The Yale Aesthetic

Illustrated by Emily Cai

Welcome to Yale! Who knew those three words would have so much meaning? That simple phrase arguably changed the lives of 1,789 students. For some, that three-word, four-syllable, 13-letter phrase meant the world. It meant that some people would finally be able to escape from the talons of their parents. It meant a higher chance of getting a good job after graduation. For others, the phrase was an expectation. Whatever the case may be, the words packed a powerful punch. For me, the words represented hope. I hoped I’d finally be able to find my people. Back in high school, I didn’t dream of reading Aristotle or Joan Didion like some people on campus claim; I found  myself dreaming of the community I’d find here at Yale. Before choosing Yale to be my home for the next four exciting, life-changing years, I first had to ask some questions.

Hmm. Which do I pick? Columbia or Yale? Which school best represents me? I think I saw a statistic somewhere that said Yale ranks higher than Columbia on a happiness scale. Is that true? The information might have been from a .com, so who knows how credible that information is? How attractive is the student body? Which school would look prettier in the fall? Which school has my people? After careful deliberation, Yale won. Now that I was a part of the special 1,789 students, I would finally be able to see the truth behind the Yale Blue curtain. It was now time for my dreams to come to fruition. All my expectations for the Yale College community would be fulfilled. 

The Yale community is characterized by its people. Yale students. Collectively we, the people of Yale, are high-class, sophisticated, revolutionary human beings. The academic elite. Being smart is second nature to us. Cunning, strategic, unique. Don’t forget the most important piece of Yale student identity: being quirky. If you’re fortunate enough to be a “Yalie,” you should be proud. Wear the title as a badge of honor. Not guaranteed a good life, but since you go to Yale, you’ve got one hell of a shot. Bulldog. Bulldog. Bow, wow, wow. Eli Yale.

According to the Yale University Visitor Center, “Yale welcomes around 90,000 visitors each year, and the student guides at the visitor center, and undergraduate admissions office give about 2,000 tours annually.” People from all over the globe want to explore and experience our campus—not only to see Handsome Dan and the gothic architecture, but to be around some of the brightest minds in the world.

Being inside the fence or, in other words, the Yale Bubble is quite interesting. Heading to class or the library, it’s inevitable you will be stopped by someone you know, and like clockwork, there will be the short, classic exchange of words. 

“Hi, how are you?”
“I’m good; how are you?”
“Good! Just stressed from all of this work.”
“Same. We should grab lunch sometime soon. Thursday work?”
“Ugh, I have a discussion section on Thursday. Friday?”
“Sounds good! See you then.”

Two months later. 

“Hi, how are you?”
“I’m good; how are you?”
“Good! Just stressed from all of this work.”
“We still haven’t been able to catch up with each other!”
“I know! We definitely have to meet up for a meal this time, no exceptions.”
“For sure! How about next Thursday?”
“Ugh, I still have that discussion section. How about Tuesday?”
“Sounds good! See you then.”

To this day, those two individuals still haven’t grabbed a meal together. As a participant in Yale culture, I can admit I’ve done this a few times. Students are expected to encounter this phenomenon, this short exchange of hollow words. But how you go about this phenomenon makes all the difference. Will you be the one to reach out and make sure those lunch plans happen? If you meet, will you actually care about what they have to say? 

Let me be frank. At Yale, there is a facade. A disguise used to mar the ugly truth.

How about a look at the party scene. Who doesn’t love to dance to music in a room full of hot, sweaty college students? Party culture plays a crucial role in a school’s community. After hours spent studying in the library or dorms, our quick-wit and our gargantuan but well-earned egos need a break. Some students will go out and party Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and if they’re feeling adventurous, go out again on another day of the week. We deserve a little fun. But at Yale, we can’t have fun without a little exclusivity. Since the words here are synonymous, students will do whatever it takes to get into a party. A portion of the student population prefers, for the sake of better words, the hallucinogenic nature of the fraternities—dark, packed, reeking with insecurity and hormones. Sig Nu, Edon, Leo, Sigma Chi are the places to be for some students on a Friday night if you can get in. But not every student is the same; it depends on their taste. Not everyone likes to go to frats—some like a low-key suite party in Branford or a wine night with a student organization. Exclusivity at Yale is not surprising. We are the social elite. What you know and who you know makes all the difference. Once you know an upperclassman or have a friend who knows one with connections, it’s like a key that unlocks doors to a new experience.

“Yeah, I literally hooked up with a junior in Leo last week, and I know you think it’s problematic, but we can definitely get in on Friday.”

“My sister is best friends with someone in Edon who can get us in. So, we don’t have to climb through the window like last time.” 

You’d expect Yale students to be down-to-earth, authentic individuals with a drive to make positive change in their community. Many students are, but here, it’s all about what you show. What you see is what you get, right? America’s elite students, bred to be leaders. The future presidents, lawyers, doctors, leaders of NGOs, you name it; we represent it.

“I help high-achieving, low-income high school students in the New Haven area with their college applications every year.”

“Now, wait a damn minute. Aren’t you a legacy from Greenwich, CT, who went to Phillips Exeter Academy? Do you actually care, or is it just to fill your resume?”

“As an individual on this campus, I totally understand and respect others’ privacy on campus. Likewise, I want others to respect my privacy.”

“Do you really? Thirty minutes ago, you forcefully asked three people what score they got on the last chemistry midterm. After receiving a response, you didn’t tell anyone what your score was.”

“I think my most recent Instagram post is truly representative of the Yale experience.”

“Really, huh? Well, I just scrolled past your Instagram post and 50 others just like it with Handsome Dan. Each post is just ever so slightly different, but virtually the same.”

This is not the case for all students, but it’s about what you show at Yale. It’s about the disguise you choose to wear every day. What Yalie will I be today? Should I go with quirky or serious? Should I get dressed up because there’s a cute guy in my political philosophy lecture or go bummy today? What will Yale’s campus population be receptive to today? Sometimes people want validation for their disguise. In our community, it’s about who we make ourselves out to be. 

Am I proud to be a Yalie?

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