Outreach email sent to J.H.
Howdy Professor Haidt,
You’re my favorite public intellectual, and I think of you as a kind of hero who is trying to save our divided country.
I’ve written a book about student social life at American colleges that you might find interesting. When I was 20 years old, I went on a year-long road trip and lived with college students at 23 of the nation’s most interesting colleges. At each school, I would find one student who would agree to host me and let me write about them. I’d live with them for one week—sleeping on their couch, going with them to class, sitting next to them while they studied, and going with them to parties (where I often participated). The result is the most ambitious and immersive true story about the “college experience" that has ever been written. I lived with young men and women at Ivy League, liberal arts, and state schools; at fraternities and sororities; at religious schools and party schools; and with athletes and art students. Essentially it is a sweeping epic about youth culture that addresses many themes and touches upon many contentious social and political issues. It is supposed to be a fun and exciting travelogue, but I’ve snuck in many important insights that are relevant to your work.
In my book description, I write, “At first glance, it is a story about sex, alcohol, and the college experience; but upon closer inspection, it is a story about the minds of young people and the future of life and culture in America."
I’d love to send you a signed copy in the mail, or an ePub file for Kindle via email, if you’re interested in the book. Just let me know which is easier.
I’m not sure if you’d have time to read the whole book, but there are some specific chapters you might find interesting:
-Chapter 22: UC Berkeley. I spent time at a radical anarchist co-op and attended campus protests. My host later dropped out of the anarchy scene after becoming disillusioned with the movement. His quote: “I thought I was a revolutionary, but maybe I was just a bougie middle-class activist.” Warning: There is also an embarrassing story about a handjob in here (trying to keep readers entertained).
-Chapter 7: University of Tennessee. I accidentally go undercover at a fraternity, pretending I’m a member of the same fraternity from another school. While talking to members, someone asked me, “Are there any black guys in your fraternity?” “No.” “Good. Same here. There’s a half-black legacy who’s rushing and we’re trying to keep him out.” I stay undercover with these guys for the whole weekend.
-Chapter 12: New York University. I split my time between a girl studying finance, and a guy studying history and journalism. They both have opposite views about the economy and money and financial systems, and their worldviews are reflected in their social lives. She hangs out at expensive night clubs with friends; he drinks cheap beer on his roof alone. In the end I argue that these two students are the two perfect students to have a productive conversation about wealth inequality, but in a school without a traditional campus (NYU), there are few places where that conversation could take place. (Basically both students are in echo-chambers that reinforce their own worldviews.) (The chapter also begins with my host sneaking me to the rooftop of Stern).
-Chapter 18: University of Chicago. In this chapter I write about the intellectual social climate at U Chicago. U Chicago was the only campus I visited where students would talk about their classes while at parties. Here, learning was considered fun, and students had intellectual discussions for fun. I praise U Chicago for this, and the chapter ends with a long essay that encourages high schoolers to take gap years (that might last not just one, but 3-5 years). I come to the Gap Year argument from a different perspective than you. My argument is that an adolescent who is searching for identity needs to take time to explore the world and read books before they can decide what they want to study, and that they should only choose a college major after they’ve thoroughly explored the world. Someone who chooses a major that they’re passionate about will lead to them wanting to discuss their education for fun at parties with other classmates who are doing the same. My argument is that all campuses should have intellectual social climates, but most don’t. Your argument for gap years seems more aimed at parents, whereas mine is more aimed at high schoolers. But it’s the same result.
-Chapter 20: Brigham-Young University. This is everyone’s favorite chapter, because Mormon student culture is so interesting and unique. In a book full of stories about sex and alcohol, BYU had neither. Essentially this chapter shows the beauty of wholesome, old-fashioned social values.
Chapter 2: Baylor University. This isn’t specifically related to your work, but you might find it interesting anyway. This tells the story of a student who is studying evolutionary biology, and he’s using his knowledge of fish mating behaviors to change his behaviors with women in regards to sex and dating on campus. I tried to tell a profound story about how an individual’s education affects their worldview.
My book seeks to answer the question, is the “college experience” a necessary part of growing up? Why is college our society’s rite of passage? When I was in high school, I decided that I didn’t want to go to college, and I’ve had to live with the consequences of that decision ever since. Another story that runs through the book is my personal story of immersing myself in student social life as somebody who never went to college. If I can manage to make the book popular, I think it’ll be a valuable addition to the national conversation about the value of college and the meaning of higher education. I come away from the book decidedly pro-college. I think almost everyone should go to college. But I’m still glad that I didn’t go, because my story as an outsider is valuable.
I did the traveling for this book in 2012, which means I’m writing about the youngest of Millennials, and there are no Gen-Z students in this book. That makes my book a little bit dated, but I think I’ve captured the golden age of college. People were -very- free with their speech when I was writing about them, and I think I’ve captured many stories that I would never capture today.
I’m writing you at the very beginning of my marketing efforts. If this email doesn’t interest you right now, I hope that you will hear about my book through another channel some time soon. You can read some chapter excerpts from my website: www.thestudentsyes.com
Take care (from Texas),