A few weeks ago, I invited a few close friends to my suite for an evening of cheese tasting — the perfect night in. Since one of my friends lives in my entryway in Benjamin Franklin College, our friend from Pierson made the trek north, through the snow. Upon arrival, he found himself lost in one of our smaller courtyards: He had visited the dining hall but had never been to Benjamin Franklin to socialize.
“I always make my friends come closer to campus!” he explained.
My friend’s unfamiliarity with Benjamin Franklin’s layout is indicative of a broader problem facing Yale’s two new residential colleges and their students: Though hundreds of students live north of the Grove Street Cemetery, the vast majority of social events take place in the center of campus, a substantial walk away.
My experiences living in Benjamin Franklin have, for the most part, been wonderful. Our head of college and dean have worked tirelessly to build a tightly knit community on Prospect Street, despite our noticeable dearth of older students and established traditions. Events such as our weekly happy hour and annual Halloween trick-or-treating are sure to become perennial traditions for generations of Yale students. I hear similar sentiments from our neighbors in Pauli Murray. Something, however, feels missing.
Though the Benjamin Franklin dining hall is filled to the brim at lunch each weekday with students from Science Hill who crave our bibimbap and pizza, entire tables remain empty at dinner. The recent “Declaration of IndepenDance” failed to attract more than a handful of students while Jonathan Edwards’ Spider Ball, held on the same night, was packed. Intercollege social life remains firmly entrenched within a hundred-yard radius of Cross Campus.
The residential colleges were not designed to exist on their own. Living in a heterogeneous community is a wonderful way to meet people with different interests, but this should not come at the expense of being able to socialize with peers in different colleges. When two colleges are far removed from the others, the distance becomes a geographic barrier to attending social events for those students — especially during the cold season that lasts for half of the academic year. While my classmates living on Old Campus or in the central colleges can easily catch up with friends on weeknights, I know that the frigid round trip will cost me 20 or 30 minutes in commuting time — time most of us do not have to spare.
Nothing can be done about the physical distance between the new colleges and the rest of campus, but strategic policy can mitigate the difficulty of staying socially connected with friends in other colleges. Administrators should implement a more frequent and convenient shuttle service linking Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray with central campus during dinner hours and on Friday and Saturday nights, making it easier for classmates to join us for meals and social events.
The new colleges also need to offer more incentives for students to visit — clearly, even the enhanced dining halls are not enough. Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray can plan — and widely advertise — more weekend events that will attract members of other colleges, such as dances and study breaks. Administrators can also incentivize groups and clubs, who host a large proportion of campus social activities, to hold events in the new colleges by subsidizing the cost of snacks and beverages and making it easier to book common spaces.
One of the most inconvenient aspects of living in Benjamin Franklin is the distance from commercial areas. Students in all other colleges, including Silliman and Timothy Dwight, live a stone’s throw from coffee shops and other businesses that serve as social spaces. The area around the new colleges, in contrast, consists entirely of offices and academic buildings. A handy solution would be to open a cafe like The Acorn in Silliman, enticing students from all colleges to spend time on Prospect Street.
Integrating two new colleges into the fabric of Yale’s social scene is no small feat, and I do not wish to sound ungrateful for my new home. A lot of work has already been put into the creation of close-knit community with lasting traditions. I fear, however, that in their quest to build photogenic buildings, the Yale administration has neglected to adequately consider the social needs of the students who live in those spaces.
Social isolation is pernicious, and its effects are far reaching. The Yale administration should do more to ensure all students can live fulfilling social lives on campus.
Isaiah Schrader is a first year in Franklin College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .