In a recent editorial (“Full debate must precede development,” 9/6), the News called for public discussion with regard to development of the University’s $10 million land acquisition. While new science facilities, classrooms, theater spaces, a technology center and residential colleges were cited as possible uses for the land, an important option was markedly absent from the discussion: a comprehensive student activities center.
Yale’s most recent student activities center, located between Barnes and Noble, Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges — though a step in the right direction — was too small to accommodate Yale’s many student groups. With its new land acquisition, the University has the opportunity to construct a proper student activities center, one befitting a university of Yale’s size and diverse student needs. In addition to office spaces and meeting rooms for student groups, the center could incorporate a number of other suggested developments for the site. A centralized student technology center could be housed within the activities center as well as one or more performance spaces. Classrooms that serve as student meeting rooms by night (as in William L. Harkness Hall) could also be included in a student center.
A properly planned, comprehensive student activities center should also incorporate ideas from other successful university student centers. The University of Pennsylvania’s student union features rooms for individual or group study, Columbia University’s Lerner Hall has ballrooms for large student events and Dartmouth University’s Collis Center features a fully equipped game room. Cornell University’s Straight Hall includes a pottery room, movie theater, music rooms and a centralized ticket office for campus events. Even Harvard University’s Loker Commons, admittedly far from a full student center, has a student lounge and food court open 24 hours a day.
The best example in the Ivy League by far is Princeton University’s Frist Campus Center. Billed as a “vibrant campus community hub,” Frist is a major selling point in Princeton’s undergraduate admissions office, as anyone who has taken a tour of the campus can attest. Included in its four stories are student mailboxes, television rooms, cafes, student lounges, a convenience store, a ticket office, a game room, storage rooms, telecom services, tech support, student government offices, LGBTQ offices, Women’s Center offices, student activities offices, classrooms, meeting rooms, a lecture hall and a theater. Frist is a wonderful example of the multidimensionality a well-planned student activities center can achieve.
At Yale, more than 350 student organizations compete for extremely limited space. WLH, filled to the gills each night with sections, a cappella groups and student organizations, is far too small to meet student need. Room reservations must be made weeks or months in advance for simple group meetings, making impromptu gatherings nearly impossible. The overflow of student groups can be seen each night in residential college common rooms, the Hall of Graduate Studies or, when it was open, Cross Campus Library. Student artistic and theatrical organizations are in an even more difficult position, as they are limited to the precious few exhibition and performing arts spaces on campus. In many cases, campus theater spaces are booked months to a year in advance. For a university known for its a cappella groups and theater program, this situation is unacceptable.
The graduates of a university such as Yale are more than the sum of their knowledge; they are also the product of their experiences, of the relationships they build, of the organizations they shape. The limited resources currently available to Yale’s burgeoning student groups effectively forestall student creativity and experience.
In recent years, Yale has demonstrated its commitment to student life by investing in residential college renovations. If the University is truly committed to improving undergraduate life on campus, its next action must be to provide its students with a student activities center, as there is perhaps nothing that could impact student social and extracurricular life more.
Jennifer Przybylo is a junior in Trumbull College. She is a former chair of the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee.