yale

On the privilege of ignorance

I remember the DKE chant incident of 2010. It was the beginning of my sophomore year at Yale. The whole thing had gone down less than a block from where I slept, but it felt surreal and separate. Sure, I was appalled by their language (“No means yes, yes means anal”), and I wanted them chastised. But when non-Yale friends asked me about what was going on, I said: we’re fine, it’s all fine, the media is really blowing this out of proportion.

Then the Women’s Center and a group of strong-willed, strong-voiced students came out with an official Title IX complaint and made it an even bigger national issue. They said that Yale was a “hostile sexual environment” and that fraternities were mainly to blame.

I was outraged. I loved my friends in fraternities! I loved that they welcomed me to their houses. I loved that one of them found my phone when it was lost, and that another worked with me on Econ problem sets every week. I loved that they were just like all the guys I’d ever known (but more fun, because #college). They were good and goofy and made bad jokes and some even told me I was hot. “Hostile sexual environment?”

NO, I said.

NOT TO ME, I said.

NOT MY YALE, I said.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 4.56.17 PM

Did I mention I was 19? Did I mention I was white, privileged, and so young—young to life, young to bad things, young to my education as a human and as a humanist?

Ignorance is bliss.

But I couldn’t be ignorant forever. What changed: I took Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies classes. I read books that expanded my feminist perspective (bell hooks! Betty Friedan! Virginia Woolf!). I had experiences in frat houses and at parties that made me uncomfortable. I heard raw stories from peers who had been hurt. I grew up, and in growing up I realized the incredibly simple fact that “my” Yale was not everyone’s Yale. My luck was not everyone’s luck. My privilege was not everyone’s privilege. It’s obvious in retrospect, but understanding the experience of others is often the hardest—and most human—thing we do. Especially when that experience is at odds with our own. Especially when it casts a dark shadow over something we love and are proud of. We don’t want to know.

But we learn. Just because I was not sexually assaulted or did not feel overt sexual hostility did not mean I could not accept, empathize with, or fight for the cause of creating a safer environment at Yale. It did not mean that I should not fight. And it did not mean that I was exempt from that fight.

Social justice is like this. We cannot all see, feel, or know the experience of other groups, of the subjugated or of the disenfranchised. We are not all in a minority; that’s what makes the fights of the underdogs so hard. We, the majority, are the oblivious upholders of a system that works for us. So it’s our responsibility to try our best to banish that oblivion. It’s our duty to accept full equality as a greater good in every sense, from the emotional to the economic. And it’s our challenge to fail less, work harder, and be more conscious every day. The minority does not “win” these fights. Rather, we all must come together better. The baseline gets adjusted.

– – –

My parents often ask me why college students are no longer activists. “Where are the protests?” they ask. “Why aren’t you marching against what’s going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria?”

They were in college at the height of political activism during the Vietnam War. The threat was real then: fight against it, or you (or your friends) would be sent to a jungle from which you (or your friends) might not return. Mortal peril was in the mix. Everyone was in the mix. Everyone had to have an opinion because it was their world at risk.

2015 is a bit different. Political activism is passé; maybe we’re too removed from personal impact, or just jaded to violence and bad governance. Instead, the new activism riling our country is for social justice. Equality activism. LGBTQ rights, #blacklivesmatter, Lean In and Title IX and equal pay for women.

But the problem with these causes is that, by definition, they don’t affect the majority. And so, by definition, the minority has to work harder—speak more loudly, agitate more aggressively, demand more insistently—just to be heard, just to keep their place at the table. This is how systems of power and oppression work, and they continue to operate in social justice fights just as they work in everyday life.

They are harder to win because implicit bias is hard to acknowledge and harder to strip away.

And this is what’s happening at Yale right now.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 4.58.01 PM

Photo by Philipp Arndt

– – –

The associate master’s email and the SAE Halloween incident are just two straws in an ongoing fight that is finally being brought into the light. That camel has had a damn strong back for many years. None of the fears, pains, concerns, or demands expressed by students right now are new. But now is their moment to make them known.

Yes, the national news media is turning this into a free speech debate. Yes, people are calling for Yale students to “grow up” and not expect to be coddled. The real world is hard, they say. Safe spaces don’t exist. Be less sensitive.

They’re right: the real world is hard. It is doubly hard for anyone who is a member of a minority group, who has faced—and will always face—discrimination on any number of levels.

But campuses are always where the movement starts; they’re built for progress, especially the liberal arts ones. No one is saying that Yale is that much worse than anywhere else. No one is saying that students at the University of Missouri, for instance, have it better. But the Yale students are saying: let’s start this at Yale. Let’s use our access to the national stage to make a strong, clear, and unambiguous point. Let’s set an example that will bring the country up with us. Let’s start at home, because that’s where change starts, and Yale is our home.

I am not on campus anymore. I can’t speak to the mood of the place, to the lived experience of students there right now. But I can say that I am proud to see productive, positive protest taking place. I am interested to see the demands drafted. I want to see activism and administrative action at work.

More than anything, as I’ve had urgent, thoughtful, and conflicted conversations with fellow alumni and current students, I want us—especially those of us who, in this case, are in the majority and have the privilege of ignorance—to do our best to deconstruct that ignorance.

Change does not come from the top alone. Structure and agency are both at play here: we can only ask the college administration to do so much to break down preconceived biases and systems of conversation and social structure. (Mark Oppenheimer’s piece in Tablet is a worthwhile investigation into the limits of this approach). Yes, Yale should create appropriate channels for submitting complaints; for educating everyone about cultural sensitivity; for improving diversity in faculty and in hiring.

But also, yes, every student and alum who wants to do better SHOULD do better, SHOULD be an agent of change. This is an open ask to people of color and others who want to participate: tell us how. Lead us there. Share with us the things that make you uncomfortable, that we have said or done that are not right. Teach us how to be better allies, so we can do our part to spread this change. Tell us what to read and what to watch. We will all shape our own opinions from this conversation, and not everyone will be on board. The debate will be real, and it will be healthy.

We’ve been ignoring it for too long and we’ve got to get started. It’s hard work. For many, myself included, it is often uncomfortable.

Let’s begin.

– – –

Further reading:

The Vilification of Student Activists at Yale | The Atlantic

The Yale Student Protests Are the Campus PC Wars at Their Best| Slate

Here’s What’s Really Going on at Yale | Medium

What We Want & Need: Black Student Demands for the Administration | DOWN at Yale

Student Activism Is Serious Business | The New Republic

Open Letter from Yale Alums

On hunger; or, an open letter to the Class of 2014

Dear Class of 2014,

Congrats! You’re a week out, and it probably feels pretty good. Now humor me: I want to tell you something, just like everyone else and their mother (and father, and brother, and cousin… We all just want to help!)

You’ve most likely already figured out your next step, but even so, here’s the deal: you have three choices about what you do post-grad. You can move to a place for a job. You can move to a place for the place itself. Or you can move to a place for the people, or to be near a person.

Choose wisely. Know yourself when you make the choice. Know what makes you tick. If you’re lucky, all three will come together, and it’ll be an obvious decision. If you’re not lucky, then it’s one of the first hard decisions you’ll have to make. Make it independently. Make a mistake, and a few months or a year or five from now, fix it.

Image
It was beautiful while it lasted, wasn’t it?

I don’t believe in a metric of “success” (it’s different for everyone, but the word has connotations that are a bit too cut-and-dried for me at the moment). I do believe in a metric of satisfaction. Your days are either full, or they are empty. It’s not about filling up your time, exactly; your time can be full, and your days can still be very, ruthlessly empty, as I’ve learned.

So choose to go to the place that will fill you up. God knows you’re hungry; we all are. Every day I’m hungry for more.

Then, use that hunger. Use it to learn more. Use it to work harder. Follow your taste buds, and follow your stomach. Let your hunger tell you how to balance work and play, and play more and harder (if that’s where your appetite leads you). Use it to recognize when you’re unhappy—and use it to revel in your happiest, most gluttonous moments. Use it to step out of your own expectations of yourself, and to disentangle from everyone else’s expectations. Don’t let others judge you for what you want to pile on your plate, and how you want to consume it. You are what you eat. Eat the good stuff. Do what’s delicious.

In college, we often complain of never having enough time. This is wrong, of course; we’ll never have more time. I let that fact bother me for a while after graduation. In my first year out, I wandered, trying to see what time would do with me when I didn’t have an agenda for it. The wandering bored me. That was the first lesson—for me. Find your own lesson.

As everyone else will also tell you, post-grad life is just… different. But the hunger is the same. On days I don’t satisfy my cravings—when I do less, when I am less, when I settle for less—I miss college in a way that almost hurts. I feel directionless; I feel lost; I feel alone. But on days when I expect more of myself, when I don’t let the mundane stuff—missing my subway, staying too late at work, cleaning the bathroom—get me down, when I find a great new song that makes me smile, when I let my curiosity drive the way I think: that’s when something clicks. I’m satisfied, if only for a moment.

As they say, happiness is fleeting. As they say, it’s worth chasing.

So 2014: chase it with me. It’s a marathon for sure, and it will last the rest of our lives, and I’m the last one to say I’m any closer to it than I was this time last year. But damn it if it isn’t an endlessly exciting game to play.

Love,

Raisa

Image
Come play with me.

In grateful memory of Dean Woodard

We see our schools—our institutions—as timeless, unchanging. That’s often why we go to places lauded for their centuries of accumulated wisdom and architecture, after all.

And we see the authority figures within them as guiding, enduring points of reference, fixed as stars.

When we leave, we encase a place in memory just as it was for us. When we return, we expect it to be the same. And for the most part it will hold true: each courtyard just as manicured and green, each stone pile of a building always catching the golden afternoon light. When the physical fixtures change, it can be jarring—but the spirit of the place stays intact. Over time our memories sift away to hold less of the physical space than the community that kept us transfixed within it.

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 9.15.20 AMStudents are temporary inhabitants of a school; that we know. We move in and out in clockwork motion, making the place ours, defining its culture, and just as ceaselessly moving on, leaving it all behind for another class, another club, another culture.

But what of the professors and leaders? The dining hall staff who prepared our food and groundskeepers who cleaned our stairwells? It may seem callous to say, but they become fixtures too; part of the school that does not grow or leave with us, but is there to stay (or so we feel). We interact and when it’s time we say goodbye. They are a part of our remembered landscape, as permanent in our recollections as carved stones.

So the loss of a figure—the irreversible loss—cuts deep. It is the loss of a person, but much more than that; it is the loss of the sacredness of the place. It is the loss of potential, and the loss of a past we thought could not change. It is the loss of the greeting we expected upon our return. It is the loss of a brilliance that made our time (and that of others) glow.

Dean Leslie Woodard was many things to many people: teacher, friend, mentor, role model, disciplinarian, advisor, cheerleader, instructor. And those people have a great deal more to say about her than I ever could. But for the selfish sake of wanting to remember her a little better, and wanting to understand a little more fully the role she played in my Yale, in my memory, I have a few things I want to set down for me, for her, for anyone.

I.

First days of freshman year. Fall semester registration. We’re called into the dining hall, 90 giddy kids, to sign our registration cards and make ourselves officially known as students. Dean Woodard introduces herself and proceeds to deliver a pep talk. She’s lithe and ageless, her voice surprisingly loud and—when she wants it to be—high-pitched. Every word is long, drawn out, inflected. I wish, now, that I had a transcript of what she said because it was much wiser than I realized then, of course. But the gist—at that meeting and at the start of every semester to come—was always the same: Welcome. Breathe deep. “Frolic.” Make friends. Enjoy this place as best you can. That first freshman speech gave us a license to be excited about being there. It gave us the freedom to have fun.

II.

Crying. It’s dumb, but there I am, crying, in her office. It’s nearing the end of freshman year and this is the first time I’ve been to see her for anything other than a perfunctory, upbeat schedule signing. It’s also the first time I’ve cried all year. One more first: for the first time in my life, I’m failing a class. (It would also be the last time.) This isn’t supposed to happen to me, I think. I met with the professor, I’ve had meetings with the TA. I’m trying, really truly trying. But I’m still failing. I have barely sat down in the chair across for her desk when I break down. “Pull yourself together,” she says. “You don’t need to cry.” She’s tough, Dean Woodard, and when I ask her what to do—which means, please tell me what to do, tell me how to fix this mess I’m somehow in—she is all business: withdraw from the class. Take summer session courses to get the required credits. When I complain that I already have summer plans, she doesn’t waver. If I can’t pass the class, then let’s move on to Plan B. There is no miracle solution.

I leave her office angry, frustrated. I’m used to advisors helping me out, not telling me there isn’t any help to be had. I don’t want to drop the class. I don’t want to change my summer plans.

So I decide against her advice. Instead, I decide that failing is not an option. I work harder, and ultimately I pass the class.

III.

First week of classes, spring semester, senior year—and I have the flu. I can already taste the bittersweet tang of nostalgia when I look around campus; maybe that’s partly why I can’t get out of bed. But I’m also running a fever and too weak to walk to the seminar in which I plan to write my senior essay. The professors want a note from my dean to excuse my absence. No note, no spot in the class, no senior essay. I email Dean Woodard, but she won’t give a note: it’s not a family emergency and I’m not in the hospital. Dean Woodard doesn’t provide excuses for things like being sick. She sticks to the letter of the rulebook, which says you suck it up. I’m panicking.

In Dean’s office, sitting in that same chair across her desk, I once again fall into self-pitying tears. Again: “You don’t need to cry.” She instructs me to tell the professors the truth: that dean’s excuses aren’t allowed for illness, but that they can call or email her directly if needed. Again, I leave frustrated, still panicking.

A few hours later, everything is smoothed over. The professors are fine with it. When I pass the message on to Dean Woodard, she shoots back an mail: “See. No tears needed! Feel better!”

IV.

Graduation weekend. I don’t want to leave. My plans are vague. The arrival of my family is overwhelming. Every thing I pack up is another goodbye to a life I’m not ready to give up. In the Calhoun courtyard, we graduating students sit in the undiluted sun surrounded by dressed-up family and friends, our navy robes sticky against sweaty skin. Best friends to my right, my left, in front and behind. Blue skies above. Green grass below. Red brick all around.

Dean Woodard’s speech is perfect. I wonder a little, as she talks, how it’s possible for her to get it so completely. She has always told us to “frolic” (her trademark word), to have fun. Now she’s telling us to be bold people, unafraid of letting go of this place and finding something new beyond. Her voice carries.

“But whether you are intimidated or joyous,” she says of the way we will choose to present ourselves post-Yale, “this moment of introduction represents an opportunity for all of you to keep what you want of your identity and shed what you do not. It is a time of tremendous power but perhaps that’s the scariest thing of all.”

“Marianne Williamson said and was subsequently quoted by Nelson Mandela, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, famous?’ Who are you not to be? Playing it small does not serve the world. For as we are liberated from our own fear, so our presence liberates others.

“Powerful words, yes. But so very important, for this is your opportunity to introduce yourselves to the world entirely on your own terms, to be really, truly powerful, and to employ your presence for the empowerment others. So use the breadth of knowledge – both moral and intellectual — you have received at Yale and at Calhoun because by its virtue you are much better equipped than most and do not spend your energy trying to slip through life unnoticed. Let your mistakes be bold, your apologies sincere, remember that you and you alone are responsible for who you are and what you do.  Resist the urge to tiptoe through the world. I’m not suggesting you wear only your heaviest shoes, your spikiest stilettos. Journey through life in comfortable shoes that allow you to walk when you wish, run when you wish. And when it is warm and lovely, go barefoot, feel the cool grass beneath the soles of your feet, take long, confident strides, and never ever forget to frolic!”

And when she reads out each of our names in her signature baseball-announcer voice, drawing out each syllable with an extra flourish, and hands over our diplomas and shakes our hands and sends us off, it’s hard not to think: here’s a woman of incredible confidence, of humor, of power.

V.

Right after graduation, I check my inbox to find an email from her, apologizing for mispronouncing my name during the diploma ceremony. I respond to tell her not to worry, and also to request a copy of her speech. She sends it back as an attachment almost immediately. “I hope you enjoy it!” she wrote. And: “I wish you all the best for the future! Keep in touch!!!”

I’m not sure if I ever did say goodbye in person. But I want to think that’s OK, in the end.

When I arrived at Yale, I thought Dean Woodard was supposed to be something of a safeguard: the person to protect me from my mistakes, to build me up when I was low, to help me navigate the rougher terrain of college. I had always, after all, gone to small schools.

But Dean saw it differently. We were to succeed on our own terms—not because of her assistance. When crises struck, her approach was tough but unerringly realistic. She didn’t fix things; she simply directed us toward the way we could fix them ourselves. It’s hard to overestimate how important that kind of an approach was for someone like me, who had always been privileged with wonderful oversight, parents and teachers and coaches who ensured that failure was not an option.

So when failure was an option, Dean made it clear that it was something I was to face myself. As with all things in life, I had a choice: to pick myself up and figure it out; or to let despondency, self-pity, or self-limitations take me down. It was the same thing whenever I went to her to look over my classes or discuss my extracurriculars. She never told me to do one thing over another. Instead, she questioned my decisions, and made me justify them. And as long as I could do that—as long as it was clear that I had a reason, that I had confidence, and that I was going to take responsibility for whatever I got myself into—she was happy to sign off on my plans. So I learned to do just that.

I often think that more than anything, my four years at Yale taught me humility. I saw what it was to be incapable of doing it all, to be less than the best, and to be overshadowed by peers who were willing to work harder, study longer, focus more.

But with the little bit of time and distance the past few months have afforded me, I’ve realized that Yale also taught me how to make choices for myself, and how to commit to a path of action. Or: how to have the confidence to direct my future, rather than let it simply happen. A great deal of that confidence came from figuring out that I could decide that—for instance—failure was not an option. It was something I built slowly throughout my time in college, and carry with me now. That self-knowledge came to me first from Dean, who was almost intimidating in her own self-assurance.

She forced me to act for myself.

I don’t know if there is a more meaningful lesson anyone can teach you. For that, I thank her, and am deeply grateful for the brief time I spent as one of her students. And for that, I am profoundly saddened by her death. Calhoun—Yale—has lost one of its finest instructors; not just in the classroom, but especially in the rather important life lessons of self-confidence, responsibility, and resilience.

I am sure that others who were better acquainted with her as a professor and as a friend will write of her academic brilliance, her quirky humor, and her vibrant spirit. These 2000-odd words on this blog in my tiny, nearly invisible corner of the Internet are but a small, self-reflective tribute. Still, all memories have value, I think, and the ones I have of her are strong.

When I go back to Yale next month, it will be different. Calhoun—my home at Yale—will not feel quite the same. I’ll know why. No buildings will have changed; the red brick walls and stone façades will be there, timeless as ever. The difference will be in the spirit of the place. The warmth of my college memories comes not from the cold stone halls of the libraries, but from the people whose words and actions shaped that home.

“…What makes your goodbyes so difficult,” Dean said in that same commencement speech, “is that this place and the people beside you and around you now possess for you the quality of punctum, they have pierced you, they are a part of you and you cannot, will not forget them, for one can never lose that which pierces be it a place, an ethos, or a person.”

Thank you, Dean Woodard, for all that you did and were and continue to do, even—especially—after you are gone.

(If you would like to read Dean Leslie Woodard’s full commencement speech for the Calhoun College Class of 2013, please click here.)

The First Not-First Day; or, Not Back-to-School

I should have gone on a social media hiatus this week.

Instead, I’m obsessively trawling my feeds, which are filled with snapshots and comments about the start of the academic year. For many of my friends (now college seniors), it’s the “Last First Day.” For me and my 2013 cohort, it’s the First Not-First Day.

Sure, some people took gap years, or semesters off, or had unusual academic schedules. Whatever. In the end we were bound to the biological clock of the classroom since age 5 (or younger), a solid 17 years of schooling in which summer came to a close at the end of August, marked by the annual trips to Staples for fresh mechanical pencils and the agonizing search for the perfect bookbag. (The phases were endless: classic Jansport backpack, nerdy rolling pack, utilitarian canvas messenger bag, glitzy leopard-print tote, hippie cross-body satchel, leather carryall…) And of course there was always the critical question: binders or notebooks? And in college: Mead Five-Stars or Moleskines? Followed by the equally grave transition from forgiving, erasable pencils to indelible—gasp!—pens. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I can trace my growing-up—my personal journey to adulthood (or some semblance of it)—through the materials I chose to carry with me to school, the things I decided were worthy receptacles for my accumulating knowledge.

WLHclassroomWhich is all just to say that I didn’t do that this year. For the first time in memory: no back-to-school. Just another day out here in California (I know, life is rough). There’s something oddly final about missing out on that annual ritual. This must be what it’s like to be born on a Leap Year, when everyone just skips over your birthday. Or to miss New Year’s Eve while traveling across time zones.

Because back-to-school was always more than just a day to show off some fresh kicks, your summer tan, and a Lisa Frank sticker collection. Back-to-school was, each and every time, that most glorious of things: a new start. The night before, sleepless, I would resort to envisioning my new self for the year, seeing with eager optimism the bright possibilities. This year, I thought, I would be friends with her. I would hang out with him. I would talk like that. I would look like this.

The comforting regularity of the opportunity for reinvention was what gave school its everlasting charm as we got older and jaded by the persistence of homework, studying, the mundane reality of the academic grind. Finish off a semester or a summer and then, no matter what had happened, the First Day was a blank slate.

Wise people will tell you that every day is a blank slate. Today, they’ll say, is the first day of the rest of your life… etc. etc. Whatever. I’m 22; I am not wise. I’m coming off of four years fueled by the energy of words like FOMO YOLO young-wild-free live-while-we’re-young we-can’t-stop ’til-the-world-ends. Those are powerful mantras for recklessness and immaturity, and they’re a hard habit to kick. It’s not cool to be wise. It’s hard to be wise. It’s hard to remember that not going back to school doesn’t mean nothing has to change. It’s hard to feel the fizzy butterflies of a fresh start without everyone around me doing the same thing.

On the flip side, though, there’s a dark glamour in now feeling personally responsible for any changes I might want to make to my life. (I’m hardly the first person to say this, but bear with me.) If this is the empowerment of adulthood, it’s scary but encouraging. As I go back through those social media feeds and see the kids these days having their back-to-school moments at Camp Yale, bringing in the year with a bang and plenty of booze, I’m not jealous of what I’m missing. I don’t envy them their fun. Instead I envy how easy it is for them to engage in an institutionally-mandated reinvention of self.

They remind me that if I want to feel that First-Day fervor again, no one is going to serve it up to me. Like everyone else before me, I have to find it.

On the “hook-up culture”: Part 2

By now many others have said—more succinctly, more earnestly, and more wittily—what I had intended to say, so instead I’ll offer up some links to thought-provoking reads on the topic.

First up, my friend Eliana over at Time lays it down in her piece What Everyone’s Getting Wrong About the Ivy League Hookup Culture (full disclosure: she quotes me in the article… #stillfamous). I definitely recommend reading her full article (it’s a quick read), but in brief she points out three major flaws in the prevailing discourse on the subject: (1) College students are choosing random hookups over meaningful relationships; (2) Most Ivy League girls are too busy and ambitious for relationships; and (3) The so-called hookup generation represents a radical break from the past. All three myths; all three debunked by Eliana. I couldn’t agree more.

Next, we have Leandra Medine over at popular fashion blog The Man Repeller. Never heard of her? Her main claim to fame is wearing crazy trendy clothes (think lots of clashing colors, unexpected layers, vertiginous heels), making Snapchat-style faces at the camera, and blogging at length about it—all underlaid by a very do-whatever-makes-ya-happy ethos. But don’t write her off just yet! Leandra’s got a social conscience too, and her post The F-Word is not so much fashion as feminism. Yep, fashion blogging—that realm of the woman-as-object-adorned-and-decorated—just got political. (Note: I have lots more to say on fashion blogging, but we’ll save that for a later date.) “There’s a sense of innocence inconspicuously tied to silence, and in this story, the men are on mute,” Leandra writes about the NYT piece. Yes! (Read the whole post, it’s great.)

Then we have one of Slate’s contributions to the ouevre, The Hookup Elites by Lisa Wade (thanks to Emily Y. for passing this one along). Wade suggests that most research on college hook-up culture focuses on gender dynamics on college campuses—but there’s another side to the story, and that side is not about male-female power play but white/wealthy/heterosexual privilege.

“So what we are seeing on college campuses is the same dynamic we see outside of colleges.  People with privilege—based on race, class, ability, attractiveness, sexual orientation, and, yes, gender—get to set the terms for everyone else. Their ideologies dominate our discourses, their particular set of values gets to appear universal, and everyone is subject to their behavioral norms. Students feel that a hookup culture dominates their colleges not because it is actually widely embraced, but because the people with the most power to shape campus culture like it that way.”

—Lisa Wade, The Hookup Elites

So not only do we (privileged women) think that men are writing the script, but actually we women are writing it too (even if somewhat unknowingly) by virtue of our subject positionality. Classic.

On the flip side of the Slate coin, Matt Yglesias reminds us that hooking up isn’t actually that bad. In fact, it makes sense! Modern world, modern problems: we are saving marriage for later and later, but are interested in sexual experimentation at the same age as humans across the centuries. “Young people should feel free to do what they want with their sex lives, but I think it’s the people who are following neo-traditional visions of dating and romance who are operating with bad information and are more likely in need of guidance,” he writes.

Which brings me to my own more broad, contemporary-romantic thoughts on the subject, which are that we (generationally, civilizationally) currently lack the language, vocabulary, and social acceptance to discuss the various newfangled romantic partnerships that make the most sense for our lives today. What often gets lost in translation is that not every relationship must exist in the black-and-white binary of casual/emotionless/short-term vs. serious/marriage-oriented/soulful. There are infinite stages in between these two opposites—don’t tell me you haven’t been in some intermediate place yourself! But until we start accepting the range of options and complexity that any relationship might hold (and the idea there is not always an end-goal), we limit our conversations (especially in the media) to this frustrating back-and-forth, and set expectations of ourselves and others that cannot be realistically met. And that, to me, is just plain regressive.

Fin.

(…For now.)

One month later; or, seeking nirvana

“…So you’re going to Yale. I used to want to go to Yale myself, once. Only I had to go where I could. I guess there is a time in the life of every young American of the class that wants to go to college or accepts the inevitability of education, when he wants to go to Yale or Harvard. Maybe that’s the value of Yale and Harvard to our American life: a kind of illusion of an intellectual nirvana that makes the ones that can’t go there work like hell where they do go, so as not to show up so poorly alongside of the ones that can go there. Still, ninety out of a hundred Yale and Harvard turn out but are reasonably bearable to live with, if they ain’t anything else. And that’s something to be said for any manufactory, I guess. But I’d like to have gone there…'”

—Faulkner, Mosquitoes

I went there.

When I graduated a month ago, everything happened at once: dark-blue gowns and cardboard packing boxes and parents. At night, there were clay pipes that we smoked and smashed on forbidden rooftops and lumps in the throat that wouldn’t go away, even when we sang and laughed and danced. Most people left in a rush—on to the next. I lingered, because I purposefully have no “next”, not right now.

In Mosquitoes, Faulkner’s character Fairchild—a talented novelist with an inferiority complex springing from his incomplete education—happens into a conversation with a young well-to-do man, Josh, who’s headed to Yale. Josh doesn’t much care where he goes; it’s not as though there were a choice, or as though anything different could have happened to him (and besides, he’s mainly interested in getting into a senior society). Fairchild only wishes had had the chance to go to Yale, even if the college is ultimately, as he says, “a kind of illusion of an intellectual nirvana.” It’s a nice snapshot of two men, separated by the birthright of class and money and reasonable expectations, yet both buying into the splendid myth of academia. Mosquitoes was first published in 1927, but Fairchild’s comment resonates with just as much bite and relevance today as ever.

No matter. The illusion—the myth—worked all its glory on me. And I know from experience that my friends were much better than “reasonably bearable” to live with. Luck shipped us all off to New Haven, and luck brought to us great people there who we learned from and grew to know.

But that was all a month ago. I’m home now, on the other, brighter coast. My friends and acquaintances are scattered far off in other cities, cultures, lives. The education from here on out is one we make, not one we take. The illusion of nirvana has ended; the quest for the real thing now begins.