After placing their cellphones in a box by the door, fifteen to twenty Branford College students settled down with tea and cookies in the Trumbull Room on Thursday night.
Thursday marked the sixth day of the Branford Tea Room, an initiative launched by Branford students and administrators last week that aims to create a space for students to meet new people and have authentic and meaningful conversations. Students are encouraged to go beyond the superficial and everyday conversations common on campus and discuss topics ranging from love and sexuality to Jewish Birth Right, according to Branford Master Elizabeth Bradley. The room, which has seen 30 students in one night at its peak, is open to all students Tuesday through Thursday every week from 10 p.m. to midnight.
“At Yale, there’s a pervasive mentality of work-hard, play-hard that extends into many facets of campus life,” said Gabe Audu ’14, one of the students involved in planning the Tea Room. “Although that type of mentality is conducive for high pressure situations, it doesn’t allow for students or individuals to form deeper personal bonds on a more emotional level.”
The push for the Tea Room began last October, when several Branford students approached Master Bradley with concerns over the lack of authentic conversations on campus.
Inspired by the “A Place to Talk” program at John’s Hopkins University, which enables students to talk with one another and with trained peer listeners about meaningful subjects, Somin Lee ’15 said she met with Master Bradley with the idea of creating an informal space for conversation in Branford. The idea gained momentum, and in late January, Master Bradley and student organizers participated in hospitality training to learn how to create a comfortable space.
In order to enable students to stay in the present moment and appreciate each other’s company and conversation, organizers agreed that the Tea Room would be a tech-free space, Audu said.
Though students may often find it easier to talk about midterms or residential colleges, the Tea Room aims to foster emotional, personal and philosophical conversations on topics that students may not feel comfortable discussing out of the blue in dining halls, said Victor Bloch ’14, a student organizer.
Conversations in the room typically take place in small groups. At any given moment, students may be discussing the transition to an English-based school from Ethiopia or Denmark, nutrition and fitness, feminism or the relationship between religion and Nietzsche.
Lee said because all students come to the space interested in talking with others on a deeper level, the Tea Room provides students with an outlet to make sincere friendships.
“We’re fostering a community of support and actually letting people know there are so many friends around here, but currently the culture doesn’t let us tap in to it,” Bloch said. “We have to circumvent the culture that we’ve bred so far.”
Ultimately, the organizers of the Branford Tea Room said they hope to affect a campus-wide shift in favor of deeper and more meaningful conversation outside of a two-hour slot. Lee said they hope similar spaces will spread to other colleges and that students make a greater effort in their everyday lives to talk more intimately with others.
Students interviewed said the Tea Room has been well-received and is starting to see regulars, as well as students from other colleges.
“It lends itself well to the conversational aspect of us getting away from everything else, while it’s also a space where you can just hang out with people you know really well or people you don’t know too well and talk about life,” said Omegar Zacarias ’16.
Master Bradley said this movement to improve campus dialogue coincides with discussions in the Education and Student Life Committee regarding residential college efforts to create an environment that promotes mental health and wellness.
The Tea Room represents a way to make progress on both fronts, she added.
The next Branford Tea Room will take place in the Trumbull Room on Tuesday.