The Hidden Curriculum

This winter was longer than it had any right to be.

It started with the cold that froze my face, the snow that covered the campus, and the hope that every new semester brings. But the cold grew colder, and coldest still on the January day when Luchang Wang took her life.

I wasn’t close to Luchang, but I knew her: we worked together in a small group, aiming to make the world as good as it can get. I regret not being closer to her, because by all accounts, she was a brilliant, amazing friend. I got just a glimpse of it on a ride to Boston, when we ran through our friend Aaron’s Goodreads account. We talked Ayn Rand, and how Atlas Shrugged is my secret crack, and how rapey the Fountainhead is; the ride went by too quickly. The last time I saw her, she came late to our group meeting, but still she came, visibly tired and not entirely there. She jumped to her death from the Golden Gate Bridge four days later.

It wasn’t until her wake in Battell Chapel that I realized how many friends we had in common, how many of my frequented groups she belonged in, how much of who she was I aspired to. The reverberations of her passing went deep: the shockwaves it sent through our community took weeks to calm. They made this winter a winter of discontent.

*

Our anger didn’t replace sadness.

We raged at Yale for not making Luchang’s life just a little easier, in the hope that greater ease would ward off the void and the hopelessness and the pain. We saw incompetence and we were quick to label it systematic, because there was a system and it hurt some of our friends and one of our friends was gone, forever gone, and this was the only thing we could do. Maybe making it a little better for others could quench our rage and heal our hearts.

Maybe.

*

People talk about the hidden curriculum at Ivy League schools.

The theory goes that classes don’t matter as much as the skills you pick up from the elite environment, skills that the state-school riffraff can’t pick up because state schools are not the elite tower of pretentious assholes. They don’t wine and dine with the members of the elite, so they’ll never join their ranks.

That might well be true. But perhaps there is another set of lessons I would not have picked up at a Czech university. Namely: How to cope with the suicide of a friend you admired. How to handle the fear that your friends and loved ones might follow suit. How to survive battles with yourself that you only stand to lose.

How to face the void and stare it down.

It helps to realize that elsewhere is fine, too; that even if our lives will never be as good as they are now, they will still be good enough. It helps to realize that even if the top of Yale’s totem pole is hopelessly far, our goals do not require us to reach it. It helps to realize that we have friends, and we can make new ones, and we can fight battles together.

*

Luchang still lingers around the edges of my mind.

Just two days into Spring Break, I was passing through Berkeley’s deserted halls – and as I swiped into the computer cluster, I remembered when Yale Security told us Luchang’s last Yale ID swipe happened days ago, she was not on campus, our search was useless and her fate out of our hands. This will happen less and less, but I doubt it will stop completely.

This wasn’t helped by the fact that I chose to spend my spring break in San Francisco.

Call me stupid, but I honestly hadn’t realized until that moment that that was where the Golden Gate Bridge is. To attend a Harvard-Yale dodgeball trampoline game, I walked two miles with the bridge dominating the skyline as the sun was setting; I almost turned around and skipped the game.

It took me a week to muster the courage to actually go. It felt like I had to; if nothing else, as a form of exposure therapy. Plus, I’d be rewarded by an unprecedented view of the skyline! Except that on the day of, the entire bridge was enveloped in impenetrable fog. I should have known; it has its own Twitter account.

I walked the entire length of the bridge there and back. The fog itself never dissipated; it just made the next “THERE IS HOPE, MAKE THE CALL” crisis counseling sign on every other pylon pop out of nowhere.

In the end, I emerged out of the fog into the sunny San Francisco. I’m not sure if the trip was worth it.

*

It is the end of March, two months later now. Spring has come to campus, wavering, uncertain, frail. The snow melts into puddles and the puddles seep into the ground and soon, we’ll put the coats and scarves away. Spring has come.

But this winter still marches on.

The Hidden Curriculum