Grad students need a safe place to live

I used to think that Yale Law School desperately needed a dormitory abuzz with the dormant commerce clause, the Third Amendment and juicy gossip — the dormitory I lived in during my first year. I missed that place, and I wanted it back. But today, after the rash of muggings in New Haven, now including three of my classmates, I would settle for Yale housing that I feel safe walking home to at 8 p.m.

Yale’s graduate housing is pathetic. We have four graduate dorms: one built in 1932 that has “really never been renovated,” another built in 1958 in similarly bad shape, and two tiny, equally problematic dormitories on Prospect Street. There is a waiting list for dorm space. We also have graduate apartments, 60 open each year. This waiting list is even worse.

My dormitory is “famously suboptimal,” as one of my neighbors said. There have been two muggings one block from home; I have seen a police patrol once. But the dorms have even more problems: burning hot exposed pipes, leaky radiators, toxic carbon monoxide levels, falling plaster, flooding. Still, I was lucky to get a dorm room at all. Yale grad housing comprises 400 dorm rooms, Medical School accommodations for a few hundred, and 204 apartments — for 6,040 graduate students.

Compare this to Harvard, which has four dormitories for law students alone and guarantees all first-year Harvard graduate students housing. Stanford places 89 percent of graduate applicants in university housing, and Stanford Law School is building a $100 million dorm to handle law school housing demand.

As the Stanford Law housing benefactor said, “If you build really good housing next door to the Law School, it will be a huge advantage for Stanford … The students will educate each other.” With the notable exception of the Medical School, Yale didn’t think of that. In fact, Yale Law School has effectively shut down its dormitory, despite expensive renovations in the ’90s. Starting in 2003, the school decreased the number of rooms by one-third every year and now only has a few dozen left. My old law dorm is now an office.

The law dorm just seemed to silently vanish. No one made official statements; no one fought back; no one talked about the future. Worse, no one seems to know or care about what is going on. The information for incoming law students barely mentioned University housing. Yale Law School has released no plans. I’m still not sure whether there is a plan at all.

I don’t know much about the undergraduate construction plans, but it is clear driving down York Street that they are more extensive than the nonexistent graduate housing plans. Even Swing Space, configured for grad students, is dedicated to undergraduates. Graduate students are the ones getting mugged walking home because we have no campus housing, and there are no plans to build more. We don’t even have the choice to live somewhere safe. Yale is, however, building a new parking garage.

I cringe every time I hear the term for where I lived last year, the “grad ghetto.” When talking to admitted grad students, you laugh this term off, and you say it’s not that bad. This is a lie. Even if it were safe, as it once was, it never felt it. And it would still be dingy, run-down and falling apart. Be careful, you can’t run the hair dryer and the space heater, and you have to jiggle that light switch. Ever met anyone in the grad ghetto who is proud of their apartment?

A world-class university should be ashamed of this housing. Housing is critical to building a graduate community, and Yale’s graduate students deserve better than this. Make no mistake, all of Yale’s competitors have better graduate housing. New Haven’s crime wave will not exactly be the thing that drives grad students away. Yale’s rough and ready response, lack of planning, and disregard for our community will. Graduate students have been waiting since 1958. We need housing.

Rebecca Bolin is a third-year student at the Law School.