Four years ago, I was a student intern at the Dixwell-Yale Community Learning Center. Every afternoon, a large number of kids came straight from school and stayed as late as they could, taking advantage of tutoring that was structured and available at any time. We offered programs for children and adults in the neighborhood.
But when I came back the following year, Yale had shuttered the Center and let go of our director and staff, all without notifying the student staff. We had a meeting open to all, with tears and protestations, but to no avail. Yale wanted to streamline the programs — supposedly, the Center wasted too much. The University even noted that the games the children used were run down too quickly.
When I walk by the Center now, I almost never see anyone from the neighborhood. What was once a great connection between Yale and the New Haven community was sundered. Trust was broken, as was our relationship to the community. A branch of Yale’s administration had made these decisions behind closed doors.
This year, the same impulse to quantify and consolidate appears to threaten the Blue Dog Café, a student-run café in the common room of HGS that serves primarily grad students but also undergraduates, staff and faculty. Yet again, it appears that these decisions are being made with a purposeful lack of transparency.
The writing is on the wall: A recent online survey sent to students by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences administration proposes replacements for the Blue Dog Café, including a “Yale Campus Dining-run facility” and “high quality vending.” This is the second survey in the past two years assessing the Blue Dog and signaling that the administration wants it removed. Further, conspicuously absent on the Student Life Fellow application is a position at the Café. No new workers means no new managers, and no new managers means no Blue Dog Café.
This will not be the first time I’ve seen Yale create a community of some kind, only to dismantle it when most of the students who would protest are gone. It only takes one person in a powerful position who wants to mechanize and streamline and doesn’t understand the love that goes into a quirky place. My fear is that students will return to find that something beloved, the Blue Dog Café, has been replaced by “a Yale Campus Dining-run facility” — or worse, “high quality vending.”
I know this does not seem important, but it is yet another step in the streamlining of Yale until no distinguishing features are left. Beginning in my undergraduate years, I worked at the Blue Dog Café and expanded my relationships with a range of students. I gained experience in management and got to know and serve the wider student community.
The Café may be small, but it creates a kind of home in our common room. When it is closed, the space is barely used.
I do not want a mechanized dining experience. I want the Blue Dog Café, which has made this space so friendly for the past 15 years. I hope that the Café may be allowed to continue as managed and run by students for students,and can carry on for years to come creating an unquantifiable community space.
But there’s still time to voice our opinion. We can write to the Dean of the GSAS, the Graduate Student Assembly and the McDougal Center administration. The Blue Dog Café must not simply be replaced by Yale Campus Dining or vending machines. We can only hope that the administration will consider our voices and what it means to have something that is student-run and responds to student needs.
Nora Jacobsen is a second-year student at the Divinity School and a 2010 graduate of Saybrook College. She is a former manager of the Blue Dog Café.