When it opens in 2020, the Schwarzman Center will present Yale’s undergraduate, graduate and professional students with a new central space on campus to gather. As administrators involved with the center’s planning gravitate toward establishing flexible spaces for student groups to use within the center, organizations that have petitioned for areas specifically targeted to their groups say it is unclear whether the planned design will meet their needs.
The $150 million donation from The Blackstone Group founder Stephen Schwarzman ’69 will enable Yale to establish its first University-wide student center, and the administration has actively sought student input since the project was first announced last May. A report released on Feb. 11 from the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee to University President Peter Salovey underscored that the design of the space must be flexible and able to accommodate multiple functions. While the committee acknowledged that certain student organizations, such as dance groups and the LGBTQ Student Cooperative, made strong arguments in favor of space allocated specifically to their needs, it ultimately recommended that spaces serving a single group be avoided.
But students within those groups, which are seeking to expand or establish their presence on campus, continue to question the degree to which the center’s all-inclusive purpose will benefit organizations that already feel sidelined. A report released by the Yale College Council Task Force on LGBTQ Resources last fall, for example, called for the establishment of a dedicated LGBTQ center on campus. Similarly, Yale’s two dozen dance groups have voiced concerns over a scarcity of studios and practice spaces. The Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee’s report acknowledged this need, noting that “there are pressing needs in the arts that cannot be fulfilled with the spaces available in the center; they deserve institutional attention.”
Members of student groups interviewed spoke positively of flexible spaces that can be used for a variety of purposes, but they emphasized that the Schwarzman Center should provide for specific needs of groups that currently lack physical spaces on campus, as long as other groups are not excluded as a result.
“A space that serves dancers’ needs can easily serve the needs of many groups, but a space that serves the needs of many groups can easily neglect dancers’ needs,” Rhythmic Blue Co-President Rachel Ha ’17 said. “I think that to ensure these spaces can be used flexibly and intensely by the largest number of groups, any group, not just dance groups, with specific needs should be accommodated as long as they do not prohibit other groups’ use of the space.”
Salovey said while no final decisions have been made concerning the composure of the center, the current plan is to leave spaces open to all groups in the spirit of flexibility.
“The inclination is to think of the space inside as flexible and assignable,” he said. “It’s not that historically marginalized groups might not have space — it’s that no groups will own space of any kind. But rather the space will be sign-outable: it could be assigned to groups as they need space for an activity, and we will try to keep it flexible. That’s the current thinking.”
He added that his goal, as well as that of the advisory committee, is to create an environment that is welcoming to all “underrepresented groups,” especially through artistic, social and cultural programs at the center.
Members of dance groups on campus said they are in full support of multipurpose spaces, but they emphasized that the Schwarzman Center may leave their concerns about a dearth of practice and performance spaces unresolved.
“Our needs are desperate and also felt by other student performing arts disciplines,” Artistic Director of the Alliance for Dance at Yale Nicole Feng ’16 said. “However, the vision for the Schwarzman Center is a hub on campus that attracts and welcomes all, and it is not specifically designated as a solution. The multipurpose nature of the Schwarzman Center will foster a creative environment for the arts and student life to intersect in exciting ways, but the basic needs of dance remain unmet.”
According to Rhythmic Blue Co-President Hana Bendy ’17, the dance community at Yale is large but underserved when it comes to rehearsal and performance spaces. Dancers often need studios with specific sprung floors, full-length mirrors and functioning speakers to practice, she said, but due to the increase in classes offered at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium and the time limits at the Broadway Rehearsal Lofts, acquiring studio space can often be “tricky and difficult.”
ADAY Publicity Coordinator Mahir Rahman ’16 added that many dance spaces, such as the 60 Sachem St. Studio and the Harkness Ballroom in the School of Medicine, are located far from central campus, forcing dancers to go out of their way just to practice. More convenient locations, including the Payne Whitney Gym, the Broadway Rehearsal Lofts and residential college dance studios, are often limited in their capacity or availability. With limited space and time, Rahman said, the art produced can become restricted.
In the planning of the Schwarzman Center, many dancers said, the needs of their groups can be easily met without restricting the use of the space by other student groups on campus.
“I am fully in support of multipurpose spaces but urge the University to really consider the requirements that the various groups on campus will need,” Bendy said. “As long as these spaces take into account the needs of all groups … I believe the Schwarzman Center will have a positive impact on campus.”
ADAY Executive Director Joana Andoh ’17 said by 2020, she envisions the Schwarzman Center becoming a leading performance center like the Frist Film/Performance Theater at Princeton University or the Annenberg Center for Performing Arts at the University of Pennsylvania. While Andoh said she is unsure if the Schwarzman Center can serve all of these performance functions, she hopes that the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee will prioritize the needs of the dance community given the physical nature of dance.
Still, students within the LGBTQ community were more adamant about the need for specifically designated spaces. While dancers face limited practice and performance spaces, the LGBTQ Student Cooperative, which currently meets in the Women’s Center, does not have any physical space at all.
Kyle Ranieri ’18, a peer liaison for the Office of LGBTQ Resources and one of the two co-chairs of the LGBTQ Student Co-op, said his group continues to believe that it needs a designated space on campus to conduct meetings and host events. The Schwarzman Center, Ranieri said, is a prime opportunity to supply groups with resources that may not have been offered to them by the University in the past.
LGBTQ Peer Liaison Max Goldberg ’17 said he is disappointed that even though members of the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee met with LGBTQ students twice last semester, the Co-op will still not receive its own space. He called the plans a “missed opportunity” and said members of the LGBTQ community were frustrated by the report.
“It is interesting that [after] the outcry in November that people do not feel like they’re home at Yale, we’re not creating homes for people in this new space,” Goldberg said. “A home for everyone is a home for no one.”
Still, Director of LGBTQ Resources Maria Trumpler said the report’s conclusion was what she had expected all along.
“My hope is that the Schwarzman Center will have great space that the LGBTQ [Student] Co-op can use for dance parties, for meetings and for hosting visiting speakers and artists,” Trumpler said.
Daniel Leibovic ’17, an undergraduate representative on the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee, said designating areas to specific groups does not seem possible because of high interest and a lack of space.
“Ultimately the space is limited by square footage, and there is — though we instructed the architects to inform us if otherwise — not enough space to dedicate to any particular campus group or community,” he said. “We were compelled by the statements from campus writing groups, dance groups and cultural groups, but it is not possible to fairly give priority to any one group in this limited space meant to cultivate as much undergraduate and graduate student activity as possible.”
Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway co-chaired the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee, which also included four undergraduates.