Like most Yalies, I have a core group of friends from a number of residential colleges. We spend the week dashing from classes to extracurriculars, finding it nearly impossible to have a group meal that everyone can attend
But when Sunday evening rolls around, our schedules and heads are cleared as we mentally prepare for the week to come. For the past two years, we have been eating dinner together on Sunday nights, like a family.
But this weekend there was nowhere for us to eat.
Sunday night is now “family night” in almost all the college dining halls., Despite the event’s happy name, “family night” is, in reality, exclusionary and divisive. On Sunday nights in most colleges, only members of each college can eat in their dining hall. Although some colleges allow each student to swipe in a guest from another college, my friend group is too disparate for us to find enough hosts at any one dining hall. Some colleges are open to all students after 6:30, but by then it’s too crowded to find a place for all of us to sit. And, lest you think we could eat at the Hall of Graduate Studies or in Commons, know that neither is open during the weekend.
Thus, as I write this, I am sitting alone in Berkeley while my friends eat in their respective colleges. Something must be wrong with “family night,” if it means that I have to eat alone.
The policy of excluding college outsiders (or including college insiders, such as off-campus students) extends beyond the Sunday night dining hall. ID access to the Pierson and Davenport dining halls has been restricted for undergraduate outsiders for over a year. Berkeley and Saybrook restrict ID access to their dining halls and common areas, although they do keep the doors open during mealtimes. Silliman and Trumbull keep their common rooms shut so that students cannot amble in to relax or to study.
I must admit that some exclusionary practices do foster college community spirit. Trips, parties, and events within colleges bring each college community closer. Often these events are funded solely by the college and would be too expensive if outsiders were invited. Although I was jealous when my friends went to see a particular Broadway show, I had the opportunity to go on other trips with my college. And I’ll admit that I’ve had some good conversations at Berkeley-only events.
Sure, there is another side to my argument that “family night” is divisive. I don’t have to eat alone. I could (and perhaps should) use this experience as an opportunity to bond more closely with my Berkeley family.
But I am a senior, and though I am fond of my Berkeley peers—in fact, I had a wonderful reunion at the ice cream station with some long-lost roommates from freshman year, and I do hope to develop stronger friendships within my college before I graduate—I’d prefer family night to be about the family that I already have.
Some exclusion may be a good thing, but when colleges are too insular, it is disadvantageous to the Yale community at large. Cambridge University, whose college system was a model for Yale’s, is an example of what Yale should avoid. . When I visited the school last year, I learned that their residential college system has turned the school into a collection of smaller schools. The division between colleges at Cambridge is so strong that there is very little incentive to leave one’s own college and to make friends in others. Because of this, the students that I met had a difficult time meeting many people; they were limited to their residences.
I have found a wonderful family of close friends at Yale, made up of people I happened to meet through classes and extracurriculars, rather than in my college. We have grown togetherover the past few years, remaining connected through our Sunday night family dinners. Yale is unique in that I can have such a diverse group of friends and still go home to Berkeley at the end of the day.
But with the “family night”, I am forced to go home to Berkeley before the end of the day. There’s no room at Yale for alternative families.
Elissa Dunn is a senior in Berkeley College.