Earlier this month, Berkeley College became the first college at Yale to close its dining hall to members of other colleges on a day other than Sunday.
It’s true, Berkeley is a popular and convenient dining hall. But we shouldn’t consider this event in isolation — it’s worth examining whether these restrictions reflect a growing trend in our residential colleges towards exclusivity.
All dining halls, in theory, serve the same meals. But when students perceive the options in some residential colleges as superior to others, they flock elsewhere, leading to overcrowding and exclusivity to combat the rising number of students.
Overcrowding is a problem, but restricting college resources is not the answer.
Rather than directing students to dining halls perceived as inferior, Yale should address that some dining halls, purported to be equal, are in fact subpar. What made the Berkeley dining hall popular should be brought to other colleges. Improving other dining halls will solve overcrowding without locking doors in front of students.
But more importantly, we believe our colleges are resorting to exclusivity in a larger, misguided effort to maintain their identities by restricting access to their resources.
Yale developed its residential college system in order to create 12 — soon to be 14 — communities that can simultaneously stand on their own, yet complement one another. In doing so, Yale rejected the British model that creates students who believe their first allegiance is to their college, rather than to the university.
But in New Haven, colleges are facing conflicting pressures. Yale tells its colleges to be equal, while students demand they maintain their identities. But colleges often define their identities through their resources, and so when students are denied access to a theatre, dance studio or dining hall, the cost of exclusivity becomes clear.
Residential college endowments are largely gone. Equalization is the new norm. But outrage over these cuts in funding misses an important reality. Our college communities should be fostered by currencies other than money. Our friends, our traditions and our inevitable college pride constitute the character of our colleges in a far more potent way than a dining hall ever could.
Across the country, high school students choose Yale believing that they will be bound to a randomly selected community of 400 equally random peers. They believe that this will be an integral part of their identity at Yale, and these beliefs should be correct. But identical budgets should not mean identical identities, and college masters and deans need to help define their communities without the crutch of an expensive event or unique facility.
Now, administrators, masters and student leaders must come together around a table to decide how colleges will remain robust in a world without endowments. But on every other Monday, they’ll have to pick a dining hall other than Berkeley.