Dara Lind: Yale Promised Paradise

The young Yale student caught on video behaving poorly wanted a personal champion. Her complaint of Silliman College master Nicholas Christakis was that he failed to deliver.  He failed to fulfill the promise that the residential college would be her home.

She was unnamed in the post here, though she’s been doxxed elsewhere. Daniel Denzer had a point about what happened, that this was a child at her worst, and shouldn’t be forever tainted because her moment of childishness went viral.  What Greg Lukianoff’s video represented was an example of what was wrong, not a personal condemnation of the young lady who did it. You can’t blame a child for doing childish things. That’s their nature.

But a champion has appeared to explain the broken promise of which she spoke, and that champion is no longer protected as a child.  Vox’s Dara Lind is one of those non-lawyer writers who tries her hand at writing about legal issues. She may not be Radley Balko caliber, but she’s better than anyone at Slate and certainly the best Vox has to offer.  Mostly, she tries to get it right, which is worthy of recognition.

Lind wears her heart on her page to explain for the young lady who felt entitled to berate Christakis, and the other young lady who wrote a Yale Herald op-ed that was later removed because it was seen by unsympathetic eyes.  Lind offers her first-person view, that Yale broke its promise to Lind, as well as to these students, and outsiders don’t understand.

I want to talk about betrayal.

Betrayal is a strong word. It’s a deeply personal word. It’s the word Lind chose.

From the [Yale admissions] website again:

“According to Dean of Yale College and former Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway, an important part of what makes the residential colleges ‘home’ is that ‘adults live alongside the students, celebrating their successes and helping them navigate their challenges.'”

“A Master and Dean oversee each residential college, setting the cultural tone and atmosphere of the college. The Master of each college is responsible for its academic, intellectual, social, athletic, and artistic life. Masters work with students to shape each residential college community, bringing their own distinct social, cultural, and intellectual influences to the colleges. “

The dean is the academic adviser for the college’s students. The master is in charge of its distinctive student life. He or she is the guardian of the students’ “home.”

Home. It’s the word used by the shrieking young lady, and again by Lind. The residential college concept doesn’t mean that each student gets to create his or her own private world, perfectly matched to her every feeling, her every urge, her every desire.  But then, it’s unlikely that’s what “home” meant before they arrived at Yale.

Parents at home, who (for the sake of argument) loved and adored their child so much that they would take a bullet for them, still did not acquiesce to their every infantile demand. Don’t touch the flame on the stove.  Don’t jump off the roof.  Do your homework and wear your galoshes. Love means sometimes saying no, as that’s a parents’ duty to their children, to guide them toward maturity.

Lind lapses into “mental health,” oddly conflating the ordinary sense shared by almost every college student (and almost every other thinking human being) that they suffer from imposter syndrome, of unworthiness, of not fitting in, with clinical mental illness.  She characterizes normal feelings of inadequacy as a “challenge of mental health crises.”

The challenge of mental health crises is that the people going through them are the ones least likely to seek help on their own. Sometimes they’re in denial. Sometimes they know, but feel for precisely this reason that they are incapable of doing anything about it. It’s hard to make an appointment, to show up on time, much less admit to a stranger that you’re in trouble and need help. You’re certainly never going to seek help, and make yourself vulnerable, to any institution you already distrust.

This is true no matter how old you are.

Not necessarily. Most people, especially smart people, and even more especially smart people who are given one of the most elite opportunities available to anyone of college age, grasp that their every feeling of discomfort doesn’t constitute a mental health crisis, along with the wealth of excuses that have become so popular.

Much as this might seem to be a non-sequitur to adults, this is deeply revealing about the misperceptions carried by children. They believe that they are entitled to feel good about themselves at every moment, and if they don’t, they are entitled to demand that someone else make them feel good about themselves. It’s a crisis. The moment they feel discomfort, a crisis exists for which they’re entitled to a grown-up fix. They are responsible for nothing.

I never felt more defective, as a Yale student, than when I was walking through my college courtyard at 3 in the afternoon after sleeping most of the day, having skipped all my classes and half of my meals. I had to keep my head down and my earbuds in to avoid seeing anyone in my residential college — particularly the master or dean.

I knew it was supposed to be easier to turn to the administrators of my college for help than anyone else. But I didn’t have a relationship to them as individuals, or to the college as a whole. I assumed that was my fault, that I’d missed the point of the residential college to begin with.

Every time I thought I ought to ask for the help I needed, I was choked with guilt that my college wasn’t home to me. The very thought that it should have been easier to seek help there than anywhere made it harder.

The residential college provided the opportunity to Lind to establish a home, a relationship to the master, a place to go if she needed help. She actively avoided it, so it’s someone else’s fault. Why didn’t the grown-up do it for her, make it home to her?

This is true of every student I knew who felt most bitterly toward the residential college system: They were betrayed.

They needed help and went to a residential college administrator to get it. They were fighting some other arm of the university — a professor, the financial aid department, the dean in charge of readmitting students who’d had to withdraw. They needed a champion within the system. Their residential college was their last best hope.

The residential college was uninterested in championing them.

Did your father say yes to everything you ever asked of him? Your mother? Everything? Did you really think the Yale admissions pitch meant the master would love you as deeply as your parents? Did you not realize that their world didn’t revolve exclusively around you? There are other students there, those other warm bodies you saw walking around campus, and each one of them, like you, thought they were the center of the universe.

I suspect I took the sales pitch about residential colleges too much to heart. I took a lot of Yale’s rhetoric too literally before I arrived on campus. It was all I knew of the school.

I suspect you chose to misapprehend the sales pitch. Somehow, you inexplicably thought that the “home” of a residential college meant you get everything your heart desired, your own personal perfect little world that was all, and only, about you. Yale didn’t say that. Yale could only offer you the means to feel at home. Yale couldn’t make you seize the opportunity.

The author who wrote the Yale Herald op-ed made a simpler demand: She wanted a home on campus, a place where she would be supported by default.

She may be asking to be coddled. Automatic support might not be something any university ought to give a student, in the classroom or outside it.

But it’s also, almost certainly, what she was promised.

The student was supported. So were you, Dara, in ways you obviously can’t imagine.  And still it wasn’t good enough to sate your feelings. Your college experience happened in the most wonderfully, magically sheltered atmosphere of support imaginable. You weren’t forced to carry a gun into battle, to kill or be killed. You didn’t have to pick rotting food out of a trash bin to eat that night. You weren’t beaten for having a fresh mouth.

The young lady who shrieked at Christakis felt sufficiently supported that she could behave poorly. The other young lady who wrote that she wanted to talk about her pain felt sufficiently free to do so without fear of challenge. And when she was challenged, her words were taken down to protect her from criticism.

Your complaint is that your world is so perfect, so protected, that your concept of pain is any feeling of personal awkwardness or discomfort. You had a pebble in your shoe, and cried as if someone stuck a needle in your eye.

But you were at home, even though you couldn’t appreciate it. Your mommy and daddy told you to not eat candy before dinner because it would spoil your appetite, and you felt betrayed.  Home is where someone cares enough about you to guide you through your childishness, not where they acquiesce to your every childish thought.

Instead of looking back at your magnificent great fortune, you see only that you didn’t get everything you desired. That happens in the real world. That happens at home. Yale gave you paradise. You just didn’t appreciate it.

26 thoughts on “Dara Lind: Yale Promised Paradise

  1. Steven M. Warshawsky

    Outstanding blog post this morning! Your line — “You had a pebble in your shoe, and cried as if someone stuck a needle in your eye” — is absolutely brilliant. Apparently none of the “adults” at Yale feel “safe” enough to make these points in response to their students’ temper tantrums. It’s disconcerting to see the rhetorical and political power that the feelz generation is starting to wield.

    1. SHG Post author

      The grown-ups at Yale had their brief moment of responsibility before collapsing into a weeping ball of apology. There is no home without a grown-up to run it, and apparently, there are no grown-ups left at Yale.

  2. Patrick Geisler

    I agree with your critique of Lind’s article but are you conceding that 18+ year old college students should be thought of as children (I’m looking primarily at the reference to Dreher and last two sentences in the second paragraph)? While most 18-22 year olds still have some growing up to do treating people who can sign a contract, join the military, and even buy a pack of Marlboros as kids feeds right into the cult of feelings. I’d venture that if the protestor in the video were called a child in virtually any other context she’d call it sexist, and rightly so.

    1. SHG Post author

      I struggle with what to call college students. Are they children, young adults, adults? There is what they think they are, what I want them to be, and then there is what their conduct says about them. In the scheme of reality, criticizing them for their immaturity seems pointless; they’re not adults yet. That they would say I’m sexist, or condescending, or anything else, changes nothing. They are what they are.

      So I call them as I see them, and suffer the consequences. That’s life.

      1. paul

        In my (totally irrelevant) experience this applies to pretty much everyone and not just those currently enrolled in college. Anecdotally I find many adults have redefined the word to exclude personal responsibilty in favor of entitlement and facts in favor of feelz. These college kids have to learned it from somewhere right?

      2. Patrick Geisler

        The students are going to do what they do but that doesn’t mean the expectation shouldn’t be adult-level maturity, even if they don’t always live up to it. If that can’t be done then I don’t know how colleges can stop the slide into validation camp with all content set to the most easily offended person’s sensibilities.

        1. SHG Post author

          …but that doesn’t mean the expectation shouldn’t be adult-level maturity…

          Should it? Unrealistic expectations serve no purpose.

          If that can’t be done then I don’t know how colleges can stop the slide into validation camp with all content set to the most easily offended person’s sensibilities.

          I fail to see any logical connection here.

          1. jay-w

            ” …but that doesn’t mean the expectation shouldn’t be adult-level maturity…

            Should it? Unrealistic expectations serve no purpose. ….”

            Why “unrealistic” ?
            For 100,000 years (99.9% of human history), children turned into adults at age 13, give or take a year, and that was the end of it.

            Within living memory, teen-aged boys were leading infantry charges on Guadalcanal and Normand beach.
            Within living memory, right here in some parts of the USA , girls could get legally married at 12 and boys, at 14. And marriage was — at least in theory — forever. (I am obviously not saying that was a good idea, but the point is that they were regarded as capable of making adult-level decisions.
            George Washington was a professional surveyor at age 15. David Farragut (the “Damn the torpedoes” guy) was put in charge of a Naval vessel at age 12.

            1. SHG Post author

              If today’s 18-year-old had to storm Normandy Beach, we would be speaking German. Prolonged adolescence isn’t a good thing, and I wish it wasn’t real. But it is.

            2. Mort

              For these 18-24 year olds, their great-grandparents fought a two theater war against enemies that wanted to grind us into the dirt, didn’t see home for well more than a year, and then put men on the moon using combined computing power that is dwarfed by a single cell phone. They double-checked computer results with slide-rules.

              Their grandparents either fought a vicious war (Korea or Vietnam, some both) or protested and in a few cased tried to blow up buildings and burned more than a few.

              But their parents… Their parents had no real suffering, knew no struggle. For some they might have had a parent on active duty, but it is the rare exception.

              My generation never had to earn it’s adulthood, and thus never never gave a single thought to how to make sure they raised self-sufficient human beings.

              And it is only going to get worse…

          2. Patrick Geisler

            I guess what is and isn’t realistic would depend on the specifics of the adult level expectations. Expecting students to take a little bit of perspective or tolerate exposure to points of view they disagree with might be a high expectation in the current climate but I don’t see it as unrealistic. It was a regular facet of a liberal education within recent memory.

            On the second point, the connection is the professors and administrators (who should be setting the expectations). When colleges cater to student demands to remove that which hurts feelings it sets a precedent (you recently linked to an article by a professor who instituted trigger warnings only to find that students instead of being satisfied demanded more and more protection). If instead of conceding, colleges said they expect students to handle challenging material, and if that isnt possible for a particular student then that student shouldn’t be there, and stuck to it, I believe students would quickly adapt.

            The part of my opinion that I will concede probably is unrealistic is getting professors/administrators to take such a stance when so many seem to be invested in the current model.

            1. SHG Post author

              That, I think, is the point: colleges should be engaged in moving students from childhood to adulthood, and they’re doing the opposite by enabling their perpetual infancy. While I give the students some latitude for their immaturity, the colleges (admins and profs) have no excuse for failing to do their job.

          3. DaveL

            I don’t think those expectations are unrealistic. The fraction of those who fall short may be higher among newly-minted adults than among those with more seasoning, but it hardly follows that those expectations are unrealistic. At some point, every driver takes on traffic solo for the first time, and all the rules of the road (and laws of physics) still apply, despite the undeniable fact that such drivers are measurably more apt to run afoul of them. That’s the way it works for all manner of skills and professions. While it’s true unrealistic expectations serve no purpose, challenging yet attainable expectations can serve to spur personal growth.

            1. SHG Post author

              We may be talking past each other on this thread. I’m not in disagreement (which should be awfully clear from my posts) that colleges are behaving like idiot children. I look at what is happening and ask whether it’s too much to expect them to act like adults. I conclude it is. I hope this changes, but without a paradigm shift, I don’t see it happening. Hell, I’m afraid they’ll never grow up.

  3. losingtrader

    “Is she a MILF? Asking for a friend.”

    An obvious plug for the Milford Plaza’s loyalty stay program. Shameful.

  4. Roxanne Chester

    Hey, 5 years ago all universities were complaining about was the scourge of helicopter parents. At least these kids are advocating for themselves rather than Mommy calling the Master for them to complain about the distress of her little precious. Maybe that’s progress?

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