In May, Yale alumnus Stephen Schwarzman donated $150 million to the University for the purpose of turning Commons into Yale’s first-ever university-wide student center. With the coming addition of two new residential colleges and the transformation of the Hall of Graduate Studies into a center for the humanities, this center provides a new opportunity to bring together Yale’s ever-changing student body.
In an email to the student body, Deans Lynn Cooley and Jonathan Holloway envisioned the Schwarzman Center as a “vibrant intellectual and social center where students across schools and disciplines share ideas, collaborate, and find inspiration” — a project that reinforces a sense of inclusion, diversity and community among Yale students. They asked us to “Imagine the Schwarzman Center.”
I can think of no better way for Yale to show its devotion to these three ideals than to set aside spaces in this new student hub to expand Yale’s current cultural centers.
Time and time again, University administrators have expressed a commitment to increasing diversity. In order to do this, they should make a greater effort to put diversity at the University’s center. This past year, following Yale’s external review of the cultural centers, the University promised to renovate and restructure the way the centers are run.
It is important that we remember that the solutions so far offered do not solve all of the centers’ problems, such as their overflowing student populations and their proximity to campus. As part of last spring’s Intercultural Photo Initiative, the Asian-American Cultural Center created “We’re overflowing” posters showing that Yale’s Asian-American population is nearly 21 times the capacity of their house. With Yale’s student body growing more diverse year after year, and the addition of two new colleges in 2017, the demand for cultural center space will only increase.
The cultural centers also face accessibility problems. Most of the buildings are located on or near Crown Street, considered by many students to be the outside edge of campus. Without direct shuttles, the trek to and from the cultural houses can be inconvenient, easily complicated by factors such as bad weather or nightfall.
For a student like me who lived in Silliman for two years, traveling to any of the cultural houses was always a hoop I had to jump through to experience some of the brightest moments of my time at Yale. It was difficult to motivate myself to make the long journey, especially if a meeting, program or event took place late in the evening. I can’t help but wonder how future students in the new residential colleges will feel when they find themselves facing an even longer trip. Providing a more central location on campus for the cultural centers would not only provide more space for the many students who make use of them, but could also encourage other students to experience a part of Yale that might have otherwise been considered too inconvenient because of the distance.
With the number of activities taking place in the cultural centers on a daily basis, the houses can get overbooked and overcrowded. A large number of groups are forced to fight over small spaces. The University could alleviate this problem by providing each of the cultural centers with their own spaces for meetings, performances and social events in the new student center.
The Schwarzman Center presents Yale with a unique opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the diversity and the prosperity of the cultural houses. Doing so would show that we value our cultural centers enough to put them in what aims to become the new heart of campus.
The University’s actions, regardless of intention, speak volumes. For some students, our cultural identity is central to how we navigate and experience our time at Yale. To see that identity physically relegated to small spaces on Yale’s perimeter does not foster a sense of welcome. Yale’s diversity goals must go beyond having a certain number of students of color on campus; the University must show that its students of color are a central and valuable part of the Yale community and that their experiences are central to the Yale experience. Bring the cultural houses to the Schwarzman Center. Bring Yale’s diversity to the center.
Ryan Wilson is a junior in Silliman College. Contact him at email@example.com .