If you are a student in Yale College, you may have been spending these past few days savoring the new advantages in front of you now that you have advanced to this next level of your academic career.
Freshmen: I suspect that you are now feeling the pleasant sensation of being overwhelmed by the number of classes before you and friendly people surrounding you. Sophomores: your new standing brings with it the luxury of choosing your own roommates. Juniors: you’re by now settling into your majors — you do have one, no? And seniors: you now get first dibs on everything; you have arrived.
I’m feeling a little bit the same way. Although you may be majoring in Classics or Physics, my own subjects are Yale and New Haven — one could say that I’m a double major.
With every phase of my career, I learn more about these places. When I first came here as a graduate student, in the early 1990s, all I knew were the East Rock neighborhood, where I lived, and the stacks of Sterling Memorial Library. Once I began teaching, first as a teaching fellow and later as a faculty member, my world broadened. I learned that undergraduates populated the city and all these classrooms. (Who knew?) If you had asked me then about the “Yale experience,” I might be able to say that I had a dim but growing sense of it.
But then I became the master of Calhoun, and my eyes opened. It was only at that moment that I learned what goes on in the residential colleges — insofar as a master can know all things, of course. I was completely overwhelmed by the rich diversity of student life at Yale; its incredible co-curricular and extra-curricular opportunities, and the fundamental decency of the average Yalie. It was a profound joy to me and to my wife, Aisling Colón, to raise our children in this environment.
Now I am Yale College’s new dean, and the luxury before me is the work of shaping — and preserving — what it means to receive an education in Yale College in the city of New Haven. This is not a rhetorical exercise. With the University set to break ground this year on two new residential colleges and Yale College set to expand by roughly 800 students, the warp and woof of what makes Yale so special must be carefully examined, even if only to reaffirm this great place and its traditions.
I hope that you will join me in making sure this happens. To that end, just as I expect all of you to invest yourselves deeply in the curriculum, I also expect you to take seriously the challenge I posed to the freshmen: namely, to think thoroughly and carefully about why you are here; to consider Yale in its full complexity, and not just in terms of return on investment; to be unafraid to ask difficult and thoughtful questions. As you ask these questions, keep a clear eye upon building community — diverse, inclusive, accountable, resilient. This is the best work anyone could hope to do, and I hope you are as excited as I am to engage all that is before us.
One of my early goals as dean is to open and sustain lines of communication with you. Expect to hear more from me as the semester progresses, and plan to bring your thoughts and ideas to the table.
Jonathan Holloway is the dean of Yale College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.