Student groups left out in the cold

With residential college masters making it more difficult to sign out common rooms, student organizations are struggling to find places to hold their regular meetings and rehearsals.

The Branford and Davenport residential college councils and masters changed their policies regarding the use of common rooms by student organizations this fall, with Davenport regulating the practice and Branford outlawing it all together. As a result, students said some organizations have been left “squatting” illegally in common rooms, or searching for a new place to gather.

Steven Smith, master of Branford College, said he decided to ban student organizations from using Branford’s common room for regular weekly meetings this year. He added that this space has been very popular among student groups in the past, and that several organizations had to be turned away at the start of the school year.

“We would ask students to clean up after themselves, but they just don’t do this,” he said.

Council of Masters Chair and Calhoun Master Jonathan Holloway GRD ’95 said that many residential college masters have grown tired of the poor treatment of their common rooms, adding that the costs associated with repairing broken furniture or ruined flooring are often very high.

One of the groups that was turned away from the Branford common room was the Yale Democrats. When the organization was forbidden from holding its meetings there, Ben Stango ’11, its president, said he decided to rent a room in Dwight Hall instead. Since the Yale Democrats are not a Dwight Hall member, they had to pay to rent the room, Stango said. He added that this would not be feasible for a smaller organization with less funding. The dynamic of the group’s meetings has changed, he said, as people now linger less afterwards than when meetings were held in the Branford common room.

Maura Kelly GRD ’86, an administrative assistant at Dwight Hall, said that roughly 20 Dwight Hall members and ten non-members hold weekly meetings there. While members may book Dwight Hall rooms at no charge, the fees for non-members are between $30 and $45 an hour, $150 for a time slot for a semester or $250 a year.

Stango said that often classrooms, though available for group meetings, are not adequate for the types of events that political groups host, such as forums with speakers from outside the Yale community.

“This is an issue that the [Yale College Council] needs to address,” Stango said of the shortage of meeting spaces.

Jeff Gordon ’12, president of the YCC, said the YCC has looked into the issue of fees for the rental of performance spaces, but that they have not examined the issue of rentals for meetings and rehearsals. He added that the YCC could target this issue in the future. Chris LoPresti ’12, chair of the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee, said the UOFC has not been approached about the issue of funding for room rentals.

Nate Zelinsky ’13, co-chair of the Davenport Student Activities Committee, said that his college’s council decided to ask groups to go through the college master and council to sign out the common room. He said he thinks the policy changes have popularized the use of the Davenport common room, as groups are now more aware about how to reserve this space. But Tom James ‘12, the pitchpipe for the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus a cappella group, said his group was banned from the space because they are too loud.

The decision to change Davenport’s policies has come as a result of the close proximity of the common room to the library, which is just one floor above, Zelinsky said.

“We wanted to make sure that Davenport would be as much of a home as possible for Davenport students,” Zelinsky said. “[The policy changes] are purely a result of the way Davenport is physically structured.”

While some colleges have outlawed student groups, others, like Berkeley and Timothy Dwight, still allow them to use their common rooms. Holloway said there is no universal regulation when it comes to gathering in these spots. He added that he sympathizes with the struggle many student groups have to endure to find places on campus in which to meet or rehearse, given the high demand for space.

Stephanie Seller ’12, chair of the Yale Liberal Party, said while her group is a Dwight Hall member, some political groups “squat” in common rooms without asking permission if they are unable to find another space in which to meet.

Registered undergraduate organizations can book classrooms in buildings such as William L. Harkness Hall free of charge.

James said that his group has relocated to WLH, and three other a cappella groups interviewed said they hold weekly rehearsals in classrooms there, as well. While the SOBs and Out of the Blue do not formally book rooms through the registrar’s office, the Baker’s Dozen and the Duke’s Men do.

President of the Yale International Relations Association Teddy Collins ’13 said his group books classrooms for meetings in both WLH and Linsly-Chittenden Hall on a weekly basis, and holds its Model United Nations conferences in those buildings, adding that YIRA is looking into renting out office space off-campus for meetings and storage.

Karen Ramos, a senior administrative assistant at the registrar’s office, said that roughly 60 student organizations hold weekly classroom bookings in WLH, LC and the Hall of Graduate Studies, and 25 groups book rooms “once in a while.” All bookings are free of charge, except when groups hold events for guests from outside the Yale community.

There are roughly 300 registered undergraduate organizations at Yale.

Sam Greenberg contributed reporting.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    Charge a deposit, to be returned if clean-up is not necessary.

  • alstempel

    This is actually a fairly serious problem, and it’s been getting worse for several years. When I was a freshman, college common rooms and lounges were generally fair game for meetings, and for the most part everything went fine. Occasionally a few bad apples left trash or something, but people got a lot of good use out of the rooms. Increasingly, as colleges get renovated, they prohibit the use of their space, and college masters have no incentive whatsoever to allow use–they don’t gain anything, and they run the risk of something getting damaged. This results in groups all having to scramble for the same spaces, driving meetings off-campus or underground, and in very nice rooms going completely unused. I would much appreciate if the YCC or the Council of Masters were to address this in some way, given that the fabled “third building” of the new colleges seems years down the road, if it is to exist at all.