Wa Liu

The recently released advisory committee report outlining recommendations for the Schwarzman Center paints a lavish picture of bistro-style dining and weekend concerts. But for students in the graduate and professional schools, the 2020 opening of the $150 million campus student center will fulfill a far humbler vision: a campus hub designed to combat the social isolation many describe as endemic to graduate school life.

The nearly 100-page report, released last Thursday by the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee after months of soliciting student input, recommends a series of features designed specifically to improve life outside the classroom for graduate and professional students, including a bar venue serving wine and beer and an upstairs room reserved exclusively for students in the University’s 13 graduate and professional schools. The center promises to deliver the kind of centralized social experience missing from existing graduate student facilities on campus, such as Blue Dog Cafe and GPSCY.

“Making the Schwarzman Center a destination for all students will improve the environment for graduate and professional students,” Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews told the News. “Programming and space that invite interaction among students will make everyone feel part of the Yale community and less isolated.”

The report, which has been sent for approval to University President Peter Salovey, includes a number of features designed specifically to appeal to graduate and professional students. It calls for the center to stay open year-round to serve the large cohort of graduate students who remain in New Haven over the summer. It envisions high-profile guest speaker events modeled on the master’s teas currently held in the residential colleges, areas not typically frequented by graduate students. And it recommends that administrators turn the second-floor President’s Room — a high-ceilinged, circular room typically used to entertain guests of the University — into a designated hangout space for graduate and professional school students.

According to GPSS President Elizabeth Mo GRD ’18, an ex-officio member of the advisory committee, the President’s Room would serve as the focal point of graduate student social life at the Schwarzman Center, as well as a sanctuary for students who wish to avoid the undergraduates they teach in lab groups and discussion sections.

Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley led the 27-member task force that compiled the report, which was commissioned last spring after The Blackstone Group founder Stephen Schwarzman ’69 donated $150 million, the second-largest gift in University history, toward turning Commons into a student hub on campus. The Graduate Student Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate had spent years lobbying the University for a campus student center in advance of the donation.

Mo said she hopes the center will serve as an oasis from graduate students’ high-pressure academic work, which often consumes their social lives.

“It will bring people who are seeking more social interaction out to meet people,” Mo said, adding that she expects the enhanced dining options at the new center to attract students from across the University.

The report also suggests creating a bistro-style dining area with a flexible menu and a late-night pub. The pub envisioned in the report could provide a larger and more centrally located alternative to Gryphon’s Pub at GPSCY, a popular weekend hangout spot for graduate and professional students.

Many of the recommendations highlighted in the report appear calculated to push back against the widespread belief that the University lacks on-campus facilities that cater to the needs of graduate students. In addition to the new social spaces, the report calls for rooms for late-night studying on weekdays, a provision likely designed to address complaints about the relatively early closing times of Yale’s Cross Campus libraries.

The opening of the center could also make strides in the ongoing battle against mental illness at the graduate and professional schools, students interviewed said.

GSA President Elizabeth Salm GRD ’18, another ex-officio member of the advisory committee, said that by reducing social isolation on campus, the center promises to chip away at one of the major sources of stress and anxiety among graduate students.

“I see it as a place that can help in terms of having a lot of different resources available and a lot of different activities,” Salm said. “The Schwarzman Center has the potential … to reduce some of that social isolation.”

But she emphasized that social isolation remains only one aspect of the large and complicated problem of mental health resources for graduate students, and that the GSA will continue to collaborate with the University on improving treatment options for those suffering from depression.

Paul Genecin, the director of Yale Health, said he doubts the Schwarzman Center will help students overcome clinical disorders.

“The University should support culture change, and provide resources and facilities to help students achieve balance in the personal, professional and social spheres,” Genecin said. “But much of the work of culture change must be done by the students. This isn’t something that money can buy.”

Graduate students interviewed generally expressed enthusiasm about the social mixing promised by the new center.

Tiange Zhou MUS ’16 said her friends often lament the difficulty of meeting peers from other graduate and professional schools and would benefit from a centrally located social space on campus. Zhou added that GPSCY is “too small and old” to facilitate the kind of social interaction promised by the Schwarzman Center.

Lydia Consilvio MUS ’17 said she enjoys the social events held for graduate and professional students at the Hall of Graduate Studies on the first Friday of every month, and that she hopes the center will provide more opportunities for interaction among students in different schools.

But not all students interviewed expressed excitement about the prospect of a centralized meeting place on campus.

“I go from here to the library and home again,” Sebastian Rider-Sezerra GRD ’18 said over dinner at the Hall of Graduate Studies. “I don’t really go anywhere.”

Rider-Sezerra, a member of the GSA who specializes in library-related issues, added that he has always gotten the impression that humanities students prefer to socialize within their individual departments.

Salovey announced earlier this week that he will help judge a Schwarzman Center brainstorming contest at Commons on Saturday.