For professors and grad students, access denied

At a place like Yale, you’re likely to learn something new every day. Though I have spent three years at Yale, today I realized a very simple aspect of Yale policy that came as a shock: Neither graduate school students nor faculty members have key-card access to the residential colleges, unless they are associated with a particular college. For example, while the minor inconvenience of not having access to the back door at the Law School has always been bothersome to me, the idea that the graduate and faculty communities face these closed doors all over the campus is surprising. Some are former undergraduates, barred from their former homes; others, living off campus, hardly know the residential colleges exist.

At first, I could not conceive of a reason for this separation. Why, with so many interesting people at different stages in their academic and professional careers, would the University choose to isolate each group by stage?

To compartmentalize the incredible diversity that the University prides itself on is to lose one of the most profound benefits of that diversity: the creation of a community that allows for the exchange of ideas across fields and specializations, generations and lifestyles. How much more Yalies of each stage could benefit from this exchange if it occurred naturally, in the dining halls, courtyards and common rooms, without the hindrances of iron bars!

Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world where the benefits of integration come face to face with potential litigation. Critical thought about universal access reveals that there are, in fact, liability issues involved. It seems ridiculous to imagine a philosophy grad student, a first-year law student or (goodness gracious!) a professor surreptitiously sneaking into a courtyard to steal someone’s computer or to beat up an unsuspecting undergraduate. However, giving more access to more people does increase the risk that one of those people might use their newfound freedom for ill. There have been issues in the past and at other universities of people being where they should not be for the wrong reasons.

Nevertheless, I would like to call this issue to the attention of the University’s administration and wider community — insofar as that community is currently able to exist. It is possible that, if allowed access to the colleges, most graduate students and professors would maintain the same relative distance and dissociation. Then again, the opportunity for more widespread and substantial intellectual and social interaction — as well as the sheer convenience of being able to pass through a residential college — might coax the shier sort of person out of her or his academic or professional field’s shell. We would be even more secure than we are now if we were to put Yale on total lockdown, to restrict key-card access for undergraduates to their own main college gates and only those classes for which they have registered. But the cost of this added safety for the undergraduate experience and sense of community is obvious. And by extension, it would seem unreasonable for Yale to restrict graduate students and faculty to “their space,” quietly banning them from the public residential college areas.

In a place like Yale, you’re likely to meet someone new – likely drawn from your own academic field or extracurricular interest – every day, unless, of course, you happen to meet someone from “outside” your regular circle over an informal dinner conversation, a game of chess or Frisbee in a courtyard or another random occasion. And these unexpected meetings can result in some of the most interesting interactions in life, and in lasting friendships.

For all of the fascinating graduate students and professors I have had the opportunity to meet, I wonder how many more amazing Yalies there are outside of my major, my residential college and Yale College who I will never see or with whom I will never speak.

Are we so afraid that an older Bulldog will behave perniciously toward undergraduates that we are willing to sacrifice the potential benefits of shared public spaces? If residential college courtyards, dining halls and other common areas are so dangerous, why not increase the presence of security personnel? It seems that Yale could resolve potential security risks in this manner, preserving the safety and privacy of undergraduates while promoting a more welcoming campus and a greater sense of community.

Synonyms for “diverse” include “different” as well as “separate,” but our differences need not entail our division. A variety of people claim the University now benefits from small communities, but we lose much in our separation, in the physical boundaries that prevent those communities from interacting. I think key-card access to the public spaces in residential colleges for graduate students and professors would profoundly benefit Yale University, and I look forward to hearing further thoughts on this proposed policy change.

Meredith Williams is a junior in Silliman College.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    Ditto for alumni, despite the added risk of even more people with access. I had the privilege of attending Yale when all gates were open, and so were entryway doors. Although it's true I had a few wallets stolen (we did not have computers then, or cell phones), I honestly feel the openness was better than all the locked gates and doors. I've suggested time-limited access for alumni, for just the duration of a campus visit, to no avail. Such a clever system would not be needed for students and faculty who are on campus all year long - they should certainly have key-card access.

    YC72SM

  • Anonymous

    Ditto for alumni, despite the added risk of even more people with access. I had the privilege of attending Yale when all gates were open, and so were entryway doors. Although it's true I had a few wallets stolen (we did not have computers then, or cell phones), I honestly feel the openness was better than all the locked gates and doors. I've suggested time-limited access for alumni, for just the duration of a campus visit, to no avail. Such a clever system would not be needed for students and faculty who are on campus all year long - they should certainly have key-card access.

    YC72SM

  • Anonymous

    It's not just that grad students are denied access to the public spaces. Even if we have a specific reason to be in the college, we can't get in. I had a class last semester that met in a residential college, and every week I had to wait outside for an undergraduate to let me in.

  • Anonymous

    It's not just that grad students are denied access to the public spaces. Even if we have a specific reason to be in the college, we can't get in. I had a class last semester that met in a residential college, and every week I had to wait outside for an undergraduate to let me in.

  • Anonymous

    In addition, Graduate students living in HGS and on a meal plan are not allowed access to the colleges on weekends, when the HGS dining hall is closed. This forces Graduate students to wait outside the gates and sneak in when an undergrad opens the gates. When weather conditions are poor, this certainly is not a good system. At least this policy should be revised!

  • Anonymous

    In addition, Graduate students living in HGS and on a meal plan are not allowed access to the colleges on weekends, when the HGS dining hall is closed. This forces Graduate students to wait outside the gates and sneak in when an undergrad opens the gates. When weather conditions are poor, this certainly is not a good system. At least this policy should be revised!

  • Townie

    Employees (c&t, M&P) don't have access either. Get over it.

  • Townie

    Employees (c&t, M&P) don't have access either. Get over it.

  • Jon

    Also, not having access to the college courtyards forces me (a grad student) to walk on the mean streets at night. If I had access to the courtyards I could safely cut through them on my way home, which would make my walk home 90% less scary.

  • Jon

    Also, not having access to the college courtyards forces me (a grad student) to walk on the mean streets at night. If I had access to the courtyards I could safely cut through them on my way home, which would make my walk home 90% less scary.

  • Jr. Faculty

    I just started teaching here this fall and had a class that met in a residential college. If only I knew that all or most of us professors are barred from entering. I thought it was a faulty keycard or something. I had to wait for a student to open the gate every Monday- hmprh! Perhaps the policy should be revisited.

  • Jr. Faculty

    I just started teaching here this fall and had a class that met in a residential college. If only I knew that all or most of us professors are barred from entering. I thought it was a faulty keycard or something. I had to wait for a student to open the gate every Monday- hmprh! Perhaps the policy should be revisited.

  • Anonymous

    Apparently, the reason behind this policy is that several years ago, when graduate students at the very least (i'm not sure about professors) had open access to college courtyards, there was an incident of voyeurism where a grad student was caught watching undergrads while they shower. Since that time, grad students have not been allowed in college courtyards.

  • Anonymous

    Apparently, the reason behind this policy is that several years ago, when graduate students at the very least (i'm not sure about professors) had open access to college courtyards, there was an incident of voyeurism where a grad student was caught watching undergrads while they shower. Since that time, grad students have not been allowed in college courtyards.

  • John Calhoun

    Restricted access increases the likelihood that those with no business in the college are easy to identify. The risks associated with creepy strangers far outweigh the inconveniences associated with having to wait a minute or two for someone to go through a gate.

  • John Calhoun

    Restricted access increases the likelihood that those with no business in the college are easy to identify. The risks associated with creepy strangers far outweigh the inconveniences associated with having to wait a minute or two for someone to go through a gate.

  • anon

    12.33pm: you're mixing up two stories, and making it seem like this was once a privilege that got taken away because grad students couldn't be trusted! The incident I presume you're referring to took place in Jan 2006 (the accused was Rodney Chan GRD '09), and graduate students haven't had access to residential colleges since at least 2003.

  • anon

    12.33pm: you're mixing up two stories, and making it seem like this was once a privilege that got taken away because grad students couldn't be trusted! The incident I presume you're referring to took place in Jan 2006 (the accused was Rodney Chan GRD '09), and graduate students haven't had access to residential colleges since at least 2003.

  • Anonymous

    I'd heard of the voyeurism issue as well. Still, if the sole fear is that a pervert might sneak into a bathroom, this situation is possible even without key card
    access for either an undergraduate or for a clever and patient creep. If this situation is the issue, then something needs to be changed with bathroom security, but blocking everyone from public spaces seems extreme. Someone using his or her own key card gets tracked centrally, so if criminals would borrow someone else's ID card to avoid suspicion anyway, what's the point of restricting all of the "good guys"?

    As to employees not having access (Townie), I don't think that they should get over it either if it impairs their ability to perform their jobs. The restriction cannot fully prevent another voyeurism incident, but evidently it blocks thousands of students, faculty, and staff every day from doing their jobs. Restricted access strikes me as well-intentioned in part, but what it achieves is minimal compared to the unwelcoming and simply unprofessional atmosphere it creates on what should be "our" Yale campus.

  • Anonymous

    I'd heard of the voyeurism issue as well. Still, if the sole fear is that a pervert might sneak into a bathroom, this situation is possible even without key card
    access for either an undergraduate or for a clever and patient creep. If this situation is the issue, then something needs to be changed with bathroom security, but blocking everyone from public spaces seems extreme. Someone using his or her own key card gets tracked centrally, so if criminals would borrow someone else's ID card to avoid suspicion anyway, what's the point of restricting all of the "good guys"?

    As to employees not having access (Townie), I don't think that they should get over it either if it impairs their ability to perform their jobs. The restriction cannot fully prevent another voyeurism incident, but evidently it blocks thousands of students, faculty, and staff every day from doing their jobs. Restricted access strikes me as well-intentioned in part, but what it achieves is minimal compared to the unwelcoming and simply unprofessional atmosphere it creates on what should be "our" Yale campus.

  • Anonymous

    I'd heard of the voyeurism issue as well. Still, if the sole fear is that a pervert might sneak into a bathroom, this situation is possible even without key card
    access for either an undergraduate or for a clever and patient creep. If this situation is the issue, then something needs to be changed with bathroom security, but blocking everyone from public spaces seems extreme. Someone using his or her own key card gets tracked centrally, so if criminals would borrow someone else's ID card to avoid suspicion anyway, what's the point of restricting all of the "good guys"?

    As to employees not having access (Townie), I don't think that they should get over it either if it impairs their ability to perform their jobs. The restriction cannot fully prevent another voyeurism incident, but evidently it blocks thousands of students, faculty, and staff every day from doing their jobs. Restricted access strikes me as well-intentioned in part, but what it achieves is minimal compared to the unwelcoming and simply unprofessional atmosphere it creates on what should be "our" Yale campus.

  • Anonymous

    I'd heard of the voyeurism issue as well. Still, if the sole fear is that a pervert might sneak into a bathroom, this situation is possible even without key card
    access for either an undergraduate or for a clever and patient creep. If this situation is the issue, then something needs to be changed with bathroom security, but blocking everyone from public spaces seems extreme. Someone using his or her own key card gets tracked centrally, so if criminals would borrow someone else's ID card to avoid suspicion anyway, what's the point of restricting all of the "good guys"?

    As to employees not having access (Townie), I don't think that they should get over it either if it impairs their ability to perform their jobs. The restriction cannot fully prevent another voyeurism incident, but evidently it blocks thousands of students, faculty, and staff every day from doing their jobs. Restricted access strikes me as well-intentioned in part, but what it achieves is minimal compared to the unwelcoming and simply unprofessional atmosphere it creates on what should be "our" Yale campus.

  • Victor

    The university gives professors the privilege to dine in dinning halls in residential colleges but does not grant them card access. It is a strange policy.

  • Law Student

    This piece is spot on. It's tough to feel included-- much less participate-- in the broader campus community when you're locked out of most of the public spaces. Like many law students, my interaction with the rest of the university is generally limited to walking past buildings and courtyards I've never entered on the way to and from the law school. That, and trips to the gym and the occasional stop at one of the other campus libraries. Granted, there are formal-- though restricted-- ways to get involved in the colleges as affiliates, etc. But part of community is having a shared sense of space and informal interaction. If the university is worried about voyeurism or abuse of access privileges there are better ways to deal with those problems than a total lock out-- guards, time restrictions on access, etc.

  • GED

    Most universities have access restrictions for faculty and grad students to undergrad housing. Liability issues are endless. When you consider the ramifications of professors and T/A's being in the dorms with undergrads, hellooo lawsuit. The residential colleges are not public spaces. Yale allows access to spaces you need to be in on a regular basis. How about opening professor/faculty areas, offices and grad housing to undergrads at anytime? Open the various grad school facilities to everyone? Basically access has to be controlled in a reasonable manner. If you have to be in there and have a good reason, you can get access.

  • Science Prof.

    Excellent opinion piece, Meredith…thank you for raising the issue!

    Several faculty have raised this issue before with the administration, to no avail. The barrier appears to be the Council of Masters…they control the access. If undergrads disagree with this access policy, they should raise the issue with their own Master.

    The fact that faculty are welcome for lunch, but they can't let themselves in, has other consequences for the undergraduates. For example, to save precious time, faculty tend to stick to the closest college (Silliman, for those on Science Hill) because of the unknown delay caused by the wait to be let in. In addition, to increase the odds that a student will come to the gate, faculty go to the colleges at the crunch times, which only increases the peak lunch lines.

    I have had many productive discussions with my students outside of class, in the dining hall. Why should this informal access to Profs be limited to students from Silliman?

    If access to all colleges is granted (at least during lunch), faculty would go to a larger number of colleges over a wider period of time. This will be better for everybody.

    Finally, there is currently no record of who all of those 'older people' are who are let in by undergrads. Security will be improved if you have an electronic record of who entered, using key cards.

    Open the gates!

  • RR

    Dear #13: the article is only requesting access to the courtyards. Nobody is even insinuating that Grad Students' cards get them into the dorms themselves!

  • Anonymous

    So as a chemistry grad student, Yale has no qualms making me responsible for the safety of all the undergrads in the lab I TA. But I can’t be trusted with access to undergrad courtyards on weekends to use the HGS mealplan I am required to buy because I can’t be trusted. Makes sense.

  • Anonymous

    In response to #13, undergrads do have full access to the graduate school dorms! The main gate to HGS, which then leads to the dorm rooms with no additional gates or locked doors, is open daily from 9am-8pm. Undergrads who want to eat in the HGS dining hall can walk in at lunch and dinner without having to wait for the door to be opened by a resident. Any person walking by can enter and gain direct access to the dorm rooms without any locks, only the lock to the actual bedroom. However, when HGS residents need to eat at other dining halls because HGS dining hall is closed, they must wait for an undergraduate to let them in. Apparently graduate students are not victims of crime.

  • Anonymous

    Bravo!

    As one of the presumptive rapists and thieves affected by this policy, I couldn't agree more.

    One additional issue not mentioned however is the YCC rule that prevents grad students from being involved in "undergraduate" organizations. An undergrad group that dares to allow a grad student to be a member loses its funding. This policy arbitrarily segregates the Yale community, since many if not most organizations have purposes that are no better or worse-suited for grad students than for undergrads.

    P.S. I wonder if they just want to make sure that grad students don't notice that the undergrads do not live in ridiculously substandard housing like we do in HGS.

  • KT

    Rumpus wrote about this way back in the fall

  • Grad and Alum

    Most of my fellow grad students have rarely been inside a college, unless perhaps to get to a professor's office. It's hard for them to understand why students cleave so closely to their colleges, which makes it more difficult for them to understand or to relate to their students.

    I understand the security risks inherent to grad students having access to the colleges. At the same time, though, we often need to get into these colleges for genuine reasons (meetings, lunches, etc.). We're left regularly begging undergrads for access, which can only foster a community where students hold open gates for unfamiliar faces (something railed against in responses to college robberies).

  • Anonymous

    I disagree with all of you.

    Sure I understand the effort many are making to paint a symbolic picture of a campus divided, but let's think practically for a moment. If grad students were to be given access to colleges, how much would they get? Undergraduates can only access the public spaces of the residential colleges that are not their own (so 11 out of 12!) and need to be buzzed in for every other part of the college. Why is this so for undergrads? Security is the first obvious reason. But what underlies a good security infrastructure is a sense of community. Communities are intimate and personal, where after a few months you know the familiar faces and the unfamiliar. This is what a residential college is about: cultivating a sense of camaraderie among Yale's student body, helping to make a population of 5,300 at a massive research institution feel that much more at home and, well, cozy.

    So we give the grad students access to the courtyards. What now? They can swing on the swing in Calhoun? They can now wait like the rest of us to be admitted into the bowels of a college? How much is actually earned there? And if the colleges were to subdivide the entire graduate student population into 12 groups of college affiliates with full access to only one college, would these affiliates actually become full members of one college despite never having lived there? To me, this would dilute the strength of a college's identity, introduce a great number of unfamiliar faces as more people would be coming and going far more frequently, and rob the undergraduates of the residential college experience they applied to Yale to get. The grad students have already been undergrads. Give us a chance to enjoy the four years in peace!

  • Anonymous

    While one issue to consider is safety, security etc. there is another issue completely ignored by this column and the other posts. One of the things that Yale prides itself on and that it advertises on tours and in literature is that high school students are applying to Yale College NOT Yale University. We try to distinguish ourselves from other elite institutions that have graduate schools by putting a major focus on the undergraduate population. By allowing grad student access to the residential colleges you potentially dilute this experience. The courtyards in the residential colleges are meant to foster a community amongst the undergrads. If you want to meet new people outside of the college, there are plenty of people on cross campus or old campus that you can meet. While not having access is an inconvenience to grad students (and the ones who have classes or teach in a residential collge should have access) that is a small price to pay for maintaining the character of the Yale undergraduate experience.

  • Prof.

    As a longtime lecturer here, I feel battered down by this policy, and have not arranged outside meetings with undergrads for some years now.

    Undergrads as the Council knows, rarely come to office hours since they hew so closely to their colleges. Yet there are a few too many barriers that prevent faculty and their grad students from going to the colleges themselves.

  • JS

    It seems that interacting with faculty/graduate students is not appreciated by the undergrads and is not some Yale experience the undergrads want. That's fine. Why don't we just lock the gates to HGS, Law school, Medical school all day long and only grant restricted access for undergrads. We can still enjoy the community as Yale University minus Yale College all together except when we have to TA in common classrooms.

  • Anonymous

    Higher priority: office space for TAs so I don't have to drag students to all sorts of odd, ill-suited places for office hours.

    But that would involve, you know, thinking TA teaching is important, and we know Yale can't stoop to that.

  • John Calhoun

    Graduate students' energies would be better spent making their own community structures more vital. And if a graduate student really wants to be a part of a residential college community, they are ways to pursue that relationship formally. The colleges are not finally here to serve the needs of lonely graduate students.

  • Anonymous

    All of this would be solved if the HGS dining hall would be open on weekends, which it ought to be with the outrageous amount we are charged. But with the unions here you know that will never happen.

  • another prof

    Wow, just wow. I am amazed by the attitude toward graduate students apparently held by some undergraduates. The emphasis on feeling special at the expense of other students is mind-boggling to me.

  • JB

    Wow, this unfounded animosity towards grad students make me wish I were a grad student somewhere else! Someplace where they realize a difference in age of 2 years shouldn't exclude you from all social interaction!

  • Fernando Reyes

    To my fellow undergraduates…

    I'm actually ashamed of you who hold animosity towards graduated students. As a participant in the Yale Anime Society, which openly seeks and accepts graduate students as members of its organization, I can tell you that the friendships that can be built with cross-age relationships is a deep one.

    The idea that graduate students would interrupt the "peace" of an undergraduate education is ridiculous. Let's be serious: we're rather inexperienced, unlearned and noobish in contrast to Yale University graduate students. To say that part of our experience at Yale University should be to ignore those that are more learned and have lived longer, those that can teach us about life and academics in an environment that is warm and inviting, is quite frankly, stupid.

  • BB

    I can't think of a better way to sum up this discussion than an oblique plug for the Yale Anime Society. Good game, everyone!

  • SM 10

    Undergrads can't get into Helen Hadley Hall, which is grad student housing. I would be opposed to allowing grad students free access to undergrad housing areas. The fact that access is restricted serves to discourage them from entering, a policy which I fully support.
    If grad students are meeting students in their colleges, they should have no trouble getting in because, well, they would be with their students. Otherwise, if they have no good business being in our RESIDENTIAL colleges, they should not be encouraged to be in them.
    I agree, let us have our 4 years in peace!

  • Anonymous

    I've been waiting for this, the mentioning of Helen Hadley Hall to counter. If you've ever been inside HHH, you'll know it's a piece of crap that is strictly residential. Why anyone would want to go in there is beyond me. However, residential colleges have classrooms in them and they constitute a large portion of the campus. Tell me how grad students are supposed to meet with students at the colleges if they can't get in? Are the students going to wait outside for their dear old TA to hobble on over and walk inside with them? I think not! I agree with other posters, grad students should have access to the courtyards and common spaces and it should end at that.