Parents, teachers and public officials gathered at the Dr. Reginald Mayo Early Learning School on Sunday afternoon for the newly built school’s dedication ceremony.
The school was completed this year under the New Haven School District’s citywide school construction program, a school improvement program that began in 1995, on the site of the former Helene Grant School. The new building is named for Reginald Mayo, who worked in the school district for 46 years, served as superintendent from 1992 to 2013 and is returning as interim superintendent for this school year. The facility, which opened this September at 185 Goffe St., serves 560 pre-kindergarten children and cost $51 million to build.
“[Mayo] knew before the science that young people’s brains develop early,” Mayor Toni Harp said at the dedication ceremony.
Harp said the key to a successful start in school occurs before kindergarten, and Mayo should be applauded for his foresight in advocating for early childhood education during his term as superintendent.
Children enrolled in the school sang to the crowd at the start of the ceremony before public officials gave speeches. An open house followed the hourlong ceremony.
David Cicarella, president of the New Haven teacher’s union, said that although collaboration has recently become a buzzword in education, Mayo has actually united community members and educators, guiding NHPS out of hard times during his term as superintendent. Mayo understood the challenges teachers face and asked for their input, Cicarella said, adding that Mayo is a “good man and a decent person.”
Superintendent Garth Harries said he keeps an op-ed written by Mayo titled “A College Degree Saved My Life” on his office corkboard for inspiration. He said the piece captures Mayo’s aspirations for all students in the district.
At the ceremony, Harries thanked the school’s faculty, contractors and legislators, including the New Haven Board of Education. Harries asked that the school district continue to support Mayo’s work and the work of their mutual successor. Harries also said he hopes the district enhances play-based and trauma-informed learning methods to help build children’s resiliency.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said at the ceremony that New Haven has been a pioneer in emphasizing early childhood education. He praised the efforts of Harries and Mayo as well as mayors Harp and John DeStefano.
Jennifer Heath, CEO of the New Haven nonprofit United Way, announced at the ceremony that the organization is launching an effort to raise money to purchase books for the school’s library.
According to the 2016 Greater New Haven Community Data Index, the number of regulated childcare spots for 3- to 4-year-old children in the area accounts for only 86 percent of total youth in that age group. However, the new spots at Mayo were not included in these numbers, said Mark Abraham ’04, CEO of DataHaven, the data analysis nonprofit, which compiled the report.
The Dr. Reginald Mayo Early Learning School is 65,000 square feet.
New York City — Friday night redemption could not have been much sweeter for the Yale football team. After getting demolished 42–7 by Penn at home last Friday, the Bulldogs notched their second win of the season against Columbia in the Big Apple.
The Yale (2–5, 2–2 Ivy) defense, ranked last in the Ivy League entering this game, had its best performance of the season versus the Lions (2–5, 1–3). Yale forced five turnovers en route to a 31–23 victory, despite the offense totaling just 250 yards.
“I’m very proud of this football team,” head coach Tony Reno said. “It’s not easy to win a game in this league with its parity. [Our players] play their best football when their backs are against the wall.”
Both offenses struggled in a first quarter that amounted to a field position battle. Columbia picked up 56 total yards in the opening frame while Yale finished with negative yardage and gave up three sacks. Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 replaced Tre Moore ’19 at the beginning of the second quarter and though he only passed for 150 yards, he also threw three touchdowns — the best mark for a Yale quarterback in any game this season.
The Eli defense picked up the slack from the offense, forcing two turnovers in the first period. On the first play of Columbia’s second drive, cornerback Jason Alessi ’18 intercepted quarterback Anders Hill after stepping in front of a deep post route. Linebacker Victor Egu ’17 then forced a fumble that was picked up by safety Foye Oluokun ’17 on Columbia’s next possession. However, neither of these turnovers led to offensive success.
Yale finally found the endzone at the start of the second quarter, when defensive lineman John Herubin ’18 picked up a Columbia fumble forced by linebacker Darius Manora ’17 and rumbled 61 yards for the first points of the game.
“Our secondary played really well and the linebackers were hitting the gaps and forcing fumbles,” Herubin said. “We were getting some pressure on the D-Line. It was an all-around effort.”
While the Yale drive would end in a punt, the Lions returner muffed the ball and the Bulldogs recovered inside the redzone. The Elis capitalized, with Rawlings tossing a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Myles Gaines ’17 in the back of the endzone.
The Bulldog defense continued its strong play, setting up the offense with good field position. The Elis drove down the field once again and finished the drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Robert Clemons III ’17 on a fade to the back corner of the endzone.
After an impressive 38-yard run by Rawlings got them into the redzone, Yale finished off the half with a field goal from 30 yards, to bring the score to 24–0.
Neither team put points on the scoreboard in the third quarter. Columbia marched into Yale territory twice, but the Eli defense held fast with two fourth-down stops, one of which was an interception by cornerback Marquise Peggs ’19.
Yale scored a touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter to increase their lead to 31 points. A 40-yard pass to running back Alan Lamar ’20 set up an 11-yard touchdown reception by tight end Leo Haenni ’17, Rawlings’ third touchdown pass of the day.
Columbia finally got on the scoreboard when Hill found wide receiver Cameron Dunn for an 11-yard touchdown with 9:21 to play in the fourth quarter. Less than three minutes later, Hill connected with wide receiver Ronald Smith II for a 28-yard score as the Eli defense began to fatigue.
Yale could not gain any momentum offensively for the rest of the game, and Columbia would add another touchdown with under a minute to play, again by Smith. However, the Elis would close out the game by recovering a last-ditch onside kick, holding on for a 31–23 win.
It was a dark and stormy night mid-November of last year when Elias Bartholomew ’17, Nate File ’17 and Angelo Pis-Dudot ’17 had a big laugh together. They were giggling for hours, like they normally do, but for some reason that night was different. There was something magical happening. Suddenly, without anyone counting off or anything, all three men exclaimed, “Let’s create Yale’s first and only late-night style comedy show!” They all covered their mouths with their hands, shocked and amazed at what had happened, and slowly backed out of the room.
From that point forward none of the three could deny what had happened that night. They immediately set to work recruiting the best and the brightest: big names like Charlie Bardey ’17, Mikayla Harris ’17 and Jordan Coley ’17. It was a ragtag group of writers, actors and funny people, and yet from it blossomed something truly wonderful.
The Good Show is a late-night style talk show that includes sketches, hilarious invented guest stars, real guest stars and musical guest stars. The show isn’t even one year old, but the cast has already performed six times in locations all around this campus, and I was one of the lucky few to get a seat at last Friday’s edition in JE: The demand was so high they had to turn people away at the door.
Despite an apparently traditional set-up featuring two hosts who joke about current events, the show constantly surprised the audience by bending or even abandoning those established guidelines. Since this show, being the year’s first, was intended to recruit new members, the theme was auditions. Mid-show, two cast members took the stage and pretended to audition the hosts, prodding them to repeat their lines in different personas — including that of a pig farmer.
Part of the Good Show’s magic comes from its newness. Unlike other groups on campus, it has no precedent and therefore a lot of flexibility. This promises a strong future for the show, which I predict will grow and change in ways no one imagined — perhaps even the cast-members themselves. The show’s collaborative nature also contributes to its ever-changing tone: instead of having a director, the show’s production team makes all decisions together, meaning there is no one vision for how a show will turn out. In one particularly zany bit from Friday, Coley emerged onstage dressed as a Jamaican chef who had forgotten to bring any of her food with her. In doing so, Coley mocked the traditional role of the talk show guest as someone witty, prepared and put together.
This lack of a unified vision also makes producing the show something of a roller coaster: Even now, with all their success, those who help produce the show still feel amazed that they are pulling it off. Most went into the Good Show without experience in comedy writing or acting, and are learning on the fly. This sort of environment lends itself to exploration and boundary-breaking comedy. It’s how real innovation happens.
And the collaborative spirit behind the Good Show doesn’t stop with the production team. In the past, the hosts have sat down with guests such as Yale College Council President Michael Herbert ’16 and Dean Jonathan Holloway. Their discussions range from hilarious to hard-hitting. In addition, they invite musical guests to perform at the show’s end: On Friday, Seungju Hwang ’17 and the Squadettes performed their own version of Uptown Funk, adding yet another artistic dimension to the show.
The next Good Show will be on October 16th in the JE theater at 8pm. I’m looking forward to what the cast has in store for us and what absurd and hilarious ideas they come up with over the next couple of dark and stormy nights.
This column was published as part of the Commencement Issue for the Class of 2015.
A) Yale is a university in New Haven, Connecticut.
B) Yale College is a liberal arts college. In order to graduate, you must take 36 credits, which average out to 4.5 credits per semester, which means that most people alternate between more relaxed four-credit semesters and more intense five-credit semesters — except for people taking language and science classes, who take 4.5-credit semesters but work harder than anyone else.
C) “Yale is at once a tradition, a company of scholars, a society of friends.” — George W. Pierson (ed. note: vague?).
D) Yale is full of energy. This is the application essay answer to this question. Yale students don’t stop, want to shove 36 hours into 24-hour days, obsess over achievement — “and ideas!” the good application essay comments — thrive under pressure.
E) Yale is exhaustion. This is the op-ed extension of the application essay idea. We are all too worn out. We push each other too hard. Why don’t we take the time to smell the roses/not just sit in the library/ask out that cute kid in section? Sometimes, an op-ed even argues that the best thing we can do is sit around and contemplate life in a new light, just like the writer of that op-ed did, once, before writing it.
F) Yale is full of people. This is the more general response, accommodating — in a reflection on Commencement, perhaps — times, both good and bad, spent in college. We have learned much from each other, and yet we have much to learn. We’ve gotten to know some people truly and deeply — their hopes, their fears, their late-night food orders — and others not at all.
G) Yale is a brand. This is the jaded answer, though it is also true. Yale Blue is #0F4D92. The Yale typeface “is inspired by the late-fifteenth-century Venetian typeface that first appeared in Pietro Bembo’s De Aetna, published by Aldus Manutius in 1495.” Everyone at Yale seems to own a “Y” sweatshirt. Everyone here wants to be a tour guide. Yale is a good thing to have on your resume.
H) “Yale is November, crisp and energetic.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I) Yale is tradition. Yale is William F. Buckley Jr. quoting Edmund Burke dreading the decay of the world’s great. Once comprised of the “sons of Eli,” Yale has grown to include other races and classes — and even women! — if only to guard against the danger of revolution. It still promises the currency of privilege, the illusion of being an exception, only now to a wider audience.
J) Yale is truth, the kind you only find in academia. Yale is the best classes with the best professors. It’s a lack of ideology. The best ideas stand on their own, regardless of tradition or history or practicality, and there’s something valuable in just looking for them.
K) Yale is light — more so than Harvard, goes the joke. It’s those ideas put to the test — truth directed, meaning it’s people who care about trying to be good people, who want to turn their education into something tangible.
L) Yale is the limits of that light. Imagine walking through the Pierson courtyard during Bulldog Days and hearing, off in some distant practice room, the rising and falling chords of some rehearsing a cappella group. Enchanted by the music, you and your friend try to find that a cappella group, but you end up somewhere else instead and never find the source of the music. Yale is something exciting just off-screen, in the next room, in another courtyard.
M) Yale is the fear of missing out. There’s a word, sonder, for that feeling when you realize that each person you pass might be living a life as vivid and fulfilling as yours. Yale is sonder compressed and electrified. It’s the knowledge that in every room and every courtyard, in labs and basements, gyms and classrooms, life — triumphant, despairing, perfectly ordinary — is happening and you’re not there.
N) Yale is a many-chambered Gothic jewelry box of possibilities. You leave with just a few in your pocket.
O) Yale is all of the above. This is the easy answer, because — and this is the trick of a liberal arts education — it’s the most complicated. College is not something you can hold in your hand or reduce to a metaphor (oops, my b). It pushes and pulls on you, and if you do it right, it will change its meaning even after you graduate.
P) Yale is none of the above. This test is too difficult. I’ve studied for four years and I still don’t have the answer.
Jackson McHenry is a senior in Silliman College. He was a WEEKEND editor on the Managing Board of 2015.
On Fridays, I have lunch with two of my best friends. I can’t remember exactly what we talk about: weekend plans, mostly; homework, sometimes. We have a series of inside jokes that involve speaking in British accents. Occasionally, there is news: a fling, a breakup, a funny story. We chew over the details. If the story’s worth telling again, we repeat it the next week. “Do you remember that time when…?” Yes, usually. We laugh just as hard the second time.
I also have regular dinners with my former suitemates in Silliman. The references are different, but the patterns are the same. I have been ranking everyone in our Groupme, goes one running joke, but I refuse to tell anyone where they fall.
My text history is full of messages I expected to receive and messages my friends expected me to send. (“You’ve probably read this article, but…” “Have you seen this video?” Of course I have, I sent it to you yesterday.)
This is what Virginia Woolf might call “the cotton wool of daily life”: a collection of small sympathies, condolences and commiserations, a parasympathetic nervous system of friendships at rest.
We tend to spend a lot of time talking about the big moments in college because those moments make sense. There are the victories: finding love, solidifying a friendship, finishing a project; the crises: losing love, messing up a friendship, falling into a rut; and then there’s simply grace: the moments you remember for no reason at all. It’s impossible not to describe grace in spiritual terms: It appears in times of inner peace, bringing that upward trending, utter sense of belonging. In these big moments, Woolf argues, something tears through the cotton wool of our experience, “a token of some real thing behind appearances.”
I’ve found that most people spend time trying to make sense of these experiences. Everyone tries to communicate. Over lunch, at drinks or dinner, we polish events into stories, stories into anecdotes, and anecdotes, finally, into the sorts of things you can hold in a sentence: That time when I went to a naked party, when you lost your screw date, that article we wrote. That Valentine’s Day.
The more I think about it, the more the big and small moments come together. I can’t think of a story (a night spent playing drinking games, for instance) without also thinking of the way I told that story (exaggerating my drunkenness, faking embarrassment, hiding the things that really bothered me). We give such credence to the big moments, but they’re inseparable from the ways we come to know them. So much diffuses through the wool.
It’s dreary, sometimes, listening to everyone tell the same stories, working through the same dull preoccupations, revealing the same anxieties. It’s frustrating, other times, going through that same process, thinking about what you’ve revealed of your own limitations — because you can’t escape your own patterns. And it’s terrifying, realizing that your patterns also depend on bigger patterns. We float on currents beyond our control, whether economic, social or historical, in bubbles that we don’t fully understand.
But still, we talk. We try to escape our bubbles, and failing that, to measure their dimensions. We collide with each other. We have lunches, drinks, times before and after section, the lazy, pointless gatherings in apartments and common rooms late at night while the radiator buzzes on and off.
Until, of course, we don’t. The day this article goes to print will be my last day of classes (curse you, Friday computer science lecture). Many big moments approach us graduating seniors, but we have less time to process them. The scaffolding of predictable experience drops off, as life turns Evel Knievel and backflips over a succession of endings: finals, Myrtle, senior week, Class Day, commencement.
I feel weightless. What will I do without that routine, without those friendships, without that certainty? Where will I land?
Here is my only comfort: Eventually, after the parties and ceremonies, after packing up all my books and my clothes, after the last dinners and the last drinks, after the goodbyes and the promises never to forget each other, I’ll land in the cotton wool. I have to. A schedule will form, in some new apartment, in some different city. Once I’ve found new restaurants, a laundromat, a park down the street. Once I’ve built a new set of friends (some old, some new). Once I’ve started to forget the patterns of Yale — when the dining hall serves chicken tenders, the best use of a Durfee’s swipe, how long it takes to walk from Silliman to the YDN (in fair weather, snow and rain).
Then, there will be new big moments and new epiphanies, of a different kind than the college ones, colored more by responsibility and age. Then, we’ll tell different stories and, occasionally, pull out the old ones — though in new circumstances they will reveal new meanings, like dusty pebbles polished in a stream.
The stories from graduation too, will be stories that we tell. In that next apartment, in the city after that. Until we’ve found a routine so remote that we only feel the reverberations of our college anxieties at distance.
And this too will seem calming and stifling, ordinary and beautiful.
The minute he placed the wooden phallus on the table, giggles erupted and eyes widened. “Let’s talk about condom usage,” announced the seminar leader to a roomful of freshmen last August. “Remember when you’re putting it on, you want it to look like a sombrero, not a beanie.”
His co-leader chimed in. “Gently roll it down and pinch the tip of the condom. If air gets in, you risk breakage.”
When the momentary entertainment subsided, the phallus quickly disappeared to avoid distracting the freshmen, and the two student-leaders moved on to a different topic: “What are some methods of birth control?”
This scene has become a hallmark of the opening days of the academic year. Amid nightly meetings with freshman counselors, far too many extracurricular introductions and countless workshops, a laugh is always guaranteed at one point during final, fast-paced days of August: when the mock penis appears.
However, at a school where 28 percent of male students report having had same-sex romantic or sexual interactions, the scene above takes on a different tone when accounting for a morbid fact: From 2001 to 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention observed a nearly 133 percent increase in HIV incidence among gay men aged 13 to 24. Many of these young men contracted the virus due to lax condom usage or the failure to take similar precautions with respect to their sexual health.
When informed of these trends, the workshop leader, who wished to remain anonymous, responded: “I suppose the laughter would stop if you prefaced the condom demonstration with that statistic.”
* * *
An individual’s risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection is largely a function of his or her sexual network — essentially a social network defined by the sexual relationships in a given population — and his or her own behavior.
One might expect such networks to be relatively insular at a school that calls its campus a “bubble.” But Michael Rigsby, Yale Health’s medical director, is quick to acknowledge that Yale’s sexual network extends far beyond the edge of campus.
Rigsby says the average student overlooks certain groups that nevertheless comprise an integral part of Yale College’s sexual network. These include students in the graduate and professional schools, some of whom have a decade of sexual experience over their undergraduate partners and are more comfortable with risk-taking behavior; citizens of New Haven, brought closer by anonymous hookup apps like Grindr and Tinder; young alumni who return to campus from metropolitan areas for various events; and even New York residents, as students tired of the local scene might train in to the city for a night of fun.
As a network stretches to include more at-risk members and becomes more connected, the chance of STI transmission increases. This is especially true for gay and bisexual men, who are limited to a much smaller population of potential sexual partners. A simple dorm room fling one night might not be as innocuous at second glance.
Misunderstandings of Yale’s own sexual network certainly raise eyebrows, but health providers like Rigsby express greater concern over the cohort of young gay men who take up residence in New York City full-time after graduation. Their anxiety is not unfounded, as one Yale College 2014 graduate, who wished to remain anonymous to share a personal experience, knows firsthand.
“It’s actually difficult to talk about Yale College and HIV education because I recently needed to begin a round of PEP [post-exposure prophylaxis, a course of drugs taken to prevent HIV contraction after potential exposure] and will start Truvada when the drug course is over,” he says. “At Yale we live in such a pristine version of what the real world is. You’ll never encounter on campus the man who says he’s slipped on a condom but really never did, only to tell you that he is HIV-positive but undetectable as he leaves.”
Luckily for the recent graduate, who is currently without health insurance, he was able to start a round of PEP through a makeshift support network and Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Their resources put him in contact with a team at Mount Sinai Hospital studying the treatment.
When he went to the pharmacy to pick up his prescription, he remembers very clearly the pharmacist asking for insurance information. When he told her he didn’t have any but presented a voucher, she sighed, saying, “ Thank God — this just got picked up to $1,700 a course.”
“The conversation around gay men’s sexual health was lacking on campus, and I was honestly surprised how unprepared I was to have conversations about HIV when I needed to,” he continues. “Everyone is on PrEP and everyone is neg in New York City according to common wisdom — it’s crazy the amnesia we’ve thrown ourselves into for the sake of comfort.”
Conversations about sexual health are difficult enough to have with peers. And, as this recent graduate knows, they are sometimes impossible to have in an honest, open way with new sexual partners without a tactful strategy in mind. He admits that his experience is not ubiquitous, but he feels it is nevertheless representative of a reality check that awaits many as they transition from a sheltered place like Yale to the real world.
* * *
Thirty years after doctors first observed AIDS in the United States, Yale continues to play two roles in the fight against the disease: As a research university, it must search for more effective treatments and eventually a cure. As a home to young, sexually active students, including a sizable gay population, it must care for its own. Although the University plays the former role as well as any other institution, how to best achieve the latter remains unclear.
“We’ve all been trying to figure this out since the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic,” says Rigsby. “Of course universities will continue to do research. But we should also always be open to doing more.”
According to Rigsby, at the peak of the crisis, the University viewed itself as the primary diagnostic and treatment facility in New Haven, then a hotspot for HIV/AIDS among intravenous drug users. And in 1997, Yale took a huge step in combating the crisis by establishing the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS.
CIRA’s mission statement is inspiring: “To support innovative, interdisciplinary research that combines behavioral, social and biomedical approaches, focused on the implementation of HIV prevention and treatment and the elimination of HIV disparities.” But Gregg Gonsalves ’11 GRD ’18, an AIDS activist and current lecturer at Yale Law School, feels that the University’s research efforts to eradicate HIV/AIDS aren’t necessarily paralleled in the resources it provides students. This has become particularly problematic as HIV incidence continues to increase among young gay men.
Gonsalves isn’t the only faculty member who worries about HIV awareness among the college’s young men. History professor George Chauncey ’89 tackles the subject candidly in his course “U.S. Gay and Lesbian History.”
“At some point I realized my students knew almost nothing about HIV/AIDS,” he says. “It was hard to believe because any gay man or lesbian woman my age lost friends, former partners or partners” during the first wave of the epidemic.
Chauncey says conversations with students over the years revealed a startling ignorance of how much damage the disease caused and can still cause. “I had a sense that people were beginning to think, ‘Oh, it’s not that big of a deal if I get infected,’” he says. “Of course, I have HIV-positive friends who are now living long, healthy and fulfilling lives, but that comes at a significant cost. A good number of young men don’t understand that.”
Every fall, Chauncey gives a lecture chronicling the AIDS crisis, paying special attention to Yale and the young men who died in the epidemic. At the close, after a notice that he is shifting from the role of professor to that of “gay uncle,” Chauncey urges a packed auditorium to always practice safe sex, no matter what urges arise.
“In the midst of the crisis, there was an incredible self-discipline and collective decision that we had to take care of one another,” he reminisces. His lecture on AIDS, other than serving its academic purpose, is the latest iteration of that same self-discipline, but this time he directs it at a student population he feels is in need of guidance.
* * *
Students arrive at Yale from a wide variety of backgrounds and with equally variable knowledge of sexual health. Some benefited from comprehensive sexual education programs in their time prior to Yale, while others received abstinence-only sexual education or none at all.
Given this disparity in baseline knowledge, professor Kristina Talbert-Slagle, lecturer in epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, feels colleges like Yale can help loosen HIV’s grip on the gay community. “Universities need to provide appropriate, thorough sexual education to all students,” she says. “All students should have ready and ongoing access to accurate, supportive, nonjudgmental, easily accessible information to help them have healthy sexual lives and reduce the risk of HIV transmission.”
Dr. Andrew Gotlin, chief of student health at Yale Health, says Yale considers its students’ sexual health a top priority, regardless of their orientation. While students might be more familiar with some services, like providing birth control and other contraceptive options for women, the University also offers services targeted toward its MSM (men who have sex with men) community.
In addition to providing free HIV testing for all students, Yale offers consultations and prescriptions for Truvada as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a pill taken daily to prevent the contraction of HIV. Those who have potentially been exposed to the virus through sexual contact, like the recent alumnus, are treated with the same urgency as someone experiencing a heart attack.
Information on Yale’s HIV prevention resources, though, isn’t broadcast regularly to the public.
Although not an official arm of Yale Health or the Yale administration, the student-run organization Community Health Educators conducts mandatory sexual health seminars for freshmen when they arrive on campus each fall. These seminars, scheduled by the Yale College Dean’s Office, try to shrink the information gap about sex — according to Talbert-Slagle, this is a key step in any STI prevention regime.
CHEs make an effort to include healthy living tips for men who have sex with men: the seminar begins with a segment on sexual diversity and ends with a warning against heterosexism, the tendency to view sexual relationships through a solely heterosexual lens.
However, the community workshop leader, who volunteered with CHE this past year, feels that the group falls into the same trap it warns against.
CHE presentations emphasize the contraceptive uses of condoms rather than their disease-prevention uses. For example, the transition between the “STIs” section and the “Protection/Contraception” section reads:
“We just talked about STIs, one risk of sexual activity. What’s another physical risk of sex — some heterosexual sex in particular? (Unwanted pregnancy!) Now let’s talk about how to protect ourselves against STIs and unwanted pregnancy. Though this might seem irrelevant to those of you who are abstinent or who have same-sex encounters, this information can still be useful sooner or later.”
And the portion on what to do if a condom breaks reads:
Q: “People can find themselves in situations where a condom wasn’t used or breaks. Then what?”
A: “Emergency contraception or Plan B helps prevent unwanted pregnancy.”
As the workshop leader notes, key facts about the spread of HIV are conspicuously absent from the script — in fact, the acronym HIV appears only once in the entire document. And strategies for how to respond to condom breakage during anal sex, where there is no risk of pregnancy, are nowhere to be found.
Corinne Ruth ’15, a CHE during her first three years at Yale, feels that the focus on pregnancy and the simplicity of the seminars is perhaps a product of mission creep. CHE was not founded to educate the Yale students, she says, but rather middle- and high-school aged students in New Haven.
As Ruth notes, a group formerly existed under the official Yale College banner — the Peer Health Educators — to tackle issues of sexual health, consent and substance abuse among Yale students. But when the college formally introduced Communication and Consent Educators to help reform the campus sexual climate after a Title IX investigation, the group went defunct. No peer-led organization as intimately linked to the University has filled the void left by its disappearance.
Equipped with a modified script crafted in conjunction with the YCDO, the CHEs step up once a year to educate Yale’s freshmen. But this year, due to a shortage in facilitators, several CCEs had to help guide 20 of these seminars after receiving only two hours of training.
It should surprise few, then, that a group created to educate New Haven adolescents sometimes struggles to offer comprehensive sexual education suitable to the needs of college freshmen, particularly at a school known as the “Gay Ivy.”
If any advanced information on HIV prevention for MSM makes its way into a CHE seminar, the workshop leader and Ruth say, it would likely be because a freshman counselor interjects to comment on it. There is no directed discussion on Truvada for PrEP, nor is there any advice on whether to seek emergency medical care after condom breakage with a partner of unknown HIV status.
Other University resources similarly fail to address MSM-specific health issues adequately.
In a pamphlet passed out to freshmen counselors titled “Man to Man: Tips for Healthy Living for Men Who Have Sex with Men,” HIV makes two appearances, under the headings “Discussing Sexual History” and “Know Your Status.” Both times the term appears in parentheses, seemingly as an afterthought, and in neither instance does the pamphlet offer recommendations on how frequently to get tested or how exactly to discuss one’s sexual history with a partner.
* * *
If, as some believe, Yale does a subpar job at preparing its young gay students to tackle issues of sexual health head-on, it probably doesn’t result from a dearth of clinical resources. It just doesn’t make a concerted effort to communicate LGBT-specific risks and resources to the student body when it mandates their attention. Other would-be educators suffer from different problems.
Founded in 1980, the LGBT Co-op at Yale defines itself as a community-building and politically minded organization intended to represent queer and LGBT-identifying students on campus.
According to former co-coordinator Alex Borsa ’16, the Co-op tackles numerous issues in any given year. While student leaders recently have adopted a politically inflected agenda, fighting for mixed-gender housing and promoting trans rights on campus and elsewhere, the Co-op itself is many different things to many people — a necessity given the diversity of its membership.
Unfortunately, Borsa says, even the recognized mouthpiece for LGBT issues on Yale’s campus struggles to communicate with the larger student population. The primary mechanisms for spreading information are posters and the group’s panlist, which consists of 450 students and is annually purged of graduating seniors.
Relying on an opt-in email list and flyers is less than ideal, Borsa admits, particularly when it comes to issues relating to gender identity, sexual identity and sexual health. “There are a significant number of people on this campus who, if we were to advertise an HIV-testing drive like we did a few weeks ago, would greatly benefit from the service,” he says. “But because the flyer has a big rainbow on it, some people won’t pay attention. A lot of students don’t think they need it or don’t readily identify as LGBT.” Borsa adds that this group of people naturally includes MSM.
Maria Trumpler, director of Yale’s Office of LGBT Resources, acknowledges a similar problem in getting information to those who could use it: Are there people on this campus who should utilize the office’s resources but will never walk through the doors? “Of course,” she says. “It’s hard to accept, but we won’t reach everyone.”
Trumpler explained that, like the Co-op’s mission, the resource office’s job is complicated by the diversity of needs among Yale’s LGBT population.
“For some people, if HIV happens they might not think it’s the biggest deal,” she says. Others might feel inhibited sexually out of fear. Conversations on the topic, she believes, are most effective one-on-one, rather than in the form of community guidelines that might reach people at different stages of their sexual lives. For an intervention targeting risky behavior — whether for unsafe sexual practices, substance abuse, or any number of issues — to be successful, it must be tailored to the individual.
Borsa’s and Trumpler’s experiences highlight two challenges in communicating effectively to queer students about sexual health: Not only must any effort effectively target a population that is not readily identifiable (and, at times, purposefully eschews a non-heterosexual identity); it must also present the information in a way that makes the recipient feel it is relevant to them. If, like Chauncey and others worry, students don’t grasp the risks and challenges of HIV, there is little chance of inspiring healthy habits among them.
* * *
Any medical professional will tell you that behavior change is the hardest thing to inspire in an individual. Smoking, drinking, eating, sex — they’re all similar in this respect. In 2015, the behavior many young gay men find hardest to change is their failure to adequately protect themselves from HIV. Some know better and simply don’t care. Others haven’t the slightest clue of the threat that HIV continues to pose. Some simply make careless mistakes. But they all risk the same fate.
The AIDS epidemic shook an entire generation of gay and bisexual men. Unfortunately this cultural history — this gay cultural history — cannot be transferred like that of other groups, in stories of shared experience from father to son, from mother to daughter.
Strategies of survival in the past and resilience in the present — informed by cold, hard statistics and health strategies — find no home in the traditional forum for educating youth: our own public schools. So many young men arrive at Yale, either clueless or careless, and the vast majority are left alone, continuing on the trajectory they began when they first walked onto Old Campus.
Must each of these men confront the virus alone, in the most personal way?
The answer is a firm “No.”
Many people want to help, but they need support and direction from the Yale administration.
Avenues to communicate knowledge and promote resources are in place, and a student body capable of engaging with them is waiting. We must adapt our current introductory health programming to include LGBT-specific issues like HIV.
But we cannot stop there.
Given Yale’s unique familiarity with HIV/AIDS, we must remake ourselves into a model for the rest of the country, tackling difficult issues like discussing sexual history and HIV status with partners, regardless of orientation.
We must empower young men and women to carry these skills and this knowledge into their communities when they leave campus as Yale College graduates.
When I moved off-campus junior year, I was excited by the prospect of frequenting New Haven’s diverse eateries. I imagined the city as my tasting platter, though in fact my budget limited me to Mamoun’s and Basil and attempts to light my gas stove. Each feebly cobbled-together meal came to represent my march towards a nebulous adulthood, causing me to slow down and savor the caloric bites all the more.
Indulgence! is how I will remember college. Yale itself was a guilty pleasure. My parents had reluctantly allowed it, and they sensed, rightly, that I would choose all the indulgent paths: the English major, an extracurricular that doubled as my steadfast academic scapegoat, a career for energetic masochists — ahem, if The News Industry is a burning building (and it is), I’m giddily running into the fire.
On a clear night last October, I found another deplorable passion, one that required less energy but offered almost equal satisfaction. In short, I found Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen™. The glowing white and red sign on Whalley Ave. at once whetted my easy appetite and stirred my Canadian pride. I have been to the restaurant over a dozen times, and my order is always the same.
I crave things that make me feel like I’m somehow cheating; wanting to be a journalist makes me feel like I’m skipping past a generation in the immigrant narrative. I imagine that, when my parents brought my five-year-old self to Canada, they expected me to be “practical,” to choose the healthier option. The salad on the menu taunts: You were supposed to be the moneymaker, a lawyer or doctor. Let your kids be the dumb artists with no stable future in sight. But no one goes to Popeye’s for salad, and I guess I didn’t come to Yale to fit into some racial myth. As Eddie Huang, renowned glutton and the model to my minority, writes: “Asians like myself ate our hopes and dreams by the grain burnt at the bottom of a seasonal stone bowl,” or in this case, perennial Popeye’s take-out box.
Good metabolism is a cheater’s tool. My dad, who is as slender as a plank, will eat entire bags of Lay’s chips without glancing down at his girth. He also inadvertently tested into the most prestigious university in China. I’ve inherited only half of this genetic power, which means that I stay up late and rush assignments and finish all my fries, expecting few consequences and getting mixed results. We Yalies love to tempt fate, as if striking gold once meant we’ve got all the world’s luck on lock.
Sometimes we really did feel like nothing could contaminate our dining hall spa waters. I walked with friends through Gothic courtyards at all hours, stayed long past closing time in the JE buttery. We humored each other’s absurdities — classes and friendships alike were a stumbling race towards our closest approximations of truth. Sometimes, like on the first real day of spring, Yale is exactly what we were sold as precocious high school seniors. We have lain in hammocks, met personal heroes, put out student newspapers. Nobody deserves this. When you get an extra packet of barbecue sauce for free, the proper response, after examining the expiration date, is gratitude.
Imagine if every time you headed towards the exit, somebody asked you, “What are you going to order next time?” What are you going to do next year? It used to be that when I reached the last tender of my order, I felt dread. The food would soon be gone, the fatty bits of joy so quickly consumed and the container flung into a trashcan. But as a senior, I’ve learned to separate my anticipation of loss from the singular joy of a full combo before me. In these remaining weeks, I won’t think about closing time: midnight on weekdays, 2:30 a.m. on weekends, May on my college life. I’m just going to indulge.
On Wednesday evening around half past nine, students began to arrive at the Native American Cultural Center. As they settled into place — shaking off the rain, dropping their bags and taking their seats around the long conference table — the group began to catch up on the usual things: the events of the week, how (not) prepared they were finals, events they were excited about.
In many ways, this was just a routine meeting of a Yale student group. But judging from the handful of students who had arrived early, it was clear this was a particularly active crowd. Those who weren’t wearing shirts from other student organizations had political stickers embellishing their laptops, or orange badges pinned to their backpacks in support of Fossil Free Yale. Despite their extensive involvement in other movements, the students present did have one thing in common: They were all DOWN.
DOWN, short for “Defining Our World Now,” is at once a publication and a movement of its own. As an online weekly written by and for students of color at Yale, it covers many topics — from police brutality to the need for an Asian American Studies department at Yale. But beyond that, it brings together activists and journalists in a forum that, prior to this year, never existed.
With her back to the table, Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Spenst ’18 wrote the unifying title on the board in big dry-erase letters: DOWN, with a downward-pointing arrow traveling through the “O.”
“That’s our new logo,” she said, satisfied.
Defining Yale Differently
DOWN has a multifaceted mission, but according to Eshe Sherley ’16, co-managing editor and one of the magazine’s creators, it addresses a need that has long existed in Yale’s communities of color.
“Students were saying, ‘We don’t have a space to talk about our issues, we don’t have a space to discuss what it’s like to be a person of color at Yale,’” Sherley told me. “It was really born from listening to that and saying, ‘Well, maybe we should create that space.’”
For that reason, Sherley said, she sees herself as a facilitator, rather than a founder, of DOWN.
Still, despite her efforts to minimize her role in the magazine’s creation, it was Sherley’s vision for a publication like DOWN that encouraged her former English professor, Briallen Hopper, to connect her with other writers on campus.
“When she mentioned she was applying for funding to start a magazine by and for students of color, I was thrilled,” Hopper said. “This forum is one that has been needed for a very long time, and it’s been marvelous to see it come to fruition.”
Hopper, who taught both Sherley and Spenst in different years, said she knew Spenst would be a good match for Sherley’s publication, and, after reading Spenst’s essays on race, knew she needed to connect the two.
All it took was one meeting for Sherley to offer Spenst the position of editor in chief.
“It just made sense,” said Sherley. “Our model is much more collaborative than the usual top-down structure. And kind of by accident, having a freshman as editor in chief makes that more true.”
When Karléh Wilson ’16 came to Yale as a freshman, she decided not to attend Cultural Connections, the pre-orientation program available for freshman students of color. Concerned that she might have to choose between her racial identities as both an African American and Creek Indian , Wilson felt uncomfortable, and unsure whether anyone would understand her mixed racial identity.
“I didn’t know who would accept the fact that I was black Creek and not just black,” Wilson said.
Upon her arrival at Yale, Wilson mostly stuck to the friendships she had formed within the varsity track team. It was only later, when she overheard two students talking about being Native American, that she discovered the community of the NACC.
For Wilson, who now writes for DOWN, the publication’s most important function is bringing together different cultural communities within Yale. She sees the necessity of a publication that extends beyond the bounds of any one cultural house.
“Whenever I speak about my experiences [within DOWN], people are giving weight to everything I say,” Wilson said. “It’s not taken as a stereotype — it’s taken as Karléh’s experiences.”
For DOWN’s other writers and editors, the magazine’s intersectionality — its willingness to address issues at the intersection of race, class and gender, rather than treating those identifiers separately — is one of its biggest strengths.
Sebastian Medina-Tayac ’16, who serves alongside Sherley as a managing editor of DOWN, pointed to thediversity of the magazine’s staff as proof of its commitment to connecting communities of color at Yale.
“You can’t get anywhere without that unity,” said Medina-Tayac. “If we put our voices together, we allow ourselves not to identify just as black or Latino or Native, but as DOWN. You can be white and ‘DOWN with it.’ It’s deeply tied to the recognition of how all of our issues are similar.”
A part of DOWN’s desire for unity, Medina-Tayac said, is born from a similar movement among campus activists: to amplify student voices by bridging gaps that separate marginalized groups.
Unite Yale, the organization this movement gave rise to, is, according to its Facebook page, “a coalition of student groups organizing to build student power and solidarity.” Many of DOWN’s board members, including Medina-Tayac, were involved in the formation of Unite Yale. They point to it as one sign of an increasingly intersectional and cooperative activist community on campus.
“This year, a lot of people who care about activism really came together, became friends and started inviting each other every time there’s an activist thing to go to,” said Wilson. “We all have different political ideologies, but any activist movement needs publication to tell people why they should care about it. Now we have that platform to write about why we care, and why others should, too.”
Making a Statement
DOWN intends to be a forum for articles of several genres, including opinion pieces, personal essays and reported journalism. By bringing together disparate styles and topics, the magazine will not only be a place for discussion and sharing, but will also become a source for local social justice news.
Establishing this common ground — somewhere between activism and hard journalism — has been an organic process, even though DOWN is still finding its balance.
“We’re still sort of trying to figure out what it means to occupy that space,” Sherley said. “We don’t want to be preachy. No one wants to read that, and we all actually have very different views.”
In fact, the desire for an alternative news source on campus, especially one that pays attention to race issues at Yale and in New Haven, was one of the major motivations for starting DOWN. Members of DOWN’s staff perceived a gap in the coverage of issues that matter to them.
“Unfortunately, because a lot of publications on campus are primarily white, the people who decide the publications’ content aren’t attuned to issues that affect people of color,” said Sarah Bruley ’17.
DOWN attempts to address the whiteness of Yale’s publications scene in its statement of purpose. Due to “the lack of inclusivity and respect for writers of color and the issues about which they are passionate,” Sherley and Medina-Tayac write, “many students of color [at Yale] choose not to write at all.”
Beyond the desire for a publication that covers the topics students of color care about, Medina-Tayac emphasized the role of DOWN in removing the barriers that currently discourage students of color from engaging in campus journalism.
Medina-Tayac, who wrote for the News as a sophomore, said that, as is the case with many older Yale institutions, publications like the News tend to lack diversity — racial and otherwise. Socioeconomic status, for example, often determines which extracurricular activities a student is able to pursue.
From personal experience, said Medina-Tayac, the commitment that an organization like the News demands of its members can deter students who need to carve out time for a student job.
“I don’t blame writers of color for not being able to write as much for the existing publications,” he said. “What DOWN really came out of is the need for students of color to write. And now we’re writing by our own effort.”
A New Generation of Student Writers
For DOWN, the future depends heavily on the magazine’s ability to encourage and teach its writers.
More than just ensuring that students of color have a forum where their voices can be heard, Medina-Tayac said that DOWN’s biggest job is mentorship.
“A lot of these students come from more difficult public school backgrounds, where writing might not be emphasized. So by saying we accept anything, we really do a huge service to aspiring writers on our campus,” said Medina-Tayac. “When I edit, I’m teaching. The privilege I have of coming from the [News] is that I can share that with our writers.”
DOWN’s young leaders stand to gain the most from this emphasis on mentorship. Of the dozen members of the Executive Board, half are freshmen.
“A week ago, I would have said I want to see more contributors, more articles, building our audience, that kind of stuff,” said Sherley. “But right now, I want us to become the editing resource our students of color need us to be. That’s the resource I hope DOWN becomes, and I hope it’s sustainable, so we can come back five years from now and see it’s still working.”
As for its freshmen leadership, editors like Oscar Garcia-Ruiz ’18 are optimistic about the future of the magazine, but emphasize that the magazine should stay true to its roots.
In addition to wanting the magazine to become a recognized presence, Garcia-Ruiz “[wants] to see it stay a close, tight-knit group of people.”
DOWN is also a third thing. In addition to being both a publication and an integral part of the activist movements on campus, it is a society of friends.
The project has taken a lot of work, but for Medina-Tayac it’s well worth it. “There are lots of late nights editing,” he said, smiling. “It’s been a big year.”
It’s been a long and heinous winter, but spring has finally burst forth in New Haven. The difference in temperature has not only coaxed daffodils from previously stolid soil, but reminded everyone in town that bodies exist beneath layers of clothing. In the disconcerting warmth, Yalies have been seen rolling up their trousers to reveal dry ankles, unused to the sun’s glare. They have been spotted in skirts, with neither thick leggings nor thermal underwear on to protect their shins from frostbite. They have even been observed walking down Broadway in a leisurely manner, desperate for the first time in months to be out of doors.
Here are a few Yalies dressing to celebrate the new season. Hi spring.
In all my crisscrossing of campus, it had never really occurred to me to sit down in front of the Beinecke and stare at its marble tiles for two hours. Yet this past Sunday night, accompanied by a crowd of onlookers, I found myself doing just that.
What had brought us there? “Lux: Ideas through Light,” a series of towering images and graphics projected onto the facade of the Beinecke and symbolizing Yale’s history and research. As the night wore on, luminescent DNA helixes gave way to an explosion of multicolored dots and a tour of the galaxy. Between each segment was a minute-long sequence in which each of the Beinecke’s tiles displayed a different idyllic image of campus: a true celebration of Yale.
And according to those involved, celebrating Yale was a primary intention. Five undergraduates organized the exhibition in conjunction with the Dean’s office: Emily Bosisio ’16 and Laurel Lehman ’17 produced it, while the gifted lighting designers Asher Young ’17, Doug Streat ’16 and Eli Block ’16 curated it. The exhibition was made up of short segments of no more than four minutes, designed by students from across the University who worked with researchers to graphically represent elements of the researchers’s work.
I wish I had been able to see how these collaborations had happened, and for a long time, I wished I had been given a program. At an exhibition where the goal was to take advanced research and make it accessible to the masses, a little explanation was sometimes needed.
But Lux had anticipated as much. Digital programs synced to the live display were available on small screens throughout the plaza, informing viewers of who had designed the current projection and what it symbolized.
Even though I didn’t understand “the point” of each segment, Lux was nonetheless one of the most enjoyable evenings I have had at Yale. It was more than just an exhibition of talent. It was an experience.
Technically, Lux was flawless. I had seen nothing like it. There was one moment where the projection showed bouncing dots trapped inside each individual tile, and another where the squares of a huge Rubix cube perfectly aligned with the Beinecke’s marble squares. Coming from a theater background, I can tell you that getting light cues correct is difficult. Yet I doubt that the curators had the option of running tests until they got it right — projections on to Beinecke in the middle of the day would hardly go unnoticed. Ensuring that much accuracy without multiple rehearsals astounded me. But my experience was not limited to appreciating the incredible talent on display.
I was once told that art connects people. For a long time, though, this confused me, because art had always appeared to be a solitary experience. Yet Lux invited people to experience art together. Few people arrived at Lux alone, and if they did, they were bound to see someone they knew. Just as the creation of Lux demonstrated collaboration across different parts of the University, the audience was also a cross section of the Yale community.
When I stood up on Sunday night, having sat through the entire two-hour-long show, it saddened me to know that on Monday the projections would stop. But I knew that I had witnessed something truly special.
If you didn’t get the chance to stop by, I’m sorry, but you missed out. Instead of moping, though, you should join the large group of people asking Lux when they’ll be doing it again.
Yesterday was senior society tap night at Yale. Hundreds of students wandered and stumbled around campus half drunk, feeling as if they were on top of the world. Hundreds of others didn’t give a shit. And hundreds of others who weren’t tapped tried not to care but still cared. A lot.
It’s hard not to when everyone else seems to have gotten something that we just missed. Whether we put on a brave face and tell people “I’m not in a society,” joke about the stupidity of the whole process, or pretend not to care, it’ll probably take a while before we stop feeling the sting of rejection.
It’s not necessarily a new feeling. For most of us — except that one over-validated Yalie who gets all the prizes and does all the reading and gets into every group (fuck him/her) — Yale is full of little disappointments, of which society is just one example. At times, it seems as if Yale is designed to undo our sanity, our serenity, our well-being. Why should we be crying because we don’t feel good enough, when we have made friends with people we love, taken a few great classes and learned a thing or two about ourselves?
For one thing, Yale is an incredibly trying place. It’s safe to assume that a good portion of us come here with a reasonable measure of self-worth and self-respect. This is inflated at first. We have little bonding sessions with our pre-orientation groups and FroCo groups and we’re coddled in the extreme. Sometimes we forget to call Mom and Dad because we feel so at home.
Then the bloom comes off the rose. We don’t get into seminars. We get rejected from a cappella groups. Our poem doesn’t get published in whatever periodical we think is the bee’s knees.
It doesn’t matter, we tell ourselves. It’s not a big deal. Then we suspect that some kind of motivational speaker homunculus is deluding us with the power of positive thinking. Suddenly, it is a big deal. And then on nights like April 9, we cry, we crumble, we wonder: What was it I did wrong? Why am I not the person they wanted? What was I supposed to do?
Here is a complicated metaphor: Yale is a bunch of nested Russian dolls. Tiny exclusive communities within tiny exclusive communities. And we keep opening the dolls, joining the clubs and running for positions, because we think we’ll find a kernel in the smallest painted doll. Validation! Certainty!
This is an illusion. The smallest Russian doll is just a stupid wood chip, with a too-big mouth and too-big eyes. The smallest Russian doll is the ugliest one of the bunch. In other words, the most tiny, exclusive community will provide neither validation nor certainty. You can join every club and get every title, and still wake up wondering, “Does anyone love me? Is all this coincidence and not merit?”
If you have decided, today or yesterday or three months ago, to stop opening the dolls, know that you are brave. In a way, you are dropping the dolls and facing the truth: yourself. Yourself without the resume, the accolades and prizes.
In 1961, Joan Didion wrote: “To give us back to ourselves — there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.” It’s sound advice. Quit opening the dolls, and when you go looking for yourself, you’ll find that someone’s home.
On the evening of March 14 at the University of Pennsylvania’s historic Palestra arena, the Harvard and Yale men’s basketball teams were tied at 51 in a game that would send the winner to the NCAA tournament. Then, with seven seconds left, Harvard forward Steve Mondou-Missi hit a 15-foot jumper left to pull ahead of Yale by two points.
Yale got the ball back in time for Javier Duren ’15 to make one final drive to the net, but he missed a layup as time expired, and Yale failed to advance to tournament play, just as they had for the past 52 years.
Ansh Bhagat ’18, who doesn’t play a varsity sport, caught up on the highlights after the game.
“I think I just forgot about it, to be honest,” he said. “I might have been asleep.”
Many Yale students might have had a similar experience: of 155 students who responded to a News survey, 70 percent knew the game’s significance, but only 43 percent reported that they watched it. But Bhagat and others’ relative ambivalence would have seemed out of place on campus 50 years ago.
History professor Jay Gitlin ’71, who teaches the course “Yale and America,” recalls the sense of dejection that gripped campus in the days following Yale’s infamous 29–29 “loss” to Harvard in 1968. In the last 42 seconds of the game, Harvard scored 16 points, tying the game against a heavily favored Yale squad.
“We were in a foul mood,” he remembers. “These things affected the mood of the campus. When it was a Yale victory, everybody was happy.”
But Gitlin also remembers that the Yale team won a lot more than they do now.
UConn, for example, posed no problem. “We assumed that we’d win more than we’d lose, and the teams that we thought we might lose to were more often than not, Dartmouth or Harvard.”
But even with the football team going 8–2 this season, attendance at their games paled in comparison to the sold-out games of Gitlin’s day. This part of Yale’s culture, it seems, has been lost to history.
Some, though, are not content to let sports slip from the campus consciousness. Ralph Molina ’16 is the president of the Whaling Crew, an organization dedicated to supporting Yale’s sports teams.
“I think the Whaling Crew’s job isn’t done until every single sporting game is sold out,” he says. “We’ll probably never get there, but that’s the goal.”
* * *
In 1914, construction crews finished work on the largest amphitheater built since the Roman Coliseum: the Yale Bowl.
Costing the University $17.7 million, the imposing concrete stadium reflected the athletic dominance of a football team representing a school that had helped invent the sport. But the administration’s efforts came too late: By the time the Bowl was completed, the Bulldogs had already won 26 out of their 27 total national championships.
The 80,000-seat behemoth would never again see the kind of national spotlight it once enjoyed. Since then, attendance has fallen, and renovations to the stadium have reduced its capacity to just over 60,000
Still, attendance didn’t suddenly fall off once Yale stopped winning national titles. According to Joel Alderman ’51, “It was a gradual process.” Alderman, a retired lawyer who now writes about Yale athletics for SportzEdge.com, said Yale was still a top team in his day, and the noticeable decline in attendance came in the late 1980s through the 1990s.
Prior to that, though, sports — and football in particular — remained an important part of campus life. Gitlin emphasized the greater importance that football had in the University’s social culture when he was a student.
“Football was part of the social calendar,” he said. “You went to football games. We dated a lot, and dating often included going to the football game and then to a dance.”
Since then, though, student interest in sports has declined markedly.
Last fall, the Bulldogs celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Yale Bowl with a rare contest against Army. In an extravagant pre-game spectacle, the game ball was delivered by a cadet parachuting out of a helicopter and landing at midfield. That day, the Bulldogs managed an unlikely victory over a highly competitive team.
But the Bulldogs’ rousing win came in front of tens of thousands of empty seats. Pat O’Neill, associate director of marketing for Yale athletics, estimates that there were around 1,000 fans in attendance, a figure dwarfed by the crowds of 50 and 60 thousand that Yale games drew during the mid-20th century.
And the Army game offers only one example: 58 percent of survey respondents said they had been to three or fewer sporting events this year.
Alderman thinks this dip in attendance is a symptom of something deeper.
“Sports themselves don’t carry as much meaning to the students,” he said.
* * *
Yale students’ attitudes towards sports have been shaped by social and institutional factors. But according to athletes and administrators alike, the most important determinant in a team’s support remains its win-loss record.
“In my experience being here at Yale, kids are pretty educated when it comes to our sports teams,” O’Neill said. “You can’t fool Yale students. Our teams need to win and they’ll come out.”
But since their heyday early last century, Ivy League sports in general have ceded ground to other, larger institutions.
In 1923, Harvard, Princeton and Yale signed the Three Presidents’ Agreement, affirming that all athletes would be admitted as students and would have to conform to the same academic standards expected of others. This restriction opened the door for schools like Michigan and Ohio State to surpass Yale in athletics by using scholarships to recruit top talent. In 1945, the other Ivies agreed not to offer athletic scholarships either, clearing the way for bigger schools with millions of dollars to spend on their athletic programs.
An Ivy League policy prohibiting postseason play further isolated the league’s teams, preventing them from participating in much-publicized bowl games.
“A lot of the time academia and national [athletics] don’t really work well together,” said Molina.
But some say that certain aspects of Yale itself keep athletics from flourishing on campus. Many remarked on the distance from campus to athletic facilities like the Yale Bowl, Yale Field and Coxe Cage.
Although Caroline Lynch ’17, a member of the women’s tennis team and secretary of the Yale Student-Athlete College Council, said sporting events at Yale are generally well attended. She added that those taking place at the Smilow Field House, as opposed to in Ingalls Rink or Payne Whitney Gymnasium, tend to attract fewer viewers because of the distance from campus.
Ree Ree Li ’16, also on the women’s tennis team, reiterated that sentiment.
“We always have good showings for sports that are in the gym because it’s so close,” Li said. “The biggest challenge is getting people to come out for the games that are at the fields.”
Jackson Stallings ’17, a member of the football team and the president of YSACC, said he would like to see an investment in the Yale Bowl’s infrastructure. He thinks that making seating more comfortable or adding or a jumbotron, like Cornell or Harvard have, would encourage more students to attend football games.
O’Neill said budget constraints left no room for investment in the Bowl’s infrastructure right now. But Li said there are non-financial measures that Yale can take to show more support for its athletes. She mentioned a policy in place at Princeton that ensures classes never take place while sports teams practice, meaning athletes could take whatever classes they want. Yale’s athletes, who must tailor their schedules to avoid conflicts, do not enjoy this luxury.
Li said she didn’t receive full credit for a course last fall semester because she had to miss class to travel to California with her team.
Those institutional features might also bleed over into Yale’s campus culture itself: Molina said one source of student disinterest might be administrative attitudes toward sports. Since Yale can’t give athletic scholarships, he said, many feel that sports aren’t important.
But not everyone thinks that Yale’s campus culture doesn’t support sports.Lynch, for one, said the idea that Yalies don’t support their sports teams isn’t true. Some will know more about sports than others, she added, but that can be said of any aspect of Yale’s campus life.
If people are divided as to how Yale students feel about sports, everyone agrees that a supportive campus is vital to thriving athletic programs. And key to that support is a sense of connection between athletes and non-athletes.
“If we can create a culture where the students as well as student-athletes are all close, people will want to go out to support each other,” Li said. “I go to plays and dance shows because I have friends that are in them. If more people have friends who are athletes, they’d be more willing to go out to games.”
But the distance that some Yalies feel between themselves and those representing them on the field became clear in a video released by the Harvard comedy group “On Harvard Time” before the Game last fall.
In the video, disguised Harvard students interviewed Yalies about the state of Yale’s football program and asked them to sign a petition to defund it.
Li and Molina said it disappointed them to see how easily the actors were able to convince Yale students to publicly endorse cutting funding for the football team.
“We have funding issues already within athletics, and to see people wanting to take money from a program that hundreds of students are a part of, I was surprised by that,” Li said.
* * *
If such a petition ever passed, at least two names would certainly not be on it.
In their first weeks as freshmen, Andrew Sobotka ’15 and Hal Libby ’15 noticed a lack of support for Yale’s sports teams. They decided to take matters into their own hands.
“The first football game had decent attendance but the second one was absolutely abysmal,” Sobtoka said. “Hal and I were shocked that on this beautiful fall day, nobody was out at the Bowl cheering on the ‘Dogs.”
In response, the pair founded the Whaling Crew, the organization of which Molina is now president. Starting out as a small group of friends, it now has over 1,300 likes on its Facebook page.
This year alone, the Whaling Crew has organized student tailgates, ordered pizza for fans in the student sections at home games and arranged transportation so interested students can travel to away games.
“Before the Whaling Crew existed, there was no group to get students to come out to athletics,” Molina said. “It was just the athletics office, or through the grapevine. It’s different when you’re hearing about it from students than when you’re hearing about it from the administration.
O’Neill said the Whaling Crew’s efforts have had a tangible effect on sports attendance, enticing more students to come out to games, and the group now receives funding from the athletics office. “We value them immensely,” O’Neill says.
The Whaling crew also appeared in August at a new event called Yale UP!, which Molina says added to their legitimacy and increased student interest in joining.
Yale UP!, inaugurated this year during Camp Yale, consisted of presentations made by members of the athletics department to the incoming freshman class. Students were taught Yale’s historic cheers, and the event featured a relay race between residential colleges, among other competitions. Yale UP!, a conscious administrative effort to encourage support for Yale’s sports teams, was mandatory.
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Despite the lackluster competitive spirit of the past few decades and the eight-year winless streak in the Game, Yale sports fans have reason to hold out hope.
The Bulldogs have seen major successes in recent years that are leading to attention on a national scale: the men’s hockey team took home the NCAA title in 2013, Yale football star Tyler Varga ’15 is competing for NFL consideration and the men’s basketball team missed March Madness by a hair. And survey data suggests that campus support is on the rise: more than a third of respondents said they were more interested in Yale sports this year than last.
“Sports are on the up at Yale,” said Molina. “My attitude about athletic attendance on campus is not necessarily proud, but it’s optimistic.”