Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” was not written about graduate students, but it may as well have been. Between years of work, small stipends — or for those lucky folks getting masters’, crushing debt! — boring tomes dusty enough to constitute a choking hazard and, for prospective Ph.D.s, a job market with higher unemployment than Greece’s, Yale’s graduate students could use a break and a friendly gesture. We should give them a few.
First up on the list? Gate access. Whatever purpose the gates of the colleges are meant to accomplish, barring fellow scholars from the residential courtyards is not one of them. (One might even argue that the sheltered nature of the Ivory Tower is undesirable, and we should throw open the gates to everyone — but that’s more contentious and best left for another day.)
All my teaching fellows, classmates and friends who have been graduate students have been perfectly pleasant and very intellectually engaging — and I would certainly not lament seeing them pass by as I walk through my college. The colleges are beautiful spaces to read or study outdoors for most of the year, and, in the winter, who wouldn’t like to take a shortcut or two through the colleges? I can only speak anecdotally, of course — many graduate students may well be psychopaths, not the pleasant intellectuals seeking to read or pass through. (Maybe an interview process for their admission might be a decent idea after all.) But does anyone really think our community is better served or made safer by denying them gate access?
We already let these people into a large part of Yale, including classrooms, labs and administrative offices, and if someone is truly intent on doing serious mischief, gates that are regularly opened by a steady stream of undergraduates at almost all hours of the day — and frequently politely held for passerby — are not a meaningful protective measure.
On the other hand, gate access might facilitate a lot of positive interactions between graduates and the current residential college populations. There are a multitude of Master’s Teas and talks that would interest graduate students and spark ideas for dissertations or other works. Allowing conversations in section to continue in the dining hall would promote the academic passions that all Yalies share, yet we block graduate students there too — even if they have meal plans that allow them access to the Hall of Graduate Studies dining hall.
I understand the allure of forming the residential colleges as spaces where a relatively small group of people can get to know each other well. But those who have suggested that an influx of graduate students would destroy that intimate feeling are off-base. People passing through or reading on benches does not devastate a sense of community any more than having interlopers from another residential college frequent your courtyard. Everyone makes quite a few friends from outside his or her college. No one begrudges inter-collegiate friendships, even if they detract from potential intra-collegiate ones. Graduate student friendshipss are analogous.
Ultimately, creating contact points where people with similar interests can meet each other and interact presents an opportunity that could create tremendous rewards for undergraduates, who have much to learn from wiser and more experienced graduate students. If I had known half the things some of my graduate student friends have shared with me, I would have tweaked quite a few aspects of my life — and might have been far happier far sooner. Those relationships come from lunches and chats with grad students — and maybe even from welcoming them into some of our student organizations.
The New Students and Alumni at Yale organization, which seeks to bring together undergraduates, graduate students and alumni, may well prove a powerful mechanism to drive our separate communities together. In that spirit, we should throw open our gates as well.
MICHAEL MAGDZIK is a junior in Berkeley College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.