NEWS’ VIEW: Our masters need to make up for the loss of crests

Caring deeply about our new dining hall plates seems petty. They are generic, but they will cut down on both food waste and theft. Still, we cannot warm up to them. We look at the new white china and miss the distinct college identities the old plates carried. But we’re also unsure what those identities mean to us.

Our colleges should be more than just places where we turn in our schedules each semester. We just don’t know exactly what that more is. Colleges are our first support systems and our last stops at Commencement; they are concrete reasons why we are better than Harvard. But they should not be the only part of life at Yale, or even the most important part.

Students have questioned the exact role of colleges since the buildings were built. Archibald Foord ’37, whose graduating class was the first to live with colleges for all four years, praised the new residences in his class book for becoming “much more than a dormitory unit.” But even then, he wrote that some colleges gained reputations for being better than others.

Pictures and stories about college shows, clubs and activities fill class books from the next few decades. Intramural teams with real rosters garnered almost as much attention as varsity sports. But in a survey in the class book, 47 percent of members of the class of 1955 still said they would prefer “a more developed college plan.”

Colleges have some inherent advantages over other other organizations on campus. They are the only groups we fall into randomly. Foord wrote in 1937 that colleges put us all on equal footing. They really are microcosms of the school as a whole.

But there is no prescribed way for a college to make a mark on its students’ lives. From the beginning, masters adopted different strategies. Foord wrote about Berkeley’s “laissez-faire system, under which all spontaneous student activity was supported by the Master.” Davenport hosted weekly beer dinners. Timothy Dwight Master James Grafton Rogers held an annual “‘Plaster Night’ to commemorate the falling of the ceilings when the college first opened and chunks of plaster were distributed at each dinner plate.”

Masters can and should still have enormous sway over college identity. Now that budgets are equalized and jaunts to Italy no longer possible, the personality of each college is left to define it. That begins with the professors who host the Teas.

Veteran masters have done just that in recent memory in Pierson and Branford, among other colleges. But terms are shortening, budgets are shrinking, and masters have less of a chance to sculpt real college spirit. That means that today’s college identities depend on the little things — Stiles’ invasions of other dining halls, Calhoun’s initiation, and the plates.

Some students will gravitate away from their colleges immediately after their arrival on campus. Others will answer those desperate emails from IM captains. All of us are only here for four years. That quick turnover means only institutional memory can preserve the distinct college personalities that make alumni ask us what college we live in.

The plates were institutions that reminded us as freshmen, once the pomp of the first few days had died down, that a college’s embrace is not just a show. Now that they are gone, we need masters and deans to build new quirks elsewhere.


  • The Anti-Yale

    Great idea to get rid of the crests.

    Next should be the gargoyles on Sterling and Harkness.

    In fact, sandblass the whole downtown campus FLAT.

    Ithaca Collge’s new campus named its Dorms 1-10 for the first three years ’63-66. I lived in Dorm 9 freshman year.

    What a great idea for Yale: College 1, College 2, College 3., College 4, etc.

    This will make it easier for [The Bill and Melinda Gradgrind Foundation][1] to enter Yale colleges into our spreadsheets.

    Praise DATA

    from whom all blessing flow

    Praise IT all ye algorhythms

    Here below

    Praise IT above ye heavenly Cloud

    Praise IT all out loud.

    Paul D. Keane for The BAM-G Foundation



  • geez

    Seems a little harsh, there, antiyale, but I suppose you need something to fill the lonely days. I’m grateful, myself, that we finally got some decent sized plates and mugs.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “. . . fill the lonely days”?

    I have a 10-hr. a day job involving hundreds of people and a 3 -hour a night bibliographic research project. ( Plus a house and two acres to maintain.)

    ” FILL” anything is the last thing I need to do.

    EMPTY would be a better course of action .

    Thanks for your concern, however!



  • CX

    Wow this editorial board is really phoning it in now…guess the editors and writers all have midterms.

  • edm2012

    Excuse you, but if a student wants to make the college the most important part of their life here, that should be perfectly fine. To each his own.

  • CX

    Yes because obviously the best way to do that is with big plates with shields on them instead of anything meaningful.