There comes a time when customs become traditions, when values become virtues and when arbitrary feats become heroic deeds. There also comes a time when an institution must confront contemporary pressures with appropriate change. Although change must always be in tandem with the rhythm set by culture and the times, change — as it should — necessarily preserves parts of the past.
The recent decision by Davenport to renovate the Davenport Armour Room — a multi-purpose room in the college named after an alumnus — and turn it into a student wellness center may come on the heels of a push for student mental health, but like a growing number of other decisions on campus, disrespects the foundation and history of Yale.
Academic and emotional stress among students merits critical consideration, diversion of funds and perhaps swift efforts on the part of the Yale Corporation to support mental well-being. Indeed, as mental health worsens, various residential colleges have worked at a feverish pace to supplement existing resources.
However, these demands should not come at the cost of the pervasive, quiet destruction of Yale’s historical and societal prominence. The wood-floored buildings, dusty leather books and Gothic architecture reflect both the steadfastness of the university as an institution and the lifelong value of the education we receive, as we follow in the footsteps of alumni hundreds of years before us.
The issue at hand dips not into student health affairs or even the residential colleges, but rather into the decision making of the alumni, the administration and the Board in determining Yale’s purpose and aesthetic vision. Hefty decisions such as renovating the Armory should belong to these university-wide authorities rather than individual residential colleges.
The Davenport Armour Room is a portal to the alumni of years long past, who lived in a culture entirely distinct from ours today. Yale itself is a museum, and the decision to renovate disgraces the memories of camaraderie and friendship emanating from the walls of the room, humbling those Yalies who enjoy its space.
The Armour Room showcases the lasting beauty of Yale and its commitment to excellence, and moreover, it feeds student flourishing by offering a space to talk with friends and to study. Today, it seems, these beautiful parts of Yale may not last, lost among the streamlined and commercialized process of building new buildings at the university.
The preservation of the Armour Room would serve as an encounter with Yale’s history and tradition, giving students of any persuasion a space to debate and expand their minds. It shelters the living artifacts of the last century as much as it exposes current students to new ideas and conversations.
The Armour Room harbors sentimental, historical, cultural and practical value for many students and alumni in the Yale community, myself included. The blind decision to transform it is a fleeting attempt to deal with a much larger problem.
I received the news humorously, finding it ridiculous that any Yale administrator could sacrifice the Armory for sandpits and dog visits. I must confess, this news, though extremely disappointing, did not surprise me. The failure of the administration to address the slow unraveling of traditional Yale culture and campus life have left me with no other expectations.
I would provoke discontent in suggesting a religious solution to the stress culture that warrants the creation of the Good Life Center and a chorus of campus organizations trying in vain to provide student happiness. So be it. But, at the very least, this decision addresses the issue just as much as a painkiller stops the hemorrhaging.
The denuding of Harkness tower’s history with Katy Perry jingles is momentary, even producing an enjoyable balance with the Bach and Tchaikovsky flowing from its bells, but the stripping of the Armour Room is a permanent attack, a subversion of the core aesthetic and philosophy of purpose that has long drawn the world’s attention to this university.
I plead desperately for the reversal of this decision for the very reason that the decision was made: the promotion of student well-being, the continued betterment of the Yale community and the attention to the core principles which have guided Yale for longer than our country’s existence.
Carson Macik is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this piece referred to the Davenport “Armory.” This room does not exist. It is the Davenport Armour Room, named for Allison V. Armour ‘1884. The piece has been edited to reflect this.