Swing Space got a bad rap. Last year, when people asked me where I lived, I became accustomed to responses of groans and pity frowns. It’s so sterile, and it’s so far, people would say. “Doesn’t it look like a dorm?” In response, I became Swing Space’s biggest advocate. “Air-conditioning,” I said, and “I have a bathtub, too.” “Walk-in closet and proximity to Payne Whitney Gym,” I’d laugh — though I really cared only about one of those two.
But somewhere along the way, I began to mean it. I loved Swing Space, officially Baker Hall. Built in 1931 for nonresidential law school facilities, the building was morphed into Swing Space in 1998 to house undergraduates during residential college renovations. It served as overflow housing until last year, when the law school began renovating it to serve as on-campus accommodations for law students. All the rooms were apartment-style doubles — two enormous singles plus a common room, a kitchenette and an in-suite bathroom. Unlike most Yale students who have never transferred residential colleges, I’ve lived in a different place each year: L-Dub as a Berkeley freshman, Berkeley College as a sophomore, Swing Space in annex housing and, this year, off campus.
I feel the most nostalgic for Swing Space. When I walk past Grove Street Cemetery, I mourn dear Baker Hall with it, fondly remembering the walks back from campus to my comfortable refuge on Tower Parkway.
Swing Space solved two problems, and it could have solved a third. First, it provided just the right amount of off-campus living that I sought. I never wanted to move off campus, but I was ready to get space from Cross Campus and to feel some separation from the center of student life, to feel I could go home at the end of the day and be apart from Yale. I loved having a kitchenette, though I rarely used it, and having lots of space was enough to console me that I was annexed from my residential college. It gave me just the small amount of independence I sought, without sacrificing much. The six-minute walk from Berkeley College was worth it, giving me the solace and alone time I’d never even realized I needed as a classically extroverted Yalie.
In a counterintuitive way, too, living in Swing Space likely kept me in my residential college. Had I been a sophomore when the new colleges opened themselves up to transfers, I probably would have left. Instead, I learned how to be a part of it without living in it, because I still lived on campus but not in the college itself. I went back for family dinners, special college events and to use its facilities. Now, though there are fewer reasons to go back as an off-campus student, I still very much feel that Berkeley is my college. Though I’m not the most rah-rah Berkeley student, I know that in a few short weeks at Commencement I will feel that it’s the right place for me to be receiving my diploma. It’s been a constant, though evolving, during my four years.
Swing Space also could have solved one final problem: living with students from other colleges without transferring. That was my primary motivator to move off campus. With the advent of the new colleges, transfers have spiked, and it appears more normal to transfer multiple times at Yale. But I feel more attached to Berkeley than any other college, and I didn’t want to leave just because the person I hoped to live with is in Timothy Dwight. Swing Space could have allowed for students from different colleges to live together, to stay affiliated with their colleges and stay on campus without living in college-specific housing.
Swing Space, of course, is not a viable option, but perhaps its lessons can endure. One is that many students do, indeed, want to live on campus, whether or not the residential college system in its purest form is the way they want it. As I mourn 100 Tower Parkway in the nostalgic daze of my final weeks here, I propose imaginativity for on-campus housing beyond the residential college suites. The possibilities range from investing in apartment-style suites to allowing for intercollege housing. As Yale considers what to do about the off-campus flight and the spike in residential college transfers, I posit that though Swing Space is dead, the opportunity for on-campus flexibility and the lessons of annex housing can live on.
Hedy Gutfreund is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .