Once, when I was studying on the upper level of Bass Library, a friend of mine walked up to me and said “Damn dog, so it’s that kind of night?” He was implying that my choosing to study in Bass signaled that I was under a particular amount of academic stress. Why else would I choose to spend my precious evening in Yale’s most hated library™? In fact, I love Bass. The physical comfort mixed with the sunlight provided by the floor-to-ceiling windows; the malleable line between academic study space and casual social setting; the access both to the Sterling stacks and the Bass café—all of these make Bass a self-evidently good place to study. Yet in spite of this idea, the negativity with which my buddy spoke of this library is vocalized constantly by Yale students. Not only is this opinion misguided: it is also representative of a learned behavior that is dangerously self-defeating. People hate Bass simply because they hear other people say they hate Bass. They reserve it for their most stressful evenings simply because other people claim that those evenings are what it should be reserved for. Bass hate is misplaced, but it also legitimizes a truly reductive form of campus discourse.
The way we speak about our lives on campus is constantly influenced by collective habit, by superficially shared opinions like mindlessly condemning Bass. When asked how they are doing, Yale students routinely include some form of “Good, good. Really tired, but getting through.” Because we have learned, simply through the collective language of our campus, that surviving while exhausted is not just a socially-accepted norm, but the trend that we are urged to apply to our own experience. These shared attitudes shape our expectations—expectations that February will inevitably be a shitty month, that TD is profoundly far from the center of campus, that midterm season is an insurmountable challenge, that Bass Library is inherently bad.
In fact, these expectations are usually informed by a surface-level sense of struggle that Yale students feel compelled to feign. If one isn’t claiming their exhaustion and stress, then one is simply not following the trend. But what these performances of anxiety actually do is appropriate—and so devalue—the gravity of the actual struggle that many Yale students undergo. Casually referencing faux-exhaustion during midterms actually reduces the experience of students who are truly struggling to earn a passing grade.
I am particularly struck by the fact that most of my peers who adopt this mode of struggle-speech—who post memes on social media with the caption “me during midterm season”—are affluent white people. Now, there is absolutely no doubt that affluent white people experience the stresses of Yale in very real ways. That said, I would argue that many of them do not struggle here with the fundamental exhaustion they claim to bear. That profound exhaustion might be saved for those struggling with mental illness, those who must work 12 hours a week in order to contribute to financial aid, those who exist as a black body in an institution built upon the insidious power of whiteness.
In this way, the same learned behavior of blindly following the current campus opinion that fosters this unwarranted ambivalence toward Bass is also deeply careless. In this way, too, the way that we speak to each other around campus, the way we post on social media, the way we joke around in our quotidian existence, truly matters. For it is in these moments that we vocally—albeit casually—construct our modes of understanding collective experience. In these moments, too, we may unwittingly erase the experiences of our peers.
Of course, we should make our own mistakes and cultivate our own avenues of joy—you should hate Bass if you hate Bass. But hate it because it’s dark and underground, not because everyone else does. Blindly hating Bass is the exact mode of collective behavior that inspires an insensitive language of shared struggle. And if I’m sure of anything, it’s that we do not all struggle here in the same ways. And so we should be mindful of this reality even when it feels insignificant—even when we’re just making a joke to a friend descending those Cross Campus steps.