continues to grow. The result has been increased wait-times and variable quality of care at MH&C.
So far, top University officials have not openly discussed their efforts to reform mental health resources on campus. Besides an email sent by the Office of the Secretary and Vice President in December, which said “discussions and collaborative efforts have been underway at all levels,” campus-wide communications have been slim. The University’s relative silence on this issue has increasingly caused student leaders, masters and deans to take matters into their own hands in making Yale a happier and healthier place.
Changing the Culture of the Place
Elizabeth Bradley, Stephen Davis and Jeffrey Brenzel ’75 — of Branford, Pierson and Timothy Dwight Colleges, respectively —are three such masters already working toward this end. Bradley, who is a professor of public health and directs the Yale Global Health Initiative, says she sees part of her role as master as contributing to “a culture of greater balance” among undergraduates. Davis, appointed master this year, says he wants his office to be a “safe space” for students, where they can feel comfortable sharing both their successes and struggles. Brenzel, too, hopes to foster this type of environment within his own college. His former position as Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, however, also allows him to see the systemic causes behind a campus culture where mental health concerns abound.
“We’ve picked people who are extremely intelligent but who are unusual in their expectations for themselves,” Brenzel says. “We have a group of students here whose identity is wrapped around achievement, so when something throws them off it can snowball.”
Still, all three masters agree that managing students’ expectations about mental health resources on campus could improve negative perceptions of MH&C.
Michelle Ross ’12* attributes many Yale students’ dissatisfaction with MH&C to a lack of understanding about mental health treatment. Ross began her visits to the center after a suitemate sexually harassed her during her junior year and she became “deeply depressed.” There, a social worker taught her coping skills that were specifically tailored to her situation, but she admits that she had to see multiple clinicians before she felt comfortable.
“Mental health care is so much about rapport and the therapist-client alliance,” Ross explains. “The times when you’re trying your hardest, you have to keep trying to find someone who’s a better fit for you.”
Ross adds that few Yale undergrads question the expectations set by themselves and the University’s larger “success-driven” culture. If more professors and administrators were willing to be open about their own mental health struggles, she notes, students might feel less alone. “You never hear administrators speaking about tough times they went through; you only hear that it’s okay to have a tough time,” Ross says. “That’s great, but make it real. Show that you’re human, that these people who are huge successes have struggled also.”
For some administrators, the constant pressure to succeed is ultimately at the root of students’ mental health concerns, along with their unrealistic expectations of treatment. University Chaplain Sharon Kugler believes students need to learn how to “step off the Yale treadmill” and take care of themselves, asking for help from others when needed. “You’re messaged from day one that you’re tomorrow’s leaders,” she says. “My soapbox speech is: You are tomorrow’s whole people. What you can be is healthy and have a sense of what it means to fail and survive.”
A Tale of Two Ivies
Although students groups such as Mind Matters and Walden Peer Counseling are seeking to increase mental health dialogue on campus, there is no student liaison group specifically endorsed by MH&C. Instead, each residential college has a Mental Health Fellow — a trained clinician who can advise students on how to navigate Yale’s peer and institutional resources. The program was created in 2011 as a joint collaboration between YCC and MH&C. Fellows meet incoming freshmen during orientation and can accelerate the treatment process for students who reach out to them in need.
But few undergrads seem to know that the fellows exist or how they function in the overall scheme of Yale’s mental health resources. “The residential college Mental Health Fellows can and should be on the front lines of getting these messages out,” the YCC report stated. “Right now, however, a lot of confusion exists around the [program]. While some residential college administrators have introduced students to their fellows, most students we surveyed do not know what the fellows do.” There is no information about the Mental Health Fellows on the websites of MH&C, the Dean’s Office or individual residential colleges.
“Exactly how this program is supposed to work is deeply unclear to me,” Reuben Hendler, one of the YCC report authors, says. “What are the different roles of every party? I don’t have a clear picture of how those parts are supposed to interact.”
Harvard may offer some lessons about tackling mental health issues in an academically intense environment. Since 2008, Harvard has had a Student Mental Health Liaisons (SMHL) program that was founded by the Department of Behavioral and Academic Counseling at Harvard University Health Services and Harvard students themselves, as part of an ongoing effort to promote emotional well-being on campus.
According to Angela Lee, a Harvard senior who currently serves as co-president of SMHL, the group has grown to include over 30 students spread across the College’s 13 residential houses, whose job is to raise awareness about mental health issues and resources. Liaisons host mental health workshops for freshmen each year, run a wellness blog on their website and serve to connect peers with the University’s resources, Lee said.
SMHL also strives to reach students in innovative ways. In August 2012, the group created an online video platform called “Harvard Speaks Up” to address stigma surrounding mental health concerns. Championed by former SMHL co-presidents Seth Cassel ’13 and Meghan Smith ’13, “Harvard Speaks Up” hosts short videos recorded by members of the Harvard community talking about their personal struggles and encouraging others to seek treatment. Those who have given testimonies include Paul Barreira, Director of Harvard University Health Services, Steven Hyman, former Harvard University Provost and former Director of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, and renowned Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker. The videos typically last under five minutes, and the website contains links to both peer and professional mental health resources at Harvard — precisely the type of program that Michelle Ross believes would benefit Yale.
“What was really surprising to me was professors and administrators opening up about their own experiences and struggles and that they were willing to be vulnerable ,” Lee recalls. “Some students were like, ‘Wow, I had no idea so many people were struggling.’”
Cassel says the project garnered positive reactions from administrators and students alike, and sparked productive dialogue across Harvard’s campus. “The basis of SMHL is that students respond best to what their peers are saying,” Cassel explains. “Fellow students are more likely to be responsive to the message of getting help if it’s normal that people like them are doing it too.”
On November 16, about 30 Yalies met at 17 Hillhouse Ave. to attend an open “Forum on Wellbeing and Campus Culture” organized by the authors of the YCC Report on Mental Health. The choice of venue could not have been more apt — Yale Health was formerly located at 17 Hillhouse before moving to 55 Lock St. in 2010. Refurbished during the summer of 2012, the building now serves as classroom space.
The attendees came for different reasons; some were leaders of student organizations, while others wished to voice their concerns about Yale Health. At the beginning of the meeting, the authors of the report distributed a “mental health reference sheet” compiled by the YCC, detailing Yale’s institutional and peer resources, as well as a list of student organizations devoted to student wellness. Members of the group broke into small brainstorming sessions structured around mental health publicity, residential college resources, a potential website like “Harvard Speaks Up” and a “Mental Health Week” that would be similar to Yale’s biennial “Sex Week.”
Hendler notes the meeting was the first of its kind, “at least in recent memory.” Future forums, he continues, will be organized to gauge the progress being made on mental health initiatives, such as workshops, a residential college liaison program and alternative behavioral therapies. Such projects could help reduce the backlog of students at Mental Health and Counseling. In an early January email, Hendler said he and the other authors of the YCC report would contact various student organizations devoted to mental health, in the hopes of forming a coalition that would coordinate projects and communicate with the Yale administration.
“I was initially skeptical of creating yet another organizational structure but have become convinced that this is the best way to accomplish these goals,” Hendler wrote. “Supposing that people sign on, I anticipate a first meeting within the first few weeks of the semester, focused on putting together a mental health week for the spring.”
Christopher Datsikas ’16, the president of Mind Matters, says he was most intrigued by the prospect of a Mental Health Week, where students could attend panels on a variety of topics and promote conversation on campus. Although Datsikas believes it would be difficult to coordinate the logistics of such an event — including which students would be in charge and how much the University’s administration would be involved — he feels hopeful that a Mental Health Week could be organized within the next two years.
“It’s not an instant fix; it’s not like we put out the report and suddenly campus culture has changed,” Hendler admits. “But we believe in the good faith of the administration, and we’re trying to engage with them constructively by focusing on common ground.”
In the waning weeks of the fall semester, meetings about mental health also occurred among the college’s masters and deans. Although these meetings were “confidential,” Brenzel said in a mid-November email that there would be a follow-up by the 12 residential college masters with the YCC. Bradley added that the meetings were “engaged, productive and collaborative” with “a commitment made to try to move ahead wisely.”
Caroline Posner ’17 represents the next generation of Yale undergrads for whom such discussions may ultimately matter. A freshman in Berkeley College, Posner has lived with an anxiety disorder since the third grade, a condition she wrote about in an October 9 opinion column for the News, “Addressing mental illness.” Given Yale’s tremendous progress on issues such as sexual misconduct, Posner wrote, it’s time for the University to tackle questions of mental health with an equal commitment.
Today Posner says she is “cautiously optimistic” that Yale’s mental health environment and resources will improve during her time here. She adds that the path to clinical treatment at Yale Health should be made “as clear as possible” and that students themselves should be more open about their struggles.
“The expectation is that we’re good and functioning all the time,” Posner explains. “I don’t know necessarily why that is. Maybe it’s that Yale is painted as such a happy place where people function on these surreal levels, balancing a job, five classes with Nobel laureates and three extracurricular activities. That’s true sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you’re always in a good place mentally or emotionally.”
When it comes to Harvard-Yale, even the tailgates are institutions.
This Saturday will mark the 40th time that Richard Sperry ’68 and Roger Cheever, Harvard ’67, tailgate The Game. The two friends have been tailgating the storied rivalry since 1972 and haven’t missed a game since.
Wait, 1972? Wouldn’t that make 2013 their 41st consecutive tailgate? Sounds like some Harvard math to us.
This isn’t a mistake, though. The pair celebrated their 40th consecutive tailgate in Cambridge last year. But Sperry, the Yalie, wasn’t going to let that dampen this year’s festivities at his alma mater.
“Never mind the fact that we celebrated our 40th in Cambridge last year,” reads the email invitation to the tailgate. “We had a great time, and we’re simply just going to do it again this year in New Haven.”
That’s the kind of spirit that pervades Sperry and Cheever’s annual party, which they now host with accomplice John Steffensen ’68. Despite their opposing allegiances, the two make sure that the tailgate is about fun and friendship. For these two, rivalry is just an excuse to get together in the first place.
Ultimately, says Sperry, “It’s just about renewing friendships.”
Sperry met Cheever while the two were training as officers in the Navy. They became fast friends and attended that first Harvard-Yale game while living together in Boston in 1972 — Yale won, meaning Cheever had to pay for the tickets. But the next year, in an effort to recoup his losses, Cheever insisted that they attend The Game and make the same bet again. The rest is history.
“The very beginning tailgates are a bit of a blur; it’s so many years ago. I think it involved alcohol and not a lot of food,” Cheever now recalls with a laugh.
The tradition actually traces its origins to before the two even met. Sperry would attend Yale’s home games with his roommate and his roommate’s parents. The group would set up in Lot B, next to Cox Cage. Sperry and Cheever have claimed the spot as their own for the 20 Yale games they have since attended. Since the tradition’s inception, friends and wives have been added to the mix, along with a host of others. It is now a tailgate of truly epic proportions.
“Last year, at Harvard, at best guess we had over 150 people there,” Cheever says. It’s not just how many people show up: Who those people are can be equally impressive. Sperry and Cheever can now claim as guests Rick Levin, Tommy Lee Jones and the Bush twins, who brought along a few guests of their own.
“We wound up with six Secret Service agents with wires behind their ears, trying to look inconspicuous,” Sperry explains with a chuckle. “But they weren’t inconspicuous.”
The blend of both Harvard and Yale fans is notable as well. Few tailgates attract such a diverse crowd, but the convivial attitude that Cheever and Sperry work hard to maintain draws in fans of all stripes (Sperry says even their Princeton friends have started attending).
Key to maintaining this friendly mix is Cheever’s “Commencement Punch,” a family recipe handed down since Prohibition that Cheever makes for The Game every year. It’s a blend of rum, honey and fruit juice, and — according to Cheever — has received nothing but rave reviews.
“No one has ever refused a glass,” he attests with pride. And while the tailgate in its early years included the standard assortment of finger foods and beer, its menu has since expanded to include steak sandwiches and wine. (The hosts refer to the latter as “our acclaimed ‘Boola’ label.”)
Only once has the tailgate tradition nearly been broken. A few years back, Cheever’s son was playing in the New England Football Championships on the same day as The Game, which was at Yale.
“There lies a moral dilemma,” Cheever now remembers. “Does one support one’s family, or does one stick with tradition? And we basically did both.” The two managed to finagle their way onto the field at the Yale Bowl at 8 o’clock that morning, where they had a drink and tossed around a football before Sperry drove Cheever directly to Union Station where he caught a train north in time to make kickoff at his son’s game.
“We now say that we’ve gotten together on game day for 42 years for this ritual, which is absolutely true,” Cheever says. And they don’t plan on stopping. At one point, Sperry recalls, they had a conversation about how long the tailgate would continue, eventually deciding they could see themselves continuing for 50 years. But as that milestone approaches, neither sees any reason to stop.
“I think we’ll keep on doing it for as long as we can, because it’s fun,” Sperry says.
But the inevitable question remains: Where is the venerable tailgate most fun?
Cheever is hesitant to answer. “I have to really think about it,” he murmurs, before eventually settling on his alma mater.
For Sperry, on the other hand, the answer is an easy one. “I would say it’s more fun at Yale,” he says, his smile palpable even over the phone.
Annie Wang ’13, when reached over the phone, was breathless and effusive in praising her colleagues and her work as an analyst at the consulting firm, IMS Group. This time two years ago, however, Wang was in a very different place, admitting she didn’t “really know anything about consulting,” let alone her future place of employment.
When Wang entered Yale as a freshman, she, like many other Yalies, thought she had every facet of her future mapped out.
“I was going to go to medical school and then be a doctor,” she recalled, adding that even in high school, she had considered medicine as her inevitable career. Halfway through college, however, it dawned upon her that any interest she may have had in organic chemistry or the pre-med track had completely dissolved. Abandoning the largely predetermined academic track that she had made as an ambitious freshman, Wang became a history of science and medicine major. Although she was still interested in health care, she wasn’t sure what exactly she wanted to do or how she could work in the industry after graduation.
In her junior year, she decided, on a whim, to apply to a number of consulting firms and investment banks. Wang explained that despite not knowing that much about finance and consulting, she applied because “everyone at Yale always talks about how they’re such great places to work.” Although she did not extensively prepare for the interviews — “I struggled in my first interviews because I wasn’t very familiar with the idea of case studies” — Wang received offers from a number of firms before ultimately settling on the IMS Consulting Group, in part because the firm specialized in health care and pharmaceutical consulting.
“I sort of kinda stumbled into consulting,” she said.
When Brandon Fu heard this story over the phone, there was a long silence punctuated only by a wistful sigh.
“That’s incredible,” he finally murmured in disbelief. After regathering his composure, Fu, a senior at the University of California, Santa Barbara, explained his surprise. “Everyone wants to work for one of those companies [a finance or consulting firm] but almost no one makes it,” he said, adding that students hopeful of joining an established investment bank or consultancy in New York or Chicago must begin preparing their applications from the day they step on campus as a freshman.
“It’s kinda like getting into Yale from high school,” he said, stating that a student at UCSB who wants to work at Goldman Sachs must have a perfect resume, with no room for sophomore slumps or the like. Fu said that firms often dismiss schools such as UCSB as “party schools”and expect more outside the classroom from “non-Ivy or elite” applicants like himself.
“Firms think that pulling a 4.0 is so easy at UCSB that I must also have had the time to do something amazing outside the classroom,” he complained, asserting that his classes are often as challenging as those of his friends who go to more prestigious schools such as UC Berkeley and Stanford.
Yet Fu knew his dream of reaching a job at Goldman Sachs or McKinsey & Company was unlikely even before he matriculated at UCSB. Rejected by several of his top choice colleges, including USC and Columbia University, as a high school senior, Fu vowed to do everything he could at UCSB to remain a competitive applicant for a career in consulting or banking. In order to begin crafting “the perfect financial profile,” Fu double-majored in economics and accounting, majors he described as boring, but “employable.” Although Fu was an avid baseball player in high school and wanted to join a social fraternity at UCSB, he knew that he wouldn’t have the time in college for either pursuit. Rather he joined Alpha Kappa Psi (AKPsi), a business fraternity at UCSB which, according to the fraternity’s website, seeks to improve the professional success of its members “by operating the fraternity along the lines of a ‘corporation.’”
Upon reflecting on his fraternity’s creed — something that is starkly different to the creeds of brotherhood and friendship upon which any of Yale’s six fraternities are founded — Fu noted in a matter-of-fact voice that his college experience isn’t completely dissimilar to working for a corporation. Beyond his double major and his business fraternity, where he is the Vice President of Alumni Relations and Membership, Fu juggles two local internships with an investment bank, and a logistics and supply corporation.
“I go to school just like you go to work. You sort of just hang in there and get by, waiting for the next promotion or, in my case, an exit opportunity.”
Despite four years of preparation and relevant job experience, Fu wasn’t able to crack into the consulting or investment banking industries. Although he’s happy with the offers he has received from accounting firms in California, he speculated that had he gone to a school with a bigger brand name like Yale, he would have been more successful in finding a finance job on the East Coast.
“I hoped banks would see that while I may not have gone to a school like Yale or Stanford, I did everything I could to prepare myself for a career in finance and that I’d do very well in that job,” Fu said, adding that the competitiveness of the process means he’s competing with equally dedicated students who are building the same financial resumes but at more illustrious schools.
Like Fu, Kirsten Schnackenberg ’15, a former staff reporter for the News, entered college knowing that she wanted to work in either finance or consulting. And like Fu, Schnackenberg thought her career aspirations would require her to major not only in history — a subject that she loved studying — but also in economics.
But unlike Fu, Schnackenberg went to Yale.
After working at JPMorgan the summer between her sophomore and junior years, Schnackenberg recalled that although she did meet fellow interns who did not come from a “target school” — one of the elite universities that top finance and consulting firms regularly visit and encourage students to apply — they were often different from the students who did come from schools such as Yale and its Ivy League peers. Schnackenberg said that students who come from large state schools such as Ohio State tended to be finance majors near the top of their class, with resumes and extracurriculars tailored specifically toward finance and consulting. The majority of Ivy League students, on the other hand, majored in the humanities and pursued extracurriculars that they were passionate rather than prioritize the perceived “ideal” traits for a finance interview.
Stefano Malfitano ’14, an economics and math, and humanities double-major, said that nearly every student he met at Goldman Sachs as an intern last summer was either an economics major or a STEM major. Malfitano said that while these disciplines are not relevant to investment banking per se, prestigious firms receive so many applications that their Human Resources departments resort to convenient measures for filtering prospective applicants.
“They automatically take out a number of applicants based on cutoffs such as GPA or major,” he said, adding that most firms’ HR departments think that majors such as English or history are not sufficiently rigorous. “There is a belief that graduating with very high grades from a state school with a degree in English is not very difficult,” he said.
Malfitano said that these automatic cutoffs do not apply to schools such as Yale partly because Wall Street knows Yale so well. The strength of the liberal arts education at Yale is so well-known, said Malfitano, that students with degrees in English or American studies are considered in a way that they wouldn’t at a less prestigious school.
Undergraduate Career Services Director Jeanine Dames said that Yale’s extensive alumni base on Wall Street “acts as an incredible internal advocate” for current undergraduates. She added that many firms on Wall Street often ask their own Yale graduates to interview and recommend which current Yalies their firm should hire. As a result, while no one at Citigroup may be familiar with the strength of Ohio State’s African-American Studies Program, everyone there is confident that any Yale graduate, regardless of what he or she majors in, is intellectually prepared for the job.
All eight students and alumni interviewed by the News who have worked in finance and consulting and have majored in the humanities said that their majors were never considered a hindrance in the job hunt.
Schnackenberg said that if anything, her degree in history was advantageous during the interview process, as she was able to speak of how a liberal arts education helped her think critically and creatively. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it allowed her to differentiate herself from the many economics majors both at Yale and across the broader applicant pool.
Ethan Karetsky ’14, who will find himself at Bain next fall, echoed this sentiment. An American studies major. Karetsky said his major was simply what he wanted to study, not what he wanted to do. “People are much more than their major,” he added. Karetsky said Bain values people who think differently and admitted that no one asked about his major during his interviews.
“It didn’t seem important to them,” Karetsky said.
It’s an attitude that pervades nearly all corners of the Yale undergraduate experience, but one that is virtually foreign to college students outside of Yale’s brass gates. For Reilley Keane, a senior studying electrical engineering at Villanova University, college was the opportunity not so much for the holistic experience Yalies seem to experience by default, but rather a means to an ultimate end: employment.
“Do I wish that I pursued something I loved? Of course, but I’m finding the job market tough enough now as an engineering major,” he said, adding that he couldn’t imagine cracking the consulting market as a liberal arts major from Villanova.
While Yale students and professors continue to laud the value of the humanities, Harvard seems to be shifting its tone. A Nov. 8 editorial in the Crimson encapsulates this new chord, with the Crimson staff praising the perceived decline of humanities across American colleges. “We’re not especially sorry to see the English majors go,” proclaimed the editorial staff. It’s an attitude that might not bode well for the future quality of the Crimson, but the staffers’ sentiment is not unfounded, with national trends indicating a deepening decline in appreciation of the liberal arts.
The Crimson article reflects a student body losing faith in the career value of a liberal arts education, instead placing greater emphasis on the pragmatic skills gleaned from non-humanities disciplines. And Harvard is not alone in the pool of elite universities with this mentality: As reflected in a recent New Yorker article, Stanford is among the most recent string of upper-echelon universities aggressively attempting to “professionalize” its undergraduate experience. Along with providing selected student start-ups university endowment funding and offering three times as many entrepreneurship classes as Yale, Stanford recently changed its logo to something more aesthetically compatible with the iPhone. The old logo was designed for print and stationery, said one Stanford administrator; the new mark is more appropriate for a digital world.
Stanford history professor David Campbell ’80 said the influences of Silicon Valley undoubtedly permeate student life in Palo Alto. When Cardinals look at the school newspaper and see another Stanford student who just reached billionaire status from another technological endeavor, a culture of hopeful followers is not far behind.
“We’re in Silicon Valley so we’re surrounded by the ideology against which our students should push back,” Stanford history professor Denise Gigante ’87 said. She continued, adding that the culture in today’s tech environment has caused students to fear a separation between market value and life value.
“It’s the same ideology that tells them they need to be afraid,” she said.
Back in New Haven, Andrew Craig ’14 isn’t too worried. With a strong interest in music and performance, Craig entered Yale believing he wanted to study theater, but soon switched and remains committed to the film studies major. Because of these changing interests, Craig said he placed a heavy premium on the freedom that Yale’s education affords. While Craig does not know what life postgraduation will look like, he derives the success of his Yale education from the privilege offered by a liberal arts degree.
“I definitely think having that liberty is an enormous privilege,” Craig said. “And not everyone is able to access that privilege. It’s huge. It’s an enormous blessing. There are people all over the state — all over the country — who don’t have that.”
Many other Yale professors and students interviewed remain similarly unfazed by the thought that their humanities degrees would not be applicable in the job market. Professors and students alike asserted that the skills learned while pursuing a classics, history, english or humanities degree are highly transferable, no matter the prospective field.
The ability to think critically, ask good questions and problem solve are highly applicable in the consulting world, said english professor Pamela Schirmeister ’80 GRD ’88. And despite a decline in the number of humanities majors at Yale, professors like Schirmeister are unconcerned that many of their students choose fields outside of their majors’ direct relevance, such as academia. Beverly Gage ’94, the director of undergraduate studies, echoed this lack of concern, noting that the purpose of the History Department is not merely to produce hundreds of historians.
In fact, at least for now, Schirmeister seemed to prefer that her students not pursue careers directly associated with the liberal arts degree and instead experiment in the world of Wall Street. Ultimately, it’s “so much the better if they then go into the financial services industry,” she said. “Perhaps if more of them did, that industry wouldn’t be in the trouble it is.”
But others at Yale remain unconvinced, expressing a deep concern at the lack of continuity between the undergraduate and post-graduate levels in the humanities. English professor David Bromwich ’73 GRD ’77 admitted that fewer of the best undergraduates who major in literature chose to go into graduate study. Instead, the bleak job market has caused a harmful change in focus.
“Education is good in itself. If it has meant anything to you, it won’t support a theory of life that says we must pass from being penniless and thoughtful at 20 to being dull and prosperous at 40,” he said. “Are there really people who think, ‘When I was in college, I loved Tolstoy, Joyce, and Woolf, but now that I’m working for McKinsey I only have time for Twitter?’”
Nathaniel Zelinsky ’13 earned a history major and is now pursuing a higher degree at Cambridge University. Zelinsky said while he began as an economics major, he slid away from the department and found history to be his calling. Zelinsky laughed as he described the feeling of joy when ruffling through old papers, adding that a historian occupies a position of power.
However, his tone shifted when he began speaking of Wall Street careers and on-campus recruiting. Zelinsky lamented that a lack of “pastoral guidance” from the University allows students to fall back into old patterns of pre-established routes to success.
Gage echoed Zelinsky’s remarks, saying she would like to see a wider range of professions actively recruiting on campus. While she said a history degree teaches students to think broadly and ask questions, she admitted some history majors go into consulting because that is who is on campus.
Zelinsky claimed that so many humanities majors pursue careers in consulting and finance because these paths allow them to ignore fundamentally difficult questions like: “What is the purpose of my education?” or “What is my obligation to society?”
“A lot of my classmates in finance are not really doing anything useful for American society,” he said. “[For those] who go into finance and banking, it’s utterly and completely wasting the $500,000 it took to educate them.”
Like Zelinsky, Matthew Shafer ’13 is pursuing a graduate degree from Cambridge University. He is a Gates Cambridge Scholar working towards a master’s degree in political thought and intellectual history. In an email to the News, Shafer emphasized his love for writing, teaching and conducting research. He said his passion for history was also a consequence of its ability to positively impact the world.
Still, Shafer criticized the increasingly inevitable link between High Street and Wall Street. While he conceded that many students go into the financial sector for legitimate reasons, Shafer found the influences of the banking, consulting and business sectors to be detrimental.
“The fact that there’s basically a direct pipeline from America’s most prestigious universities to America’s most powerful corporations should make us re-examine many of our assumptions about whether or not elite education is, by itself, an automatically good thing for society,” Shafer said.
“What do you love about college?”
It’s a simple question, but one that can trigger nearly every Yale student into a stream of gushing recollections. For the math major, it might be an introductory philosophy class he took Credit/D/Fail. For a history major, it might be the international relations conference that nearly fell through last minute.
But when both Keane and Fu were asked this question, a flurry of awkward gaps and start-stop sentences ensued. For both of them, college was not an end in itself, as Yalies are so wont to view their undergraduate years, but rather a four-year audition for lofty, prestigious and well-paying jobs.
“I entered college committing to a rigorous major I didn’t like,” said Keane, adding that the challenges and numerous requirements of the major prevented him from taking classes in religious studies or theology, the one subject that he had always secretly wanted to study. Other than his fraternity — something he admits was only a time commitment during his freshman year — Keane mostly hangs out with other engineering students. It is with those students that he tackles problem sets, goes out on weekends and discusses the ongoing job hunt. Keane can’t remember the last time he discussed philosophy or history with friends, but if he had to guess, it would probably have been in high school.
As professor Charles Hill explained when he hears these stories, the strength of the undergraduate experience at Yale lies in its steadfast commitment to the liberal arts and the humanities. Hill said that Yale’s commitment is an increasingly rare one as more and more of Yale’s peers are changing directions.
“Everyone, especially Stanford, is becoming more vocational, more focused on training than educating,” said Hill, who is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford, adding that “Stanford has become Stanford Tech” because its students are increasingly forsaking a liberal arts education for a narrower and more scientific curriculum.
As more universities shift towards professionalizing their curricula and undercutting the humanities, Hill said that more students and the media are adopting a misguided view that the humanities are a luxury that can be trimmed during economically difficult years. Hill believes that students armed with a strong understanding of the humanities are, in fact, better equipped to succeed in whatever career they pursue because the humanities trains students to embrace uncertainty.
But it’s an intellectual foundation that students like Keane and Fu said they only wish they could enjoy.
“Do I wish that I had the Yale experience of a liberal arts education? I can’t really say, it seems too surreal to imagine,” said Fu.
In its analysis, Business Insider compared Harvard and Yale across six different categories: cost, academics, job prospects, campus, student body and student life. While the authors found that Harvard and Yale came out equal in academic prowess, they concluded that Harvard offers better job prospects, campus and student body. Yale came away with only a win in the student life category.
The article’s fiercely logical analysis is marked by only a few flaws. For one, it said Harvard edged out Yale in “student body.” In addition, the article praised Yale’s student body for scoring higher SAT scores and producing multiple Rhodes scholars, but the category was ultimately given to Harvard “for its slightly lower admission rate — when you’re talking single-digit percentages, one percent matters.” Really?
More than 1,400 people have signed an online petition calling on the Harvard Office of Student Life to cancel Tyga’s scheduled appearance at the school’s annual spring concert Yardfest.
The petition, which was launched last night, called the artist misogynistic and said Harvard should not give a stage to “music that promotes sexism and rape culture.” The artist is best known for his single “Rack City” and raps that he “need[s] a b-tich that can f-ck, cook, clean, right” in his song “B-tiches ain’t sh-t.”
In an addendum to the petition added this morning, organizers wrote that while canceling Tyga’s appearance would not solve the larger issues of violence and sexism, it would represent a step in the right direction. In an editorial published today, The Harvard Crimson echoed the petition’s sentiments, saying Tyga’s songs “feature little more than hate speech against women.”
“At a university whose students have recently gone to great lengths to combat rape culture, where all students should feel both safe and valued, putting Tyga onstage at a campus-wide event is wholly inappropriate,” The Crimson wrote. “His message goes against everything that Harvard should be saying to its students about sex and self-worth.”
The online petition has continued to garner steam. One person who signed the petition claimed to be a member of a band opening for Tyga at the concert.
Yardfest is scheduled for April 13.
Read the full petition below:
The College Events Board announced last Wednesday that Tyga, a hip-hop artist known for the hit single “Rack City” will headline this year’s Yardfest. Tyga is notorious for his explicitly and violently misogynistic lyrics. In his song “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” Tyga raps, “Need a bitch that can fuck, cook, clean, right. Turn a bitch out, make her lick twice.” In “Bitch Betta Have My Money,” Tyga raps, “Shut the fuck up and jump on this dick. Nothing but a motherfucking skank. Fuck what you talking bout and fuck what you think.”
We hope that the College Events Board can find a different headliner for Yardfest. However, we believe that a Yardfest without a headliner would be better than a Yardfest that amplifies misogyny and violence. We demand that Harvard rescind its offer to Tyga, because we believe that Harvard should not provide a platform for music that promotes sexism and rape culture.
We understand that Tyga is not representative of hip-hop as a genre, nor do we hope to position hip-hop and feminism in opposition to each other. We recognize that other performers at Harvard sanctioned events have problematic lyrics and regret that opposition campaigns were not launched towards these artists as well.
The problems that pervade Tyga’s music dominate mainstream society and are endemic to Harvard’s campus. Violence and sexism are not unique to Tyga’s music; deeper, systemic changes must be made. However, Tyga’s invitation to perform at Yardfest provides an opportunity for a tangible, if short term, response to rape culture. Activism surrounding Tyga’s performance at Harvard should not be divorced from activism around larger structural issues of race, gender, and homophobia.
It’s that time of year again — several colleges released their admissions decisions this week, sending hundreds of thousands of anxious high school students into either incredible elation or crushing disappointment.
Seven out of the eight Ivy League schools posted all-time low acceptance rates for the class of 2017 yesterday, making for the most competitive admissions cycle in history. Yale accepted a record-low of 6.72 percent of its 29,610 applicant pool, and Harvard — the only Ivy more selective than Yale this year — saw its acceptance rate plummet down to a mere 5.79 percent.
Columbia and Princeton reported rates of 6.89 percent and 7.29 percent, respectively, while Cornell, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania posted rates of 15.15 percent, 9.16 percent and 12.1 percent.
The only Ivy League institution that reported an increase in its acceptance rate this year was Dartmouth, rising from 9.43 percent in 2012 to 10 percent yesterday.
Outside of the Ivy cluster, MIT also reported an all-time low acceptance rate, admitting just 8.3 percent of its applicant pool. Over on the opposite coast, Stanford announced today that it accepted only 5.69 percent of its applicants — 2,210 students from a pool of 38,828 applications.
The record-low admission rates this year continue the trend of increasing selectivity at top colleges nationwide. Experts interviewed were divided on the question of whether or not this trend will continue into future years.
Winfrey, who became famous for hosting “The Oprah Winfrey Show” for 25 years before she ended its run in 2011, will deliver the address during the Harvard Afternoon Exercise, which will take place in Harvard Yard on May 30.
“Oprah’s journey from her grandmother’s Mississippi farm to becoming one of the world’s most admired women is one of the great American success stories,” Harvard President Drew G. Faust said in a press release. “She has used her extraordinary influence and reach as a force for good in the world, with a constant focus on the importance of educational opportunity and the virtues of serving others.”
Who knows, maybe Winfrey will feel generous and give every audience member a Harvard degree. Or better yet, a car.
More than 150 Harvard students rallied for mental health reform last Friday afternoon, chanting “Harvard, we are mad” and urging administrators to take a closer look at the university’s mental health services.
The protesters gathered just one day after The Harvard Crimson — the campus newspaper — published an anonymous op-ed by a student with schizophrenia, who described his experiences with Harvard’s mental health services and perceived flaws in the system.
Friday’s rally quickly drew the attention of administrators, including Assistant Dean for Student Life Emelyn A. dela Peña, who approached the group and invited them to continue their discussion indoors. The offer was declined. Although dela Peña told The Crimson that Harvard administrators are willing to provide all necessary services, the anonymous op-ed claimed that the administration is “hostile” toward mental health issues.
Standing in a circle, protestors echoed the arguments put forth by the op-ed: Students who seek treatment for a mental health issue should have immediate access to a therapist, and antipsychotic or antidepressant medications should be free for students on financial aid. Most importantly, the protestors argued that students should not have to choose between an education and mental sanity.
The protest has extended beyond campus boundaries. Students launched the “Coalition to Reform Mental Health Services at Harvard” on Friday evening after the rally and began posting to Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites. In response, Undergraduate Health Services representative Lindsey Baker released a statement assuring that mental health is a “top priority” for the administration.
The administration has yet to announce changes to mental health policy, but pressure continues to build as the coalition amasses new members. As of Saturday afternoon, 110 students had joined.
On Friday, Harvard University announced that over half of the 125 students implicated in the largest Ivy League cheating scandal in recent memory were asked to temporarily withdraw from the university in light of their infractions.
The announcement marks the end to a monthslong investigation that began at the start of the school year after nearly half of the 279 students in the course Government 1310 “Introduction to Congress” were accused of collaboration on their take-home final exam. Though the specific number of students who were penalized for their actions were not released, Michael Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, wrote in a letter to students and faculty that the University’s Administrative Board required over half of the students it investigated to withdraw, according to The Harvard Crimson.
According to Smith, the case was concluded in December, though he gave no explanation for not announcing the decision earlier. The forced withdrawals were retroactive, he wrote, and those who were compelled to leave would be refunded their first semester’s tuition.
Though the final examination was open-book and open-note, discussion was explicitly prohibited. But when a teaching fellow grading the final exam in May noticed similarities between multiple students’ exams, administrators were prompted to conduct a thorough examination of the nearly 300 exams submitted. The case gained additional notoriety after multiple members of Harvard’s basketball team, including star players and co-captains Kyle D. Casey and Brandyn T. Curry, chose to withdraw from the team during the investigations.
But several students interviewed by The New York Times protested the harshness of the decision, claiming that similar lecture notes or conversations with teaching fellows could account for many similarities.
Jay Harris, dean of undergraduate education, told The Harvard Crimson in August that the magnitude of the cheating scandal had raised larger questions of academic integrity, and the college would consider preventive routes such as instituting an academic honor code, though no concrete efforts have been announced at this point.
When it comes to looks, Harvard once again just doesn’t make the cut. The popular TV series “Fringe” has continued a centuries-long tradition of wishing Harvard looked more like Yale, using shots from Yale’s Old Campus to depict scenes that are supposed to take place at Harvard in the show.
According to the Yale Alumni Magazine, the show used shots of Old Campus, mostly Durfee Hall and Phelps Gate, as well as of Branford College and the outside of the Yale Law School building, and titled them “Harvard University.” The show also staged for Harvard at other universities such as Brooklyn College and the University of Toronto.
Sadly, however, the show moved to Vancouver, Canada for its second season, so the University of British Columbia became the new surrogate Harvard. At least they didn’t have to use Harvard itself.