It was 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning in early February when a group of undergraduate women living in Branford College heard two voices coming from their common room. After a few minutes of confusion, the students assumed it was just a fellow suitemate returning with a friend and went to sleep. The next morning, however, the students found in their common room a solitary backpack with a laptop inside — which, after an impromptu investigation, they traced to a graduate student in Yale’s Department of the History of the Art.

“My suitemates and I heard voices in the suite, but assumed it was fine because there is a default expectation of safety in the colleges,” said Sophia Krohn ’20, who lives in the suite. “More than anything, we were shocked that a grad student was able to enter the dorms … He only left his backpack, and we were lucky that he meant no harm.”

Krohn said the graduate student and his companion were likely able to enter her suite’s common room — the door to which was propped open — because the door into her entryway from the Branford courtyard has been jammed all semester and does not shut properly, allowing anyone at Yale to enter the building, regardless of their college affiliation. In general, only students affiliated with a particular residential college can swipe into the college’s entryways.

The art history graduate student ultimately retrieved his backpack, after assuring Krohn and her suitemates that he and his friend were in search of a bathroom — and not an impromptu hook-up spot — the night he left his backpack in the suite’s common room.

This incident, while peculiar, sheds light on a broader facilities problem in Branford College. Seven Branford students interviewed for this story said the college — beneath the surface of its famed Gothic architecture — has poorer facilities than most of Yale’s other residential colleges, citing bad lighting, an unappealing basement and a poorly equipped gym.

Head of Branford Enrique de La Cruz said the college leadership has “concerns” about the basement and other facilities at Branford. He added that after administrators learned that numerous Branford students prefer to use facilities at other colleges, they began asking students for input. In a post last week on the Branford College website, the college leadership invited students to submit suggestions for on how to improve the college’s basement and other facilities.

“We have a lot we would like to do, but do not (yet) have the funds for the larger projects,” De La Cruz said in an email to the News. “We are fortunate that Dean Chun has been very responsive to our concerns and we are working to make progress. A complete overhaul and renovation of the basement is a difficult and costly challenge, given that Branford was built before the college system was in place at Yale, and thus may not have been designed with a functional basement in mind.”

Construction of Yale’s Memorial Quadrangle, which was partitioned into Branford and Saybrook in 1933, concluded in 1921. De La Cruz added that there is a “very significant difference” between Branford’s facilities and those at many other colleges, “presumably because of when they were last renovated and the types of renovations that were done.”

Still, De La Cruz said Branford has made a number of improvements to its basement this year, including the addition of a new air hockey table, new table tennis and billiards accessories, as well as a new speaker unit for the game room and equipment for the gym. The Branford Pottery studio, student kitchen and TV room were also recently renovated and new furniture was placed in the Branford library, De La Cruz added.

But Branford students interviewed suggested that the college could do more to make the basement feel welcoming and homey.

Nick Crosson ’20, said that while his college has some of the best suites and the most beautiful courtyard in the residential college system, the basement is “ugly and old.”

Carmen Clarkin ’20, a buttery manager in Branford, praised the college’s dance studio and TV room but said the butteries in other colleges appear to be more popular as hang out spots and the basements feel more welcoming than the “tunnel like” Branford basement.

“I think we need to focus on making these spaces comfortable and inviting,” Clarkin said. “Just because it is a basement does not mean that it has to be a bleak and dark space … This is something that [the buttery managers have] really been working to improve in the Buttery this semester and we are looking to continue doing.”

Joshua Slocum ’18 said that while the basement is “obviously barebones,” the problem might stem from a poor layout rather than a lack of facilities.

In addition to larger structural or design issues, Krohn said, the ice machine in the Branford basement does not work properly and the washing machines often flood. Students also reported that the gate to Branford just off High Street frequently gets stuck and does not open. Earlier this year, a cement bench in Branford’s Linonia courtyard had to be repaired after a large chunk of it broke off.

While many of Branford’s facilities are functional, Clarkin said, they often suffer from poor lighting and decor and would likely be popular if they were more visually appealing.

Still, De La Cruz emphasized that day-to-day issues — when reported by students — are handled “quickly and efficiently” by the college’s facilities team.

Multiple Branford students also told the News that they hope the historic Branford courtyard tree swing — which was removed early last semester after a tourist fell off it — is reinstalled soon. But De La Cruz explained that the swing will not return, because the tree it was tied to is diseased.

Branford was designed by James Gamble Rogers, class of 1889, who also designed Sterling Memorial Library, Harkness Tower and the Yale Club of New York City.

Britton O’Daly |