In my journal entry from October 6th, one sentence stands out above the rest: “What am I doing here?” For some reason, a Yale admissions officer deemed me fit to walk these hallowed halls (thank you, Patricia!), but as a first year blindly navigating my way through Yale, I am reminded of Dante, another weary traveler in the midst of his journey.
As I sit toiling over my third 2,500-word midterm paper, I cannot help but think that Virgil, Patricia, or some other powers that be have delivered me to Hell in a handbasket. Like the poet who found himself lost in the dark wood, the wildness of Yale is imbued with the very feeling of fear, the arduous journey looming ahead of all first-year students bearing a close resemblance to that depicted in Dante’s magnum opus.
Thus, we embark: into Yale, into the inferno, into the nine circles.
Limbo is where we find the petty struggles that first years must narrowly navigate. This includes problem sets, the excess of hair (imagine six girls and a shower drain that clogs every three days), and twenty-minute walks up to Science Hill. The struggles here are not quintessentially Yale; Limbo includes things college students gripe about now but laugh at ten years down the line. Four a.m. fire drills warrant a robust fuck, fuck, fuck as you roll out of bed, but Limbo leaves you with a smidgen of Pandora’s hope.
Doe-eyed Bingham residents have walked by the infamous sixth-floor cabinet where a shell-shocked piece of duct tape hangs on for dear life. On it, the haunting words: “Please, no sex in this cabinet anymore…”
It seems as though the newest iteration of the sexual revolution has hit Old Campus much faster than anywhere else in America. Or so says my friend who has often been relegated by his suitemate’s sexile to the floor of our common room. But no shame! We just ask that the couches be wiped and the doorknobs sanitized.
And for the condom bowls to be replenished.
Given the limited hours that all fourteen residential dining halls run on, it seems unfathomable that anyone at Yale could be a glutton. The once active “foodie” Instagram pages run by undergrads of old are slowly drying up, and there are only so many Snackpass-affiliated restaurants to order from.
There is, however, a different type of gluttony that characterizes the Solo cup-strewn stretch of Frat Row. This more sinister and elusive take on the classic sin assumes the form of the overzealous partygoer, the one who consumes more Busch than their liver will allow. On my second day here, I was awoken by the sound of someone tumbling down the stairs. In his drunken stupor, the sinner in question stumbled into our bathroom and sat on the floor in front of our toilet for an hour. For the sake of the affected person, I won’t reveal too much, but know that the white grout lines of the tiles will never know the feeling of being whole again.
College, I have found, is just one more step in the Sisyphean ordeal that simply refuses to quit. It is without a doubt that my life (and perhaps the lives of many others) has been defined by education. Each diploma handed to me in June is just another stepping point. And while one can hope that there is a finish line in the distant future, the sense of dread that consumes you—after all, what of graduate school, law school, medical school, and fellowships—is heightened at an institution like Yale, where the after is always a question that follows “What’s your major?” Thus, greed consumes the first-year student body. Upperclassman email inboxes are brimming with emails from first years asking for advice. But for how long can we roll the boulder? I, for one, am already exhausted. I hope that you, reader, are more prepared for this marathon than I am.
Need I say more? What is the rationale behind two midterms per class during the fall semester? Is one the midterm and the other the final? But what about classes with two midterms and one final? I say this to bring to light a deeper problem: Is it possible to adjust to Yale? And if so, how long does it take? A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in Sterling Memorial Library, trying to find the entrance to the East Asian Reading Room. Like an ant on the wrong hill, I circled the second, third, and fourth floors over and over, each time passing the Benjamin Franklin portrait located on the second floor. As I did, I was reminded of the upperclassmen who scoffed at my presence in a junior seminar (trust me, I had no idea what that J meant at the end of the three-number course code), and each time I passed, Ben stared into my eyes and asked me: What is the matter with you? Why can’t you get this right? Defeated, I turned around and went back to my suite. Perhaps Ben was having an off day, but has there ever been an on day for me since stepping foot onto this campus? I am angry, mostly at myself for not being able to figure Yale out. I can only hope that the Yale Health-prescribed anxiety medication kicks in soon.
The Heretics find themselves here, especially the ones who say “The soul dies with the body.” At Yale, it feels like the soul is dying quicker than the body, but why? I turn to the etymology of the word heretic, the Ancient Greek word, “hairesis,” or “choice.” With all the options available via classes, majors, and extracurriculars, is it possible to ensure that the right choices are being made?
College, I’m afraid, allows its inhabitants to run around lawlessly. The number of unguided choices available to us is instantly paralyzing, overwhelming, and a rude wake-up call to the knowledge that at Yale, I am an adult. And while I may pay state taxes on my Yale paystubs, the guy I met in the Bingham laundry room doesn’t know how Tide Pods work.
Against God, against self, and against others! This seventh circle of Hell is home to the newly born college freshman who emerged straight from the womb of high school itself. A roommate of mine emerged from her haven one night, shocking me with words that chilled my very Yague-saturated bones: “I think I like being stressed out! I work better that way.” Like the Wicked Witch of the West, my body melted right into the cracks of the dusty wooden floors of Vanderbilt Hall.
My fellow high-strung, soul-crushed first years, will there come a day when the mention of high school no longer causes us to flinch? Are we forever subjected to the “hustle” and “grind” that had us dragging our feet down locker-lined halls? We can hope to grow out of it, but for now know that the squeak of sneakers against the linoleum floors of LC (read: mandatory PE classes) will be immediately followed by the tensing-up of shoulders and a grimace worthy only of the past.
Steal from the Bow Wow. Or don’t. But when my meal swipe is worth $10.00 and yellowfin sushi has a price sticker of $11.99, know that the thought crosses my mind like a chicken crosses the road. $1.50 for laundry quickly turns into $6.00 when the dryers refuse to dry more than three articles of clothing correctly, and the Connecticut state tax applied to my PaperCut printing service has turned me into a tree-saving environmentalist. Yale has mastered the art of nickel-and-diming, and without Barbara Ehrenreich, the situation only grows worse. It’s understandable that a college like Yale needs money to function—after all, one can only imagine the electricity bill associated with a school where the in-suite bathroom lights never turn off—but with a $42.3 billion endowment, is the extra $1.99 out-of-pocket cost for my sushi really that necessary? Do we really need to know where Yale’s endowment ends and when its “contribution” begins? Rage against the machine, my peers. Rage against the machine.
9. Treachery… or so we say.
There are many struggles associated with this last circle. In the coldest circle, the one furthest from Heaven, I am reminded of the one morning when we all awoke to 40-degree weather and an absence of heating. But dear reader, I’ve only been on this campus for two months! What treachery have I yet to encounter?
For now, I will hold off on finishing this circle, as the journey here seems too arduous and taxing. Unlike Dante, I do not have a poetic tour guide to show me the way out, and I am afraid that if I climb too far into this deep, deep rabbit hole, I will never be able to climb back out. Dis is not yet visible, and despite being from the East Coast, the cold weather and I do not agree with each other, especially when all of my winter jackets remain an Amtrak ride away. Having missed dinner, however, perhaps I shall make my way back up to the eighth circle, where a vending machine calls my name.
I am told that if I do decide to resurface, some distant day four years into the future, the experience will have been worth it. But for now, as points are taken off my midterm essay for forgetting page numbers, I’m afraid I’m relegated here, confined to the suffocating two-mile radius of Yale University.