The May 2015 announcement that business magnate Stephen Schwarzman ’69 had donated $150 million toward the renovation of Commons and Memorial Hall prompted largely negative reactions from the Yale community over what seemed to many an extravagant project when funds were needed elsewhere. But now, as the arrival of the class of 2020 marks the first year some students on campus will actually be present for the opening of the center, freshmen interviewed said the Schwarzman Center controversy has been dwarfed by other more recent naming issues on campus.
Now that blue name placards outside the building have been changed to read “The Schwarzman Center,” many upperclassmen wonder about how long the name “Commons” will persist in the student body’s collective memory, and what impact the center will have on student life. During his Freshman Assembly Speech in Woolsey Hall — just beyond the boundaries of the Schwarzman Center — University President Peter Salovey noted that the class of 2020 “inevitably brings to mind perfect eyesight.” If he is correct, then what clarity can the freshmen bring to the fate of the Schwarzman donation’s reputation with posterity?
One insight into tensions about what freshmen should call the center appeared in a Sept. 2 Facebook post on “Overheard at Yale” wherein “Freshman B” rebuked “Freshman A” saying, “YOU go to Schwarzman, I’m going to Commons.” The post received 630 reactions.
However, more than half of the roughly 20 freshmen interviewed thought that the center’s name change was no longer relevant in comparison to other discussions on campus. Most of those freshmen interviewed by the News did not even know who Schwarzman was. The center is expected to be completed by spring 2020.
“I’m pretty ambivalent about the name,” said Sidney Saint-Hilaire ’20. “It’s not as contentious as the other naming issues on campus, like Calhoun. I feel like it doesn’t have a large impact upon how we perceive Commons, or what we are going to do with [the Schwarzman Center] after it’s made.”
Even those freshmen who were more explicitly against the name change were less concerned with Schwarzman and his enterprises and more interested in the preservation of the name “Commons” itself. Walter Thulin ’20 said he would be disappointed if the student body started calling it the “Schwarzman Center” instead of “Commons,” because that would be a break from tradition.
A few freshmen interviewed expressed gratitude for the gift and its potential benefits to student life. They were unworried by the change in name and instead believed that the functionality of the new space would be what ultimately mattered.
The are 1,373 members of the class of 2020.