In August, students in Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges pasted posters and photographs along the walls of their freshly painted dorms. But while dorm rooms in the new colleges now brim with students’ personalities, walls in the colleges’ public spaces remain bare.
Many of Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges’ common rooms, libraries and dining halls are not yet decorated with the traditional artwork and engravings that cover the walls of other colleges. Now, after settling into their new homes, students and faculty are considering how to reify the identities of the colleges in art and decor.
This semester, Head of Pauli Murray College Tina Lu chartered a committee to commission art for the college’s common spaces. Its members — including Chair of the Committee on Art in Public Spaces Samuel Messer ART ’82, an art collector who graduated from Yale College, two undergraduates and Lu — met this past week to discuss potential artists.
“I want to have stuff there that is meaningful as art and does not date,” Lu said. “I want people to come, especially to the dining hall, and feel that it’s been inhabited by an artistic imagination.”
A prominent civil rights leader and one of the first female Episcopal priests, Anne Pauline Murray LAW ’65 co-founded the National Organization for Women in 1966 after she became the first African American to graduate from Yale Law School.
For many students in the college, the opportunity to choose new art is a chance to honor Murray, the only person of color and the first woman to be chosen as a namesake for a residential college.
“Portraits of Pauli Murray and similarly prominent human rights activists or women would be nice because that would add to the antique feel and character of our college,” Murray first year Shannon Phuah ’21 said.
Indeed, many students interviewed, such as Phuah, emphasized that art in Murray should reflect the diversity of Yale’s history and include works beyond portraits of white men, as is the case in some other residential colleges.
Sam Brakarsh ’21 said Murray should break from Anglocentrism and feature portraits of figures from Africa, Latin America and Asia. More diverse art would allow students to escape “the Yale bubble,” he added.
Keniel Yao ’19 suggested that the walls display photos of the college’s construction as mementos of Murray’s history.
But Emma Ruohoniemi ’21 said that, for the moment, filling Murray with art would be premature. The college’s identity is not yet fully developed, she said, and decorating it with art would impose a “narrative” on the college.
In Benjamin Franklin, Head of College Charles Bailyn ’81 said he plans to form a committee to choose art, books and decor to fill the college’s library.
“This is the first time since 1962 that’s there’s been a residential college library with nothing in it,” Bailyn said. “And that’s an incredible opportunity — one that will not come again.”
Bailyn is currently working with historians at the Franklin Papers, a half-century old initiative to catalogue all Franklin’s written work, to bring historical artifacts to the college. He said he intends to include a display case in the library to honor the college’s namesake.
Duncan Umphrey ’21 said he would like to see a painting in the college of Benjamin Franklin shaking hands with President Salovey to symbolize the union of the past and future.
But other Benjamin Franklin students, such as Viviana Arroyo ’20, expressed more reluctance to display images of their college’s namesake on the walls.
After the April 2016 announcement of the college’s namesake, student activists decried the University’s decision to honor a white male slave owner, and some rechristened the college to honor legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin.
Other Franklin students were quick to distinguish between the legacy of their college namesake and that of John C. Calhoun, class of 1804, an infamous statesman and slavery advocate.
“Because [Benjamin Franklin] acknowledged the immorality of slavery and converted his beliefs, it makes him different from Calhoun,” said Mylinh He ’20, a student in Benjamin Franklin. “So in that way, I think he would be safer to project around the college.”
But still others, such as Jiyoung Kang ’21, suggested abstract or three-dimensional art for the walls of the only 21st-century colleges at Yale.
Arroyo said she prefers paintings to the outdated portraits of other colleges and that the art in the dining hall should reflect the light and airy atmosphere of the room, which, in good weather, is bathed in sunlight, radiating in from the room’s many windows.
Bailyn also suggested decorating the blank walls of the college’s basement with murals.
Benjamin Franklin College is located at 90 Prospect Street, and Pauli Murray College is located at 130 Prospect Street.
Hailey Fuchs | firstname.lastname@example.org
Eui Young Kim | email@example.com