KIM: Against athlete suites

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Photo by Annelisa Leinbach.

The first day I arrived at Yale for my FOOT trip, I briefly met another Trumbull freshman who plays varsity tennis. We held a brief conversation filled with the usual introductions and small talk. The conversation ended with him saying, “Yeah, I live in the athlete suite. You should visit once school starts.” Despite all the small talk I endured that day, I remembered the open invitation to the “athlete suite.” I remembered it because one semester later, the sad fact is I never did visit.

I know what that story seems to say: I’m lazy and just never got around to visiting the athlete suite. But while I have my fair share of laziness, the truth is that this isn’t an isolated incident. It’s part of a larger trend that happens in Trumbull College.

In Trumbull, administrators sometimes create so-called “themed” suites. It’s not part of any official policy, but most students know they exist. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that if you ask certain students what suites they’re in — what their “theme” is — they would be able to name it instantly. There are the engineering suites, the musical suites, the diversity suites and most notably the athlete suites.

Now, themed suites may at first seem like a good idea. Common interests often make it easier for people to get along. Shared traits give suitemates something to bond over. But problems arise when particular suites become isolated from the larger residential college community as a result of their themes. This is exactly what has happened with the athlete suites of Trumbull’s freshman class.

I understand why it seems especially beneficial for athletes to live together. Their practice schedules will not disrupt non-athlete roommates and their FroCos can be trained with an emphasis on athlete-specific issues.

But regardless of the benefits, it is particularly important for athletes to live in non-themed suites because otherwise, they may have little opportunity to integrate into the larger college community. The athlete suite phenomenon has created social divides.

Even without the themed suites, athletes naturally have fewer opportunities to interact with people outside of their teams. First, they practice a fair amount. As such, they are often quite busy and may not be able to spend as much time hanging around the college. This is true especially at the beginning of the year, when freshmen are most busy meeting people. While the majority of freshmen are still testing the waters to find their extracurricular activities and are not yet busy with clubs, the athletes already have dove in headfirst.

In addition to that, people on teams have an immediate group they can rely on and become close with. Some, such as swimmers and track runners, can go spend time at their team’s house. Coming into college with a ready-made social group, they may have less of an incentive to make new friends. This isn’t because they are unfriendly — they’re simply under different social circumstances.

So, how are these athletes supposed to meet people? Well, how do people first meet at the beginning of the year?

How about proximity? That works. I became friends with the suites on my floor fairly quickly. Except the athlete suites are often on the same floor.

How about friends of friends? Also valid — but the first friends that a freshman makes are often his suitemates, and if his suitemates are all athletes, it creates a vicious cycle.

Facilitating interactions between athletes and non-athletes in Trumbull would help to build a stronger sense of community. The non-athletes would feel a greater personal connection to Yale athletics — they may have a greater incentive to attend games and cheer on their friends. In turn, athletes could learn about other aspects of campus life that can be missed in the blur of practices and games. The relationship would be reciprocal, with everyone benefitting from the interactions.

In creating freshman suites, residential college administrators are tasked with shaping students’ social experiences. Perhaps Trumbull administrators think it is helpful to pair students with roommates who share their interests. But they do have the opportunity to expose us to the community’s diversity, and we will all benefit from that. Sometimes rooming arrangements can lead to the most peculiar friendships. Athletes and non-athletes alike are eager for that experience — and administrators have the capacity to make that possible.

Leo Kim is a freshman in Trumbull College. Contact him at leo.kim@yale.edu.

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