Residential colleges cultivate solidarity

In just a few months, members of the Class of 2008 will receive envelopes containing letters glorifying their newly-assigned residential colleges. Forget bulldogs — welcome, new Morsels, Saybrugians and others.

When freshmen first set foot on campus, they may not care whether their college “sux” or has a cheer too full of expletives to print. But the other members of college communities teach the uninitiated the ropes — true to form, each college proceeds in its own way.

The residential college system, implemented in the 1930s and derived from a long-standing tradition among many English universities, is intended to foster “spirit and allegiance” among small communities. College unity begins with the efforts of freshman counselors, who are charged with inculcating in each incoming class a sense of what it means to be a part of a residential college, Calhoun College Master William Sledge said.

“A lot has to do with how well freshman counselors model and articulate how freshmen should participate [in their colleges] and what the residential colleges are,” he said.

To that end, freshman counselors encourage freshmen to eat in their colleges’ dining halls, participate in college councils, compete in intramural sports and attend Master’s Teas and parties, Sledge said.

Sledge said in Calhoun, thanks to the efforts of a “vigorous” college council, unity is promoted through a variety of annual activities. To initiate incoming Calhoun sophomores into residential college life, the class is divided into groups of five who do not know each other well. Each group is then given $20 and a camera and sent out to document a day together, after which the entire class is treated to a slide show to “see what they came up with,” Sledge said.

Sledge said the idea for the activity was borrowed from Berkeley College.

In Trumbull College, spirit “embodies itself” in the large number of student groups the college boasts, Trumbull College Council President Reuben Grinberg ’05 said. These groups include a college literary magazine and a knitting group as well as more common activities, such as the tutoring group TIES and a buttery. All of them, Grinberg said, are “a testament to how strongly people feel about Trumbull.”

But Trumbull faces a difficulty shared by many residential colleges. With the exception of Silliman and Timothy Dwight Colleges, freshmen are housed on Old Campus upon arriving in New Haven, apart from their upperclassmen peers.

Patrick McGill ’06, former Student Activities Committee President of Silliman College, said housing freshmen within their residential college helps develop an “immense amount of college unity” that is not present in colleges whose freshmen dwell in Old Campus.

“All of my best friends are in Silliman,” McGill said. Although he has friends from other residential colleges, he spends most of his time with his fellow “Sillimanders” — as many others in the college do, he said.

Grinberg argued that this kind of integration into residential college life can be achieved in other colleges.

“It just means that we have to do more as upperclassmen to involve the freshmen and to get to know them,” he said.

In Trumbull, both of the buttery managers are freshmen, as are a majority of Student Activities Committee representatives, Grinberg said.

Meghan Kruse ’04, a Morse College freshman counselor, said housing freshmen on Old Campus poses some challenges but also helps counteract the residential college exclusivity that can develop in colleges such as Timothy Dwight and Silliman. Freshmen who live together on Old Campus interact with members of other colleges on a daily basis but are in close proximity to members of their own colleges, uniting them as a class, Kruse said.

Berkeley resident Nicole Lim ’04 said living on Old Campus her freshman year — a year when Berkeleyites were split up between Vanderbilt and McClellan — was a determining factor in shaping her social life. As a result, most of her friends are from outside of Berkeley, she said.

While residential colleges form an integral part of the Yale experience, branching out of the college to which one is assigned should be encouraged, Sledge said.

“Residential college unity isn’t everything,” he said. “It helps build friendships and a sense of community, but it’s important to meet people in other colleges.”

Members of Ezra Stiles study the college’s intramurals board. Many residential colleges try to promote unity through channels other than the usual sports and games.
Lauren Fine
Members of Ezra Stiles study the college’s intramurals board. Many residential colleges try to promote unity through channels other than the usual sports and games.

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