The residential-college system is deeply strange. Prefrosh are assigned at random to residential colleges in the summer before coming to Yale, but the role that the college is expected to play in the student’s life is anything but random.
In our time here, our colleges are supposed to act as family structures, venues for guidance and counsel, networks of friends, and opportunities to feel as though we are interacting with all of Yale, even with so little time to do so. More perversely, each of the colleges has a unique self-image, and yet needs to fit every student as well as any other college would. It is not surprising, then, that student opinion about the new residential colleges has been so mixed.
Personally, I am not familiar enough with the University’s financial situation to judge the move as an investment, but I will certainly admit to having wondered whether or not spreading a already-stretched support system even thinner is possible. Wednesday, when Richard Lalli was named the new Master of JE, I was immediately shamed for ever having doubted that all would be well. Prior to his appointment, I doubted the residential-college system could ever become the structure that it sought to be. In retrospect, however, now that I have seen this important figure in my life become a part of the same system, I have realized the untapped leadership potential in our faculty.
The nature of Yale’s social structure outside of the residential college system is based on a series of smaller communities, each with its prominent figures and each with its demigods. To the singing community at Yale, Lalli is, without question, such a demigod. Simultaneously the best teacher I have ever had and one of the most remarkable human beings I have ever met, Lalli exemplifies the personal characteristics that make him a great Master.
When I first heard the rumor that he had been short-listed for the position, I assumed it was too good to be true, and geared myself up for the disappointment that I only assumed would follow. Now, with my cynicism so obviously invalidated, I cannot help but think about the entire nature of our campus community.
In recent weeks, faced with discussions of racism and sexism, paralleled by plans for expansion, we have too often focused on the negatives of this place. Too often we look at the University and see its structures in black and white. I do not mean to question that there are events and actions on this campus that are unacceptable, but rather that we are not equipped by our support systems to resolve them. Yale affords us exceptional leadership but it seems I have not taken enough advantage of the incredibly special figures on campus with the power to simultaneously motivate and lead, but often without the direct opportunity to do so.
More than anything, it is these figures that make our community more than a series of individual minds in individual rooms. We are incredibly lucky to have people like Master Lalli to bring us together. Now, for the first time in months, I am confident that the power of Yale is in its leadership, and that this leadership does extend beyond the walls of the residential colleges. With these human resources, Yale will be able to withstand its many pressures without the slightest difficulty.
David Leigh is a sophomore in Silliman College.