The Yaliens Among Us

yalefinal2 The Yaliens Among UsNOT LONG AGO, at a party on the Lower East Side, a young man decided to play a trick on a girl he had only just met. A mutual friend had introduced them. He asked her where she had gone to school.

The answer was “Yale.”

“He was like, ‘Whoa, what was that like?’” the girl said recently, explaining that people always do this to her, and that she always tries to be matter-of-fact about it. “I was like, ‘Oh, you know, college! It was fun! Because what was I going to say?”

Just for fun, the man, who had also attended Yale, pretended he had gone to the university’s arch-rival, Harvard. “He asked me what house I was in,” said the girl, referring to Harvard’s residential living arrangements. “And I said, ‘Oh, actually, Yale has a college system …”

“Ah, interesting …” the young man said.

“Then, when he left,” the girl recalled, “his friend came and was like, ‘He was totally fucking with you! He was class of ’98.’”

Oh, Yalies: your sense of absurdity; your frank, open expression; your romantic innocence! As graduates of Ivy League colleges prepare en masse to descend on Manhattan for summer internships, it is worth noting the special quirks of the Yalie—the Yalien—a foreign creature characterized by a set of elusive, contradictory traits that separate him from everyone else clawing for power in this city.

It is hard to study him, however, because—unlike Harvardians—Yaliens do not gather in power hives like The New York Times or Saturday Night Live. Rather, they spread themselves across the city: galleries, law firms, and—hey, here’s one, Lorin Stein, new editor in chief of The Paris Review.

On the phone from his offices the other day, Mr. Stein (class of ’95) wistfully recalled his days running with the Yale off-campus crowd—by his description, a group of uncommonly intense and creatively inclined undergrads who ate meals and drank with grad students and professors, and who saw each other all the time and partied together.

“There was a sense that the institution made room for freaks,” Mr. Stein said. “It was a place where there were bars and cafes where you’d bump into people you really looked up to and wanted to learn from. There was a lot of self-directed reading going on. My friends were the kinds of people who often cut classes but took reading very seriously.” Then he came out with it: “New Haven was my idea of New York.” 

‘SOMETHING A LITTLE OFF’

According to the last printed Yale Alumni Directory, there were more than 10,000 Yale graduates living in Manhattan in 2004, and just over 2,000 in Brooklyn. Of course, that includes graduates of the graduate and professional schools in addition to those of the college, but still: per Robert Weil, the editor from W.W. Norton who kindly provided these figures, the number of Yale affiliates in Manhattan and Brooklyn would be roughly equal to almost 10 full undergraduate classes.

There is a notion among Yaliens—the nonnative New Yorkers among them, at least—that the city is owned by them. They covet ownership of it when they arrive, eyeing with frustrated envy the graduates of Columbia and N.Y.U. in their midst who have already been here for four years.

“They’ll throw around names of places in a way Harvard kids don’t,” one Columbia student complained. “They’ll say, ‘I’m at Botanica,’ even if they don’t know if you, someone who goes to school here, know what Botanica is, whereas I think Harvard kids would say, ‘I’m at a bar in Soho. It’s called Botanica.’”

Even when they grow out of that awkward phase, Yaliens in New York continue to have a unique relationship to their city. Part of the problem is that some of them actually do see it as their city.

“New York is Yale’s backyard,” said Richard Bradley, the magazine journalist who graduated from Yale in 1986 and went on to write a book about Harvard. “It’s something you take for granted—you’re fish, so you swim in the ocean.”

Mr. Bradley’s classmate, Slate editor Jacob Weisberg, was more specific but no less clear. “I mean, Williamsburg is sort of the Yale campus without the classes, right?” he said. “Brooklyn’s where Yale graduates belong; Washington is more where Harvard graduates belong.” Harvard, though it sends many graduates to New York—hello! this reporter among them—does not have the same relationship with New York as Yale—in part for the simple reason that it is much further away (four and a half hours by bus from Boston; one hour and 45 minutes by Metro-North from New Haven).

As Mr. Bradley put it: “The Harvard Club still feels to me like an outpost of another city—like it’s a subsidiary of a company that’s based somewhere else. The Yale Club feels more … I don’t know, Yale and New York always go together. Of course they do.”

Yaliens in New York feel intense loyalty toward one another. Most of them love hanging out together, and prefer it to hanging out with anyone else.

MORE: A Brief Course in Ivy-ology >

On Saturday, April 10, a group of recent college graduates gathered in a sparsely furnished apartment in downtown Brooklyn for a party. TigerBeat posters of Justin Bieber hung ironically on the walls; on the refrigerator, there was a note from the downstairs neighbors complaining about the beer cans in the hallway. People climbed in and out the window to smoke on the fire escape while a couple of friends who came late stood around in the kitchen drinking from a bottle of whiskey they’d bought at the liquor store down the street.