William Moffett ’12
There’s a great opening monologue in the otherwise over-rated film Crash (2004), “It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”
I keep this in mind sometimes, especially when I attempt to say hello to someone as we cross paths while walking around campus. With people I don’t know, many won’t reciprocate, most avoid eye contact entirely.
A lot of friends of mine experience this, as well. Why? What sort of symbolic cars do we all hide behind? What types do we fall into that make us afraid or unwilling to look at each other and smile in recognition of a peer (and no, that faint half smirk that we do for acknowledgment doesn’t count)? And yes, I’m going to stereotype, but we all instinctually do it on some level.
One type is that person in so much of a rush that they avoid any contact whatsoever, which I am frequently guilty of. Sometimes I would see people coming down the Long-Walk that I knew well or sort of well as freshmen, but then drifted apart from. I used to get paralyzed with neurosis, not knowing if the bond was still strong enough to say “what’s up” without it being awkward. This was foolish, since saying hi to a stranger or a faded acquaintance is always going to be a little uncomfortable. It inherently goes along with breaking out of a comfort zone.
Going with that, there’s the student that’s always locked-in to his or her cell-phone, frantically texting or checking their Facebook, unable to detach for any kind of real inter-personal attachment.
We’ve seen the athlete that is too focused or exhausted to notice you, being pulled between the shifting dichotomies of student-athlete and athlete-student.
There’s that type of person that just seems to exude an attitude that says, “I’m too important to even take a second or two out of my time to even briefly acknowledge you.” He or she may assess you from toe to neck, but if they don’t agree with what they see, they avoid the head.
Quickly walking past is the marginalized student (from any background not in line with Trin’s conventional “bro” and “bid” milieu) that has become so disillusioned and embittered by an overwhelming sense of systematic oppression, whether real or exaggerated, that they constantly walk with heads down and the risk of unintentionally perpetuating their seclusion.
The “financial-aid” student that is attempting to use education to fulfill the American promise of upward mobility, but is often confronted by students that view Trinity as a “camp” where grades and academic rigor don’t matter because there is ultimately something to fall back on. She or he may develop their own sense of prejudice, where they assume the worst about the status quo and avoid eye contact out of misplaced fear and insecurity.
You walk past that gorgeous girl that won’t look at you because she’s so used to any male attention having some base ulterior motive that it has become easier to assume that every guy is a pervert; and maybe you’re that type that presumes this and doesn’t bother to look to begin with. Maybe you missed a chance to make someone’s day.
This brings me to the broadest and most encompassing type on campus; the person that is so used to no one acknowledging them that they don’t ever expect it, and so never look. Then that person fosters in another person a sense of fear in regard to attempting to reach out, and the cycle of distancing continues.
There’s you, and there’s me. There’s us.
No, this isn’t just a Trinity thing. The most withdrawn campus I have ever experienced was Bard College, NY. Not a single person said hello, in a campus that had the superficial trappings of inclusivity and diversity. Trinity’s a hell of a lot nicer.
I’d bet that if you randomly picked any two people from this campus and locked them in a room together for a few hours, they’d leave as friends (yes, there is a small chance that they may become mortal enemies).
So why do we often still carry around our particular group-thinks while walking across campus? Yes, we have many things that separate us, many broad types that we loosely fit into.
Some differences of opinion are irreconcilable, but that doesn’t mean that each and every one of us is incapable of connecting to another on a basic human level. We may choose the safety of a specific herd, and prefer the company of only certain types of people.
But if we’re unable to even look another person in the eye and acknowledge their presence and show concern for their right to be there at the same time as you, than no bureaucratic change to social and academic policy can fix this place. So please, even if it hurts at first, let’s crash into each other.