At a place like Yale, you’re likely to learn something new every day. Though I have spent three years at Yale, today I realized a very simple aspect of Yale policy that came as a shock: Neither graduate school students nor faculty members have key-card access to the residential colleges, unless they are associated with a particular college. For example, while the minor inconvenience of not having access to the back door at the Law School has always been bothersome to me, the idea that the graduate and faculty communities face these closed doors all over the campus is surprising. Some are former undergraduates, barred from their former homes; others, living off campus, hardly know the residential colleges exist.
At first, I could not conceive of a reason for this separation. Why, with so many interesting people at different stages in their academic and professional careers, would the University choose to isolate each group by stage?
To compartmentalize the incredible diversity that the University prides itself on is to lose one of the most profound benefits of that diversity: the creation of a community that allows for the exchange of ideas across fields and specializations, generations and lifestyles. How much more Yalies of each stage could benefit from this exchange if it occurred naturally, in the dining halls, courtyards and common rooms, without the hindrances of iron bars!
Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world where the benefits of integration come face to face with potential litigation. Critical thought about universal access reveals that there are, in fact, liability issues involved. It seems ridiculous to imagine a philosophy grad student, a first-year law student or (goodness gracious!) a professor surreptitiously sneaking into a courtyard to steal someone’s computer or to beat up an unsuspecting undergraduate. However, giving more access to more people does increase the risk that one of those people might use their newfound freedom for ill. There have been issues in the past and at other universities of people being where they should not be for the wrong reasons.
Nevertheless, I would like to call this issue to the attention of the University’s administration and wider community — insofar as that community is currently able to exist. It is possible that, if allowed access to the colleges, most graduate students and professors would maintain the same relative distance and dissociation. Then again, the opportunity for more widespread and substantial intellectual and social interaction — as well as the sheer convenience of being able to pass through a residential college — might coax the shier sort of person out of her or his academic or professional field’s shell. We would be even more secure than we are now if we were to put Yale on total lockdown, to restrict key-card access for undergraduates to their own main college gates and only those classes for which they have registered. But the cost of this added safety for the undergraduate experience and sense of community is obvious. And by extension, it would seem unreasonable for Yale to restrict graduate students and faculty to “their space,” quietly banning them from the public residential college areas.
In a place like Yale, you’re likely to meet someone new – likely drawn from your own academic field or extracurricular interest – every day, unless, of course, you happen to meet someone from “outside” your regular circle over an informal dinner conversation, a game of chess or Frisbee in a courtyard or another random occasion. And these unexpected meetings can result in some of the most interesting interactions in life, and in lasting friendships.
For all of the fascinating graduate students and professors I have had the opportunity to meet, I wonder how many more amazing Yalies there are outside of my major, my residential college and Yale College who I will never see or with whom I will never speak.
Are we so afraid that an older Bulldog will behave perniciously toward undergraduates that we are willing to sacrifice the potential benefits of shared public spaces? If residential college courtyards, dining halls and other common areas are so dangerous, why not increase the presence of security personnel? It seems that Yale could resolve potential security risks in this manner, preserving the safety and privacy of undergraduates while promoting a more welcoming campus and a greater sense of community.
Synonyms for “diverse” include “different” as well as “separate,” but our differences need not entail our division. A variety of people claim the University now benefits from small communities, but we lose much in our separation, in the physical boundaries that prevent those communities from interacting. I think key-card access to the public spaces in residential colleges for graduate students and professors would profoundly benefit Yale University, and I look forward to hearing further thoughts on this proposed policy change.
Meredith Williams is a junior in Silliman College.