On five nights during the fall of 2007, Yale administrators held open meetings in dining halls and common rooms, asking students what they thought about the addition of two residential colleges. The construction of a 13th and 14th college would be a once-in-a-generation change, and Yale wanted our input — about how to connect them to the rest of campus, about how they should look, even about what they should be named.
But only a handful of students came to the first meeting. A dozen came to the second. In total, fewer than 200 students, out of more than 5,000 undergraduates, ever attended a meeting.
Those who did attend the forums found administrators eager for ideas, and one raised in the Saybrook College Common Room, that the Becton Center should be remodeled as a way to encourage students to walk up Prospect Street, is now a part of the plan.
For this project, and for countless others that would significantly alter Yale — which classes we take, where future students will live and, more fundamentally, how we define a Yale education — we have not raised our voices as loudly as we should have.
In generations past, students were a driving force behind sweeping movements for coeducation and pesky protests to stop skylights from coming to the Cross Campus Library. Sometimes this was productive, and sometimes it wasn’t. But, more importantly, the campus was engaged.
Now, as the University looks to expand its global brand while maintaining its commitment to its neighbors, employees and students, we find students and faculty once again quiet. There seem to be more bloggers on obscure websites in Singapore talking about the proposed partnership between Yale and the National University of Singapore than there are people on this campus talking about the plan. The first faculty forum to discuss this new Yale outpost was attended by just about two dozen professors.
Maybe it’s just that nobody here likes going to forums very much — the public forum held by the committee reviewing Yale’s candidacy for reaccreditation was attended by just a few undergraduates — but, in any event, the apathy on campus reflects poorly on all of us. On Yale administrators for not soliciting input on projects until plans are basically set in stone. On Yale faculty, staff and students for not forcing discussion on issues that matter.
We should know from experience that Yale does not have to work this way. The addition of gender-neutral housing to Yale College was largely driven by student input and is proof that we can change this place. The debate over the rightful ownership of Peruvian artifacts currently in Yale’s possession has been energized by a book written by Christopher Heaney ’03. The Yale Police Department has been much more forthcoming with information about local crimes since we editorialized in this space and called for such a change.
Still, we all can do more. Students have the opportunity to shape the direction of Yale and New Haven on so many levels. Whether we use our time here to tutor in public schools, study ornithology or edit the News, let us use our time to speak up and help make Yale stronger.