I Used to Hang Out with the Smelly Kid at Yale. Here's How People Treated Him

I grew up in an extremely xenophobic environment. My grandfather, a politician appointed to his position by former strongman Joaquin Balaguer, once scolded me because I asked him why we can't unite the island of Hispaniola, fusing Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

"It's not possible to co-exist with those people, they defecate into pans and throw the feces to the street," he told me.

Growing up, people around me warned me that Haitians were dangerous, that they would put me in a sack and kidnap me to Haiti. The Haitian man was essentially the boogeyman: he smelled bad and he was sketchy and had ill intentions. 

Had I remained in the Dominican Republic, I find it unlikely that those beliefs would have been questioned by anyone, and I would most likely adhere to them today. Fortunately, I went to a predominantly African-American school in the South Bronx and had teachers who exposed me to Malcolm X. When I arrived at Yale, I was certain the world was unfair and that I needed to go out of my way to socialize with marginalized groups; I had Haitian friends. 

Bertrand [not real name] was one of the smartest guys I knew at Yale. His uncle had won a raffle for a computer and a coding manual when he was in elementary school, and by middle school he was already a digital whizz kid. He managed to go from Haitian poverty to a prep school in the American North East based on his raw talent and intellect. He succeeded at prep school, and I met him at Yale freshman year.

I may have been an orphan myself, but I still had a stepmom in the Bronx that I could go to during school holidays. It was a place to eat and sleep, something which Bertrand did not have because his family was back in Haiti; he was alone in the United States.

Bertrand's amazing accomplishments, intellect, and willingness to question everything made him in my opinion the most interesting person at Yale. Everyone else adhered to strict codes of political correctness and speech restraint, so encountering him was always a welcomed respite from the tedium of hearing about the banal, day-to-day problems faced by rich, sheltered people who never opened a newspaper and were too afraid to wander 4 blocks from campus. 

The world is dangerous four blocks from here. © Abreu Report
When you're the smelly kid at Yale, it's tough. I consider myself to have been Bertrand's best friend, but I never had the courage to tell him that he smelled. 

What if he took it bad, what if I put pressure on him to buy what he can't afford? I thought it was tyrannical of me to impose on him the standards of my Dominican nose.

For the 4 years that we hung out, I never mentioned it to him. Neither did anyone else. Political correctness meant that Bertrand's social life was completely crippled for reasons that he could not fully understand, and because I socialized with him, my social life also suffered as a result. 

We entered a frat party once and immediately this kid just says, "fuck!" and walks out of the living room. We walked around and people simply did not acknowledge his existence, and they gave ignored me because I was with him. Everyone completely marginalized him, never daring to tell him that they didn't want him around because he smelled. 

I could have easily cut off contact with Bertrand and my social life would have had a boost, but I knew that I would rather hang out with him because he was always honest, and would point out a problem if he saw it, something that others would never dare to do.

Bertrand and I don't keep in touch anymore, and I don't blame him. I also wouldn't want to be friends with someone who was blatantly aware of a problem and was too afraid to point it out: such a person is less a friend and more just an acquaintance, which is what I felt all the relationships at Yale were.

Today, living in a small Dutch city, and having reached the age where I no longer feel the need to go to bars or meet new people, I doubt I'll ever have another working-class, smelly friend; I can't even recall the last time I saw a homeless person here.

Yale left me with the feeling that people are inherently dishonest and evasive. They don't want certain types of people around them, but they would never admit it. As a result, I can't say that I really see anyone from my time as an undergraduate there as being my friend.

Instead of assimilating into American culture and becoming a successful professional in New York City, as my family there expected of me, I instead withdrew because I knew that a people who could not tell the truth to someone they didn't want around them were inherently dangerous. I knew that such a culture would eventually provide the necessary breeding grounds for the rise of a demagogue who hides his true intentions