One afternoon this past February, the men and women of Silliman College suffered a stunning defeat in the annual snowball fight against Timothy Dwight.
But after the enemy had driven Silliman’s last surviving troops into the corner of the courtyard and pummeled them with wet New Haven snow, most Sillimanders just returned to their rooms, changed, and forgot about it.
Four sophomores, however, found the evident dearth of college spirit saddening. Silliman needed a sense of pride, identity and unity, they told each other.
Silliman needed a newsletter.
The boys had plenty of models to follow; residential college newsletters pervade dining halls around campus. Yet few Yalies are familiar with the personalities and the passion of the editors — both in Silliman and many other colleges — who make them happen.
The Silliman editors developed a bi-weekly “news magazine,” College & Wall, to entertain, inform and unite Sillimanders of all colors and creeds. Editor David Gest ’03 explains that his position as intramurals secretary has exposed him to the college’s need for community pride.
“Silliman is a big place, and it doesn’t have a lot of spirit or personality as an entity,” Gest said. “We want Silliman to be a positive force.”
Michael Scherzer ’03 said “our philosophy is comprehensive. We’re trying to move away from the postmodern newsletter.”
He and his fellow editors explored the stacks of Sterling and Beinecke libraries for ideas, and thanks to his research in his own college’s library, Scherzer was anointed as an official Silliman librarian. A wistful desire for “Old Yale” struck him as he paged through decades-old Silliman newsletters.
“I’m sentimental. I cry a lot. So I decided to write the history feature,” he said.
When faced with a bi-weekly dose of Silliman history, student profiles and columns by their dean and master, how can Sillimanders help but swell with pride?
“College & Wall” is only the newest member of a variety of newsletters across Yale. Established in 1981, This Week in Davenport, known as “TWiD,” is the granddaddy of residential college newsletters.
Current editors Jon Scolnik ’03 and Dave Auerbach ’03 weave dean’s announcements, intramural reports and inside jokes into a weekly publication that entertains and informs.
“There is usually a theme to an issue that relates to what’s happening in Davenport or Yale,” Auerbach said.
For instance, last year’s “Halloween issue” featured a cut-out mask resembling a certain well-loved member of the college, complete with instructions for assembling and wearing it in the dining hall and beyond.
TWiD is a serious Davenport tradition. Last year’s editor, J.P. Nogues ’02, spent long hours from his last class Thursday afternoon to Friday breakfast at his computer importing the perfect graphic or honing a particular wisecrack.
Estimating that “about 65 percent of the newsletter’s humor is Davenport-specific,” he lauds the uniting power of the inside joke.
Nogues is a Yale Daily News staff columnist.
In Jonathan Edwards, too, the editors use humor to foster college spirit. JE’s weekly newsletter, Temptations, is a much-anticipated fixture of Friday dinner.
“Our goal with Temptations is to lure people into reading the [Jonathan Edwards College Council] minutes by promising to be funny. We enjoy shoving a sense of community down their throats,” one editor said.
According to tradition, the editors produce the newsletter anonymously.
Temptations contains 12 to 16 pages of features ranging from intramural reports to a playful and challenging “fun and games” page. The editors also interview and photograph different suites in JE so readers can enjoy the most intimate details of one another’s lives.
For these editors, the newsletter is a forum for their individual senses of humor. Every issue includes several pieces of original comedy, from Curious George book reviews to a JE “Temptation Island” spoof.
A few of the editors aspire to write professionally and see the newsletter as “that same dynamic on a smaller, sheltered scale.”
While not every one of the five current JE editors wants Temptations on his or her resume, all are tirelessly devoted each week from 9 p.m. Thursday until 5 a.m. Friday. One editor planned his academic schedule with Temptations in mind.
“I purposely didn’t take classes on Fridays because I knew we’d be doing this,” he said.
Does all this intensity kill the fun? Sometimes, another editor admitted.
“I’m jaded. I think of it as a job,” he said. “I’ve begun to impersonally assess jokes as funny or unfunny — that’s humor, that’s not — let’s move, people. It doesn’t tickle my funny bone anymore.”
On the other side of campus, the editors of the Trumbulletin focus less on putting out a professional product and more on having a good time.
The newsletter is mostly “blatant lies — made-up stories about classmates,” editor Radhika Natarajan ’02 said. “We have no journalistic integrity, and we don’t pretend to, either.”
In Trumbull, the editors have realized the importance of expanding their mockery from their own circle of friends to include as many members of the college as possible.
They branched out by covering the freshmen’s domination of this year’s Assassins game. Editor Joseph Yrigollen ’02 recalls this decision as a stroke of journalistic genius.
“Before long we were exposing some of the most prominent freshman and running stories about their rise to power,” Yrigollen said. “It couldn’t have worked better. We upperclassmen got to know them, and they got to know us.”
Yale’s residential college newsletters are little-read beyond the confines of each dining hall. Their editors have no legions of beat reporters or fancy offices.
But these few, noble men and women are the voices of Yale residential college news, buffoonery and spirit.
As Yrigollen notes, “When you write for a residential college newsletter, you control the words in this town.”