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Lessons in love

It may be true that all you need is love. Still, your typical elite university would probably argue that you need a little (or a lot) of math, chemistry and philosophy thrown in as well. Dominique Youkhehpaz ’11 learned this lesson the hard way when she applied to major in love through the Individually Designed Major program.

Dominique Youkhehpaz '11 answers the question, "Why do you do what you do?" through an art project at Burning Man Decompression in San Francisco.(Courtesy of Dominique Youkhehpaz)

Love is a common aspiration for most students, but it doesn’t seem an intuitive course of study. The idea wedged its way into Youkhehpaz’s mind during the summer before her sophomore year.

“I was thinking about the meaning of life, anticipating ‘The Meaning of Life’ Sophomore College,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “I was listening to the Beatles a lot. I realized that when I rephrased the question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ to ‘What makes life meaningful?’ My answer was clear: love. I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to figuring out what it meant–I decided I want to study love as a means to dedicating my life to learning how to be love.”

Even though she had a clear direction, implementing this plan turned out to be more difficult than she had anticipated.

“When I met with the head of the IDM department, I was all but laughed at when I stated that I wanted to study love at Stanford,” said Youkhehpaz. “The woman I met with told me not even to bother applying; that I had no chance of being accepted. I found it appalling that I wasn’t even encouraged to find a way for Stanford to accommodate or somehow work with my interests; I was flat out rejected.”

After this discouraging experience, Youkhehpaz turned to other major options, floating from department to department. She tried interdisciplinary studies in the humanities, but just as she was about to declare, the entire department was cut for budgetary reasons. Then she switched to feminist studies, but she found that that it didn’t offer her enough flexibility. Finally, she ended up in the anthropology department.

“Switching to anthropology, I had to let go my ego’s desire to graduate from Stanford with the label ‘Love Studies,’” said Youkhehpaz. “Because in the end, that’s what it would have been–just a label. In their current state, Stanford’s infrastructure and departments have no way for me–or anyone–to study love.”

Still, she thinks that assimilating the study of love into a more traditional college curriculum would be immensely beneficial.

“I think that if love were integrated into academia, we would not feel such a disjunction between our personal and professional lives, and they would not have to contradict each other,” she said.

In the world of education, the emotional realm tends to take a backseat. But this divide actually makes very little sense, Youkhehpaz argued.

“People dedicate their entire lives for what they deem an academic cause, becoming chemists, physicists, sociologists, etc.,” she said. “They place an illusory barrier between their personal life and academic/professional life. Perhaps they discover some pioneering idea or technology in their respective field. But at the end of the day, they still have to come home to their family or lack of family, however [dysfunctional].”

The practicality of an education in love extends beyond the personal, though, and into the global sphere.

“There is plenty of space in academia to study what is wrong with the world–in psychology, sociology, international relations, economics, earth systems, human biology,” Youkhehpaz said. “We can easily obtain grants and enroll in classes to study pain, suffering, violence, disease and genocide. But what about what is right with society? What about studying love, and how its lack -or its miscommunication- causes what we seem ‘not to understand’ about society [like] violence, crime, suffering?”

She consents that, at the moment, love as a college major is probably unrealistic.

“There simply aren’t enough classes explicitly related to love, or professors with backgrounds in related subjects, for love to be studied in an academic setting,” she said. “For now.”

But she remains hopeful. She thinks that if anything could serve as “a point of entry for love in academia,” as she puts it, it is anthropology, because of its immense breadth.

“Anthropology envelopes the study of the entire world, the study of the ‘other,’ of anything, really, tied to a culture and a moment in time,” said Youkhehpaz.

Despite her claim that the formal infrastructure to study love at Stanford doesn’t exist, Youkhehpaz seems to have had no dearth of love-related experiences that have furthered her education. She has studied love unofficially by taking the sophomore Introductory Seminar ‘Love as a Force for Social Justice,’ ‘The Meaning of Life,’ ‘Valuescience,’ ‘Liquid Flow,’ ‘Interpersonal Relations,’ ‘Poetry’ and ‘Beginning Improvising.’ In her extracurricular life, she has participated in YES+ and is an active member of Project Love.

And that’s not even to mention her experiences working on organic farms and her six-month-long travels through India, adventures that contributed significantly to her experiential knowledge of love. But whether at school or far from home, her personal mission to study love, even in the face of academic opposition, has changed her life.

“My life has turned upside down and inside out,” she said. “Love is the driving force in all I that am and all that I do.”

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