The presidential advisory committee tasked with soliciting input on a $150 million campus student center scheduled to open in 2020 released a report on its findings Thursday afternoon, outlining detailed recommendations designed to make the space welcoming to students across the University.
In an University-wide email Thursday, the co-chairs of the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Lynn Cooley, formally shared the nearly 100-page report, noting that around 2,500 students, faculty and staff members had participated in the monthslong discussion process. The advisory committee — a 27-member task force comprising students, faculty and staff — was convened last spring after Blackstone Group founder Stephen Schwarzman ’69 donated $150 million, the second largest gift in University history, toward transforming Commons into a hub for student life.
The committee’s primary recommendations include the development of “vibrant” arts programming at the center, as well as enhanced dining options and new social spaces for both undergraduates and graduate students. The report, which also calls for the center to provide flexible meeting spaces for student groups, has been submitted to University President Peter Salovey, who will work alongside the center’s architects to vet and develop the committee’s recommendations. The Yale Corporation will have final say over any changes to the building.
Discussions about the center’s function and design will continue over the next few weeks, and community members will have an opportunity to contribute their input at The Big Ydea: Schwarzman Center Thinkathon on Feb. 20.
“We are trying to think outside of the box and consider the ways in which Yale operates for different constituencies,” Holloway told the News. “The center may serve a different purpose for graduate students, compared to undergraduates, so we wanted to hear about everyone’s perspectives.”
The recommendations are fairly consistent with the vision that the advisory committee described last fall: They plan to implement a robust annual calendar of ongoing programs and major monthly events intended to attract students from the different schools within the University. The programs envisioned by the committee would include guest speaker events similar to the Master’s Teas currently held in residential colleges, as well as film series, dances and academic talks led by graduate students. The report also suggests a series of features designed to promote the arts, including multipurpose rooms and spaces for dance and film. At Commons, there would be a stage available for arts and other events, while a bistro area would contain a performance venue for music, sketch-comedy and spoken-word groups. Woolsey Hall and the War Memorial will retain their original functions.
Despite the project’s massive budget, the recommendations do not square perfectly with some of the requests made by certain student groups. For example, while dance groups on campus have expressed a need for more rehearsal space, the report noted that the spatial configurations of the Schwarzman Center are not well suited for a large dance studio. Additionally, though the LGBTQ Student Cooperative requested dedicated space within the center, the committee elected to focus on creating flexible spaces instead. Only the President’s Room on the second floor was recommended for a specific purpose, as the committee suggested reserving it for graduate and professional students, many of whom feel the campus lacks a central gathering place for the graduate student community.
But other parts of the report do reflect student feedback. In an interview with the News, Holloway said food and dining will play an integral role in the center’s design. The report notes that students consulted during a monthslong “listening tour” cited enhanced food and beverage options as their primary desire for the center. The report recommends an overhaul of the current dining hall, adding that the cafeteria space is “woefully overdue for a thorough renovation” and that its lunch service should be better publicized to graduate and professional students. Three of five graduate students interviewed said they had never set foot in Commons.
Alongside the main dining area, the center may also feature a lower-level bistro with a flexible menu adjusted throughout the day. The bistro envisioned in the report would serve coffee in the morning, as well as reasonably priced lunches and dinners later in the day.
The report recommends a handful of features intended to make the new center attractive to graduate and professional students — the demographic that has been the most vocal in advocating for a student center on campus. In addition to setting aside the President’s Room for these students’ use, the report also recommends a bar venue serving wine and beer, noting that other universities have found ways to incorporate both undergraduate and graduate students in such spaces, despite the availability of alcoholic beverages.
Jesse Boretsky LAW ’16 said he views the campus center as a solution to the social isolation endemic to graduate student life at Yale.
“People in graduate school generally just get very, very focused on their own projects,” Boretsky said. “That can tend to drive people into isolation. Maybe that’s a more important goal for the Schwarzman Center, getting people to see new perspectives.”
Boretsky said he has never visited Commons during his time at Yale but would consider visiting the center if it opened before his graduation later this year.
Cooley said the center will add a “new dimension” to the student experience at Yale, including to that of graduate students.
Undergraduates interviewed also expressed enthusiasm about the plans outlined in the report, saying that the center promises to encourage much-needed interaction among students in different residential colleges.
“It sounds like a Global Grounds kind of situation, except bigger,” said Nicole Sanchez ’18, referring to a weekend hangout spot on Old Campus.
Hanna Karimipour ’18 said she hopes the new center will draw students from across the University, allowing undergraduates to mingle with peers who live in different colleges.
“It’s really going to bridge students together in a way other things haven’t,” Nicole Mo ’19 said.
Chang Liu ENG ’16 said she hopes that the provision of new social spaces for graduate students will encourage healthy intellectual dialogue among students in the different schools. And, she added, “a really soft sofa” would be nice, too.