This past Sunday afternoon, all students in Saybrook received an email from Head of College Thomas Near announcing that our dining hall will be closed for the entirety of the 2020–21 school year for “a dramatic renovation of our dining facilities.” An update to the Saybrook dining hall has long been in discussion. In many Saybrook College Council meetings earlier this year, Head Near discussed previously planned summer renovations to the dining hall servery and our underground buttery area. The dining hall could certainly use a renovation; as much as I am a proud Saybrugian, and believe fully in my heart that it is objectively the best residential college, I know that the quality of the food in our dining hall is comparatively lacking. All Saybrugians know the feeling of jealousy — and wonder — when we walk into Franklin or Murray’s posh servery, complete with pizza ovens, custom bowls and extensive salad bars. By no means am I against a renovation to the dining hall. But absolutely no renovation is worth the price of our dining hall’s closure for an entire school year; a whole host of issues for student life and dining, and the destruction of the lifeblood of community within Saybrook College, will follow.
The clearest and most obvious issue with the renovations is the lack of dining options for students in the Memorial Quadrangle. With the closure of the Saybrook and Branford dining halls, nearby colleges will become even more crowded than they are this year due to Commons’ closure. There are certainly valid claims that the reopening of Commons next year will help to alleviate this problem, but the distance from Saybrook or Branford to Beinecke Plaza is certainly cause for concern. Further, the Commons will not serve dinner for students on the meal plan (despite the fact that it will feature a sit-down restaurant). We can only expect a massive influx of students to the surrounding dining halls following Saybrook and Branford’s closure. Certainly, administrators thought of this issue when they announced that Yale on York might be opened for dinner next year for Saybrook and Branford students depending on sufficient student interest; this solution seems lackluster and ineffective due to the distance of Yale on York from the rest of undergraduate spaces on campus, and unappealing aesthetics of the space.
While I can’t claim to have looked at the floor plans for each residential college dining hall, Saybrook is certainly one of, if not the, smallest. Due to its food’s comparatively poor reputation, our dining hall is mostly frequented only by members of the college; for the most part, the Saybrook dining hall is usually very comfortably occupied. During Sunday evening family dinners, though, the space can get incredibly crowded: Think Silliman or Berkeley during prime lunch rush. I can only imagine what will happen after the extensive renovations when Saybrook becomes the campus’s premier dining hall. With students swarming the small space for its food, there will be a loss of Saybrugian identity within the dining hall as members of our college divert elsewhere for a calmer, faster experience. The Saybrook dining hall’s peaceful reputation — let alone our community of students that regularly eat there — will surely disappear.
The lack of a dining hall is a large and important incentive for junior and senior students to move off campus next year. One of the primary motivators for upperclassmen to remain on campus is the speed and ease of campus dining. For many students, it does not make sense to pay a premium for on-campus housing, compared to prices for spaces off campus, to continue to live in Saybrook with no dining services available. This dining hall renovation — and the sacrifices necessary for it to happen — do not align whatsoever with Dean Marvin Chun’s efforts in recent years to retain students on campus during their junior and senior years in order to revitalize residential college community.
This leads us to the deepest threat posed by the closure of the dining hall: the dissolution of the community that I value so dearly. It’s the multi-hour brunches by the window chatting with friends over coffee and waffles, the Sunday family dinners with all of the first years packed in at the edge of the long table and the ability to know that whenever I go to the dining hall, I’ll be able to sit with people that I know, that have fostered a sense of community within Saybrook for all of us. Sure, intramural sports and college council and our buttery certainly contribute to our Saybrugian spirit, but it is the dining hall where most of us regularly interact. Saybrook is known for its strong and vivid community. What will happen to that community when our dining hall is gone?
I fear so greatly for the incoming Class of 2024. Remembering back to this past fall, I recall two places — my room and the Saybrook dining hall — that served as homes and safe spaces for me at Yale, which was still a very new and very scary place. It was the dining hall that allowed me to meet people outside of my FroCo group but still within my college; it was the dining hall where I met upperclassmen who today are some of my best friends; it was the dining hall where buzz about the Tyng Cup and intramurals led me to come and play and eventually become an IM secretary; it was in the dining hall that I found out that the pizza at Saybrook College Council made it worth coming to meetings and then made me quickly fall in love with our Monday-night discussions on how to better the college; it was the dining hall that has shown me the vibrancy of our spirit in Saybrook and has allowed me to integrate into the three years of community present in our college before me. Without the dining hall, I have no clue how the Class of 2024 will be able to join and function within the Saybrook community at large.
I’m not against renovations. A summer renovation, or one that stretched from the spring semester into the following fall, would be much preferred. But the elimination of such an essential space for an entire year will drastically detriment the Saybrook community, and its effects will be felt for years to come.
BENJAMIN BECKMAN is a first year in Saybrook College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .