The University recently announced that the Schwarzman Center, set to open in 2020, will be physically expanded to accommodate more students and groups on campus. But following the news of the expansion this past week, students have expressed mixed reactions to the usefulness of the physical augmentations, whose cost University officials and Schwarzman’s representatives declined to disclose.
While some students interviewed expressed excitement about the new spaces, others questioned the purpose of a multifunctional space and said any money directed toward the project could be better spent on other parts of campus. Eleven of 12 students surveyed by the News said the focus and finances of the University should go toward more pressing needs.
“Money should be being spent elsewhere,” Caroline Kim ’18 said. “This money could go to the cultural houses, for example. They’re so underfunded and understaffed, and I haven’t yet seen the benefits of [University President Peter] Salovey saying he would devote more funds to the houses.”
The decision to physically expand the center was made last spring by a group that included major donor Stephen Schwarzman ’69, top University administrators and the center’s architect. On Sept. 15, Bruce Alexander ’65 — vice president for New Haven and state affairs and campus development — made an internal announcement about the expansion to the center’s stakeholders and those familiar with its planning.
Several spokespeople at Blackstone Group — Schwarzman’s multibillion dollar private equity firm — declined to comment on the cost of the expansion and whether it will require contributions exceeding Schwarzman’s initial $150 million pledge. Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor declined to comment as well.
In March, the News interviewed students involved with the LGBTQ Student Cooperative, which currently lacks a physical space of its own on campus, as well as members of Yale’s 20-plus dance groups, all of whom questioned the center’s ability to make room for their specific needs. While the Schwarzman Center aims to have a multipurpose function, students involved in the groups that feel marginalized or are already competing for space on campus said they do not expect to see their problems solved with the center’s opening.
And now, even with the physical expansion, the designation of the center as “multipurpose” has left some to wonder if their groups will be able to carve out a distinct space of their own.
“More space is always better, and Commons badly needed a renovation,” said Max Goldberg ’17, director of the Spectrum Fellowship — a peer-mentoring program that addresses LGBTQ and intersectional identities and student needs — and a former peer liaison for the Office of LGBTQ Resources. “That said, it’s one building out of many on campus, and since it’s built as a multipurpose building and very few of the spaces … are designated for a specific activity or group, the center is unlikely to significantly affect student life on campus.”
Susan Cahan, Yale College associate dean and dean for the arts, said the use of the new space will be in keeping with the recommendations from the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee’s report, which was released this February.
In the report, the committee acknowledged that “there are pressing needs in the arts that cannot be fulfilled with the spaces available in the center.” The report stated that there is a critical need for at least one designated dance studio within the center, as well as a film-screening venue, but that spatial configurations precluded their construction. Since the report’s release and following the announcement of the physical additions, no other updates on the allocation of the center’s spaces have been issued.
“As much as I’m supportive of this space, I do not think there will be much of a positive impact if this turns out not to be a dance-specific space,” said Katherine Oh ’18, executive president of the Alliance for Dance at Yale. “The dance community is lacking so much as is, and it wouldn’t hurt to ensure a space solely for [this community]. More often than not, dance groups will have nowhere to practice because non-dance groups decide that they just want to reserve a big room, thus taking away those last few options during the most hectic tech weeks for many.”
The report also declined to allocate rooms within the center to single student groups, including the LGBTQ Student Cooperative, which has been campaigning for a physical center on campus for several years.
“Essentially, the committee said, ‘We understand that you have a need, but it’s not our problem.’ That hurts, and it doesn’t make sense,” Goldberg said, adding that unlike dancers, queer Yalies did not choose their identity or the derision and social exclusion that comes with that association. “Yet again, Yale is pushing aside the needs of LGBTQ students — a group that makes up nearly a quarter of the undergraduate student body.”
Still, others said they are excited about the potential of the space to be a congregating space for undergraduate, graduate and professional students alike.
Yale College Council President Peter Huang ’18 said he was excited to hear about the physical augmentations to the center.
“While Commons currently does serve as a central location for people of different residential colleges to congregate, it is primarily an eating place and there is no social space on campus with a mission of serving the entire undergraduate population,” he said.
Tyler Godoff SOM ’16, who served as the School of Management student representative on the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee, told the News that the center will help graduate and professional students feel more engaged with the University. He feels that the opinions of graduate and professional students have been asked for and taken into consideration at every stage of the center’s planning, he added.
The Schwarzman Center is designed by the architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle.