On-campus housing for law students dwindles

For Yale Law School students, the days of half-hour naps between classes and midnight sprints to the library are over — at least until 2012.

This academic year, the last remaining dormitories in the Sterling Law Buildings disappeared. On-campus housing for law students has been gradually, but steadily, dwindling for the past several years. Last year, there were only 23 beds, down from 56 in 2004 and 154 in 1994. But not since the Law School complex was built in 1931 — except during renovations in 1999 — have no students lived there.

Students enjoy a meal in the Sterling Law Building dining hall. All of the Law School’s dormitories have been taken over for other purposes.
Blair Benham-Pyle
Students enjoy a meal in the Sterling Law Building dining hall. All of the Law School’s dormitories have been taken over for other purposes.

As the Law School expanded, the dormitories — many of which had fireplaces and 14-foot vaulted ceilings — have been converted into office space for professors, clinics and student organizations, said Kaitlin Thomas, a Law School spokeswoman.

Although most current law students have always lived off campus, the few current students who have called SLB home in the past said the dorms will be missed.

But Law School officials said the scarcity of on-campus options for law students will not be permanent. The Law School is slated to acquire and renovate Swing Space — which currently houses displaced students during Yale’s undergraduate residential-college renovations — as law student housing in 2012, after the residential college renovation cycle is completed.

Law students are also eligible to live in Yale’s on-campus graduate-student housing facilities, such as E.S. Harkness Hall and Hadley Hall. The Law School’s Office of Student Affairs also provides resources to help students find off-campus apartments.

Many students interviewed who had lived on their own between college and law school said they do not long to return to dorm living.

“Shower caddies and sandals in the shower are a thing of the past,” Emily Stirba LAW ’10 said.

But even those who said they prefer to live off-campus said that there should be some on-campus option.

For many students entering law school right after college, like Embry Kidd LAW ’08, spending the first year in a dorm eases the transition. Kidd said he had neither experience living in an apartment nor his own furniture to fill one when he matriculated.

“It was absolutely great for first-years, because the dorms here provided instant community,” he said.

Kidd, who lived in SLB in 2005-’06, said he planned to live there again last year until he found out the dorms were being phased out. So he decided to find an apartment for his remaining two years.

The dorms had faded from the experience of most law students since there were so few, compared to past years when a major segment of the class lived there, Kidd said.

“The dorms used to be really extensive and a lot of alumni found living there a really important part of their experience,” he said. “When they come back, they’re really disappointed.”

Chris Sherman LAW ’09 was also fresh out of college when he moved into the SLB dorms last year. While he said he enjoyed having an automatic community of his classmates, he said more rooms would have been better.

“It didn’t really have that critical mass that it takes to make a community a smashing success,” he said.

Still, Sherman said on-campus housing options were a major consideration when choosing which law school to attend, and he said he was disappointed when he heard the SLB dorms would be gone his second year.

Now Sherman and some other students said they are concerned that the law students’ off-campus diaspora could weaken the sense of community that came naturally to Sherman and Kidd in the SLB dorms.

But meeting classmates is still easy because of the school is so small, Kidd said. Many students also end up living together in off-campus apartment buildings, he added.

And even with no one living there, most law students still spend their evenings at the Law School — and not always marooned in the library, either.

“It’s unusual on an evening at the Law School for something not to be going on,” Thomas said.

On Super Tuesday, for example, students crowded into the lounge to watch election coverage on a big-screen TV. The hallways echoed as passing students stopped to chat with each other. Others lingered with their friends in the dining hall long after the servery closed.

Beside the events regularly hosted by the Law School’s various centers, programs and student organizations, the Office of Student Affairs has made a special effort this year to run more evening programming to bolster the sense of community, including a sushi night, a gelato night, a wine and cheese tasting, faculty teas and a film series.

Comments

  • Joe Ah

    and classrooms are overflowing with newbies arriving every day. Bargain basement teachers are hired from the local Public School system.
    A place the blame rally will be held at the Payne Whitney Gym, Torches will be handed out and the march on the poor will begin at 7

  • Anonymous

    What?