If you Google me, you’re likely to be greeted by pictures of me — and the other Jon Michels who’ve let themselves be known on the internet. In two of them, I’m standing proudly behind a large wooden keyboard — not a xylophone, but a marimba. Never heard of it? If you know what a xylophone looks like, then you know what a marimba looks like. I could go on for a while about the differences between xylophones, marimbas, vibraphones, glockenspiels and so on — but long story short, I’ve grown up around these instruments and hoped to continue fostering my passion for them when I came to Yale.
But when I got here, I found that Yale’s residential college system is much more unequal than it seems — and it stood in my way of pursuing my passion.
As a high schooler, I was an avid percussionist. Although I wanted to practice at home, I was simply unable to afford it. It wasn’t possible for my family to buy me a marimba, so I decided to make one myself. It took about a year, but in the end, I had a fully working instrument, available to play at any time I wanted. Driving a marimba from Ohio to Connecticut isn’t exactly feasible, so I had to leave it behind before coming to Yale. I figured that somewhere in the vast campus would be a single marimba I could play.
It turns out there is. In Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin’s basement, in a small music practice room, there is a marimba.
I’m in Davenport.
Unaware yet of the artificial barriers placed between residential colleges, I spoke to Pauli Murray’s head of college, who referred me to the facility manager. I quickly emailed her my dilemma — I was a percussionist in the Davenport Pops Orchestra, and I wanted to practice, but I didn’t have anywhere to do so. Could I, by any chance, enter the practice room or reserve it? I received a quick response — no.
So, as an avid keyboard percussionist, here are my options if I want to play the instrument that I’ve spent eight years playing: transfer colleges or pay an exorbitant amount to get access to the School of Music.
That’s it. That’s literally it. This isn’t the only time I’ve encountered barriers. I’ve recently become interested in audio production, and luckily lots of colleges have recording studios. I was excited to get involved with it on campus, until I realized the fatal flaw with my plan.
I’m in Davenport.
We don’t have one.
But this isn’t just about marimbas and recording studios — although those things bother me a lot. The inequality of the residential college system is inevitable. While they do create a community, they partition resources as well, excluding students from opportunities that they may not be able to access otherwise.
In Davenport College, I live above a pottery studio closed to students from other colleges, and further down the basement there’s a printing press closed to students from other colleges. For the music rooms with pianos and the three remaining treadmills in the Davenport and Pierson shared gym, the same applies.
I’m grateful to have the community — it really does provide a sense of home, especially for those of us coming from relatively far away places. But the differences between residential colleges are stark.
I don’t believe my case is out of the ordinary. It’s frustrating not being able to pursue my passions because I was randomly placed in a different college a little under two years ago. I don’t want to leave Davenport just for a recording studio. I’m not arguing for the abolishment of the system, but more leniency. The community of Pauli Murray won’t be destroyed if I go into a practice room twice a week.
Residential colleges are an integral part of Yale culture, but who’s stopping us from bending the rules a little bit? The administration just announced cross-residential college housing. Maybe, there is room for change.
Instead of making me feel included, the residential college system has left me feeling left out. In the end, I don’t see myself as a Davenport student. I’m a Yale student.
JON MICHEL is a sophomore in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .