I live directly across from the Divinity School and my commute to the Architecture School at 180 York is a simple rectangle: south on Prospect Street for six blocks, west on Chapel for two. On bike I can do it in six minutes, but I try to budget at least 10. If there is ice or snow, I will go by foot. Cutting the rectangle and taking the hypotenuse, I work my way through the quads of Cross Campus or Old Campus. Even on bike, if I am not in a hurry, I will still cut the rectangle. I prefer to take in the campus scene — the early morning military parade in front of Sterling, the sounds of an a cappella rehearsal wafting onto Cross Campus, the afternoon running club, the outdoor improv performance. Some rectangles, however, cannot be cut: the gates of James Roger Gamble’s Memorial Quadrangle, the colleges Saybrook and Branford. They are locked. In fact, for my peers, and the students of the graduate and professional schools, all the college gates are locked. If we become affiliated with a college, we can gain access to its gates (I enjoy such privileges with Pierson) but the experience of Yale’s campus — alternating courtyards, small and large, the very essence of its collegiate architecture — remains off limits to all graduate commuters.
This is a small thing, but it matters. The history of university architecture, after all, is the history of walking. From the simple cloister — built so students and monks could walk around and around while receiving lessons — to the grand axes of Duke or the picturesque paths of Princeton, well-built universities are carefully designed with the pedestrian in mind. Our campus has an extraordinary collection of carefully designed walks. Why chop them up for half the student body?
If the reason for locking out the graduate students is safety, the lockout generates very little. During normal hours, the sufficiently determined can always find a helpful undergraduate to gain access to a courtyard, no matter their motives. But making such an ask of a stranger is enough to deter most of my peers. So the locked-door policy creates a false sense of security and a very real sense of exclusion.
This exclusion carries very real social costs. Should we want to eat at a dining hall, attend an event at a common room, go to a tea, see a performance, even meet with a professor, we are nominally excluded. And intentionally so: Gate access is a perennial goal for the elected graduate bodies — the Graduate and Professional School Senate and the Graduate School Assembly — but they have had no success on the matter.
If administrators really do want a connected campus, the exclusion becomes nonsensical. An administrator recently enthused to me how many more common spaces for meetings between the graduates and the undergraduates there will be once they turn Commons into the Schwarzman Center. If that really is a priority, why not just let the graduate students into the colleges? With a few edits to whatever spreadsheet controls the gates, you would instantly create hundreds of places undergraduates and graduates can meet. It would be an ingenious and friendly piece of policy. It would instantly shift the culture of the University.
It might even cost less than $150 million.
Nicolas Kemper is a graduate student in the School of Architecture. He is a former staff columnist for the News. Contact him at email@example.com .