The college housing draws are over. The cool, alt kids and the wealthy socialites have moved off campus; housing groups have fallen apart, with their constituent parts restructuring like an insolvent company; and some groups have managed to stay together for some unimaginable length of time (I’m talking longer than a year here). As for me, I found myself among the elect few selected to pick first in the category draw. While I’m sure getting first pick would be a boon anywhere, Jonathan Edwards College junior housing is notoriously bad. In fact, JE junior housing is so bad, (hold your breath for a yo’ mama joke), we used to have our own annex housing on Old Campus: McClellan Hall. But in its infinite wisdom, the University is turning McClellan into classroom space to accommodate the increased number of students entering Yale (because it’s always a good idea to admit more students than space can accommodate). What does that mean for JE juniors who can’t live in the college due to lack of space?
It meant, for a while, that those unlucky enough to be annexed would live in Vanderbilt Hall, infamous for its doubles-only layout. But in an interesting turn of events, several JE juniors will now live in Branford, our supposed rival. They will live among Branford students, eat in the Branford dining hall (or not, because who would?) and become quasi-Branfordians. Some might laud the benefits of such a change: hot breakfast in the mornings, rooms that are mostly singles and the opportunity to become a part of an entirely new community. But this decision, facilitated by the Yale College Dean’s Office, is a stunning betrayal of the spirit and tradition of the residential college system.
Imagine choosing Yale for the residential colleges, those microcosms of campus life and your “home” for the next four years, and then being forced to move to a different one. When we are told that we will not only live in a different college, but in our rival college, and that we should be grateful for all of the benefits accompanying that change, we can only conclude that save for a select few, no one, not even the Yale College Dean’s Office, cares about the guiding ideal behind the residential college system.
A guest columnist said it best when he wrote that residential college living at Yale was never merely about having a space to live; it was about “fostering deep and lasting fidelity to one’s college, a respect for the challenges and benefits of communal living and a kind of residential republicanism” (SCHICK: “Our broken college system,” October 9, 2017). How can we ever hope to come close to achieving that ideal when we don’t even live in our proper colleges?
A student I know that best exemplifies that ideal, lovingly called “the King of JE,” will be living in Branford next year. Sad! More than sad, it’s tragic: not just what happened to my friend but also that this column will probably be met with a resounding “Who cares?” I get it — Branford doesn’t feel like a rival. But it wasn’t always this way. I once met an alumna from the ’70s or ’80s who asked what college I was in. “I’ve never met someone in JE that I liked,” she jokingly said after my response. We won’t have these moments in the future because no care has been taken to ensure that a healthy rivalry exists between Branford and JE. In our college’s first-year handbook, lovingly prepared in another era, exists the following entry: “Intense Dislike of Branford College: We do this a lot. They are our rivals — arch-nemeses if you will. Think Hatfields and McCoys.” What a joke.
Without the tradition of our residential college system, what’s to stop us from becoming like students at Columbia or New York University, perennially preoccupied with space, or lack thereof, as opposed to the community that we we’re privileged to be a part of? When students are annexed to entirely different colleges, not only are they losing out on the community of their college but the community is also lesser without them. It isn’t just a disservice to principle or tradition; it’s a disservice to students in, and now out, of the college.
Even if I haven’t made a strong enough case for figuring out an annex situation more in line with the tradition of the residential colleges, I’m left with a single hope: The next time administrators betray the spirit of the residential colleges and force us to live somewhere else, can we at least be placed somewhere nice? I’m thinking Benjamin Franklin or Pauli Murray.
Adrian Rivera is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .