I did not fully understand how two new residential colleges behind the Grove Street Cemetery would transform life at Yale until I saw this article in last Thursday’s News:
“Administrators contemplate building workout area, juice bar in Sterling Chemistry Laboratory.”
I read on and discovered the stakes to be much higher than just whether Yale needs a new gym:
“The gym would [help] … integrate the proposed site of two additional residential colleges — on Prospect Street adjacent to the Grove Street Cemetery — with the rest of the central campus.”
The new colleges may adjoin “a mystery ‘third building,’” the article continued, “ … a de facto student center with classrooms, performance space, offices for student organizations and some type of food service.”
This proposal is not just one new gym, nor even two new colleges, but a sweeping transformation of Yale’s campus from intimate and unified to sprawling — to two campuses separated by a cemetery.
Officials feel that if we build new colleges at the Prospect Street site, we cannot leave them stranded. But maybe, instead of building a host of new complexes around the new colleges, we should avoid building the colleges so far from campus in the first place.
Yale officials have convened forums to discuss “ideas about ‘rebalancing the campus.’” But Yale’s campus already has its balance. The dire risk is not that the Prospect Street site would have too few attractions but that it may have too many. Yet, administrators have declared that if Yale builds new colleges, Prospect is the site.
If the administration is serious about asking students what would make the new colleges work, one answer might be a site that gets right what the Prospect Street site gets wrong: 1) the site’s diluting effects on the whole campus and 2) safety and practicality concerns for those in the new colleges.
Imagine: amenity-packed new colleges, a tricked-out Sterling Chem Lab — even a new library. (Yale plans to renovate the Seeley Mudd Library near the hockey rink.) It is a second campus — a duplicate of Yale, essentially, behind the Grove Street Cemetery.
What would be lost: The knowledge that in a few days of one’s daily routines, from class to the library to the gym to the arts, one will see nearly all of one’s friends. That only works if, despite our varied intellectual roads, we all share one well-trod physical path.
When I first toured colleges, I loved Swarthmore for its familial intimacy, Penn for its intellectual diversity and Yale for being the best of both worlds. Yale would forfeit that status if it melted away into the gray multitude of big schools.
Safety presents another concern. Imagine: A Yalie is up late studying in the Bass Library, or enjoying a student play at the University theater, or sharing a great conversation with a friend in Berkeley or Branford. To walk home, that Yalie — if she lives in one of the new colleges — must now take a ten-minute walk through the pitch-black silence of Prospect.
If she calls the Minibus, she may wait five minutes or 45 minutes. What might happen to her on the walk — being hurt, being mugged or, God forbid, being raped — might happen while she is waiting. Or, given the Minibus’ unreliability, she may just have to walk and take her chances.
Safety will combine with questions of practicality — students will have a long walk to class and often be late — to send many of the new college’s residents off campus. If the new colleges are ghost towns, it defeats the purpose of building them.
We need a way to give the Yale experience to more people without weakening the Yale experience. To do that, we should expand the student body without expanding the campus.
The best option is to convert the gorgeous Hall of Graduate Studies into two colleges while using the Prospect Street site for graduate facilities. HGS could do more good as undergraduate housing than it does as a graduate building now. The HGS real estate has specific value for undergraduates, as it adjoins the undergraduate campus. But graduate students can feel unified anywhere on campus — in HGS as much as on Prospect Street.
The parking lot between Naples and Hendrie Hall presents another location. But it seems big enough only for one new college.
HGS for undergrads? It seems strange, but no stranger than it must have seemed to incorporate Sheffield Scientific School buildings into the then-new Silliman College — except that happened decades ago, so we are used to it.
The HGS renovation would be expensive. But two colleges at the Prospect Street site are projected to cost $600 million. If the administration is prepared to spend that kind of money, we owe it to the next generations of Yalies to do this job right — or not to do it at all.
Noah Lawrence is a junior in Saybrook College. His column runs on alternate Mondays.