Off the Beat: Berkeley's ‘Real World'

Paul would like to thank Sharon and Eileen for taking care of him at Yale. Respond at [email protected].

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NEW HAVEN, Conn.-It's 9:30 p.m. on Friday. I'm sitting on the curb at the corner of High and Elm streets just outside the Yale University campus.

Waiting for a good friend of mine to greet me after spending eight hours on various airplanes (never fly Southwest Airlines to the East Coast), I light up a few cigarettes. A few minutes later, a girl in a red sweater sprints across the narrow street in front of her residence hall and gives me a bearhug. I'm surprised.

I realized she was my friend right after the hug subsided.

"You may want to reconsider hugging me in my present state," I say as I'm sliding my luggage strap over my shoulder. "Some passerby just spit on me."

I'm serious. As I was minding my own business, a young man in a black leather coat and ski cap welcomed me to New Haven by orally hurling a concoction of snot and spit on my coat.

So began my Veterans Day weekend excursion at Yale.

First arriving in New Haven, I had no clue as to the impression Yale would leave on me. My naive expectation was that it would be everything UC Berkeley isn't.

Which is true to a very limited extent. One dining hall at Yale is adorned with paintings, provides comfortable leather chairs and actually serves its students edible food. I was surprised at one point to notice a stuffed moose head randomly hanging from one of the hardwood walls of the dining hall. I also had the privilege to light up a few cigarettes after my meals within 15 feet of Yale's buildings.

I guess the animal rights and anti-smoking activists just don't have too much of a presence at Yale.

But one striking similarity exists between Yale and UC Berkeley-the exorbitant amount of depressed students juggling academics and their own health.

It's enough of a similarity to characterize the two campuses. In that regard, Yale and UC Berkeley are twins.

For some strange reason, UC Berkeley seems to implicitly celebrate this. No, you won't find CalSO counselors and campus administrators trumpeting the prospect of clinical depression to incoming students.

Instead, we call it the "real world." Most students and administrators cite this as one of UC Berkeley's greatest strengths, something that instills in students a sense of self-reliance.

I find it to be more of an excuse.

It's an excuse for the lack of services the university offers aside from academic opportunities. UC Berkeley admits students, sets them up in lackluster residence halls for a year and thrusts them into a fast-paced learning environment.

Oh, and if students encounter any trouble along the way, they're left to search for small offices on the corners of the campus with handfuls of counselors expected to adequately serve UC Berkeley's 32,000 students.

I guess this is supposed to be the "real world" UC Berkeley treasures so much.

By contrast, most other colleges, including Yale, take the more sensible approach-they address Berkeley's "real world" as a problem.

As I sat in the Hartford, Conn. airport Tuesday waiting to board my plane coming home, I came to the dismal conclusion that UC Berkeley prides itself on making students' lives unnecessarily hard. Not just in academics, but in expecting them to adjust to a life and town that's hostile to any sort of normalcy.

Sure, students here should grow and learn to become part of the "real world," whatever that may be. But they might need some assistance along the way, especially in an environment so conducive to disillusion and depression.

It's an issue I have too much experience with and one UC Berkeley bookkeepers seem to regard as auxiliary. Frankly, I'm I'm tired of it.


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