With shared food and guests on campus, typical residential college teas do not align with social distancing guidelines, so each college will decide how to adjust the tradition this semester.

Individual heads of college, who usually plan and host teas in their homes, are responsible for reimagining the activities this semester. Many colleges have started to develop plans for holding teas even amid the pandemic.

“We will continue to have teas and talks even though, sadly, we can’t have them in the living room of the house,” Trumbull Head of College Margaret Clark wrote to her residential college community on Friday. “We will do this virtually.”

College teas are a long-running tradition in which residential colleges invite successful professionals to sit down with students for a discussion on their field of expertise — whether it be athletics, science or journalism.

Yale references the teas in promotional admissions material — from typical campus tours to the “That’s Why I Chose Yale” video.

“I think they’re a great opportunity to see the faces and people behind organizations and movements,” says Melissa Wang ’23. “It humanizes the industries and fields that students end up working in. Even if I didn’t always agree with the perspectives of the speakers, I found the teas engaging and insightful, especially when I got to hear about people’s personal stories and life paths.”

Yale’s public health guidelines limit in-person gatherings, restricting large groups of students from gathering for any in-person speaker event this semester. Unlike other speaker events, teas include snacks for attendees and often allow residential college members to share a meal with their guests before or after the event — fostering a more personal, intimate experience than a lecture does. Still, the element of communal eating introduces added health concerns.

Silliman Head of College Laurie Santos wrote in an email to the News that she will try to maintain this aspect of college teas. 

“Our Silliman students can also sign up for smaller private ‘dinners’ over zoom with the speaker just like we did during live events before,” she wrote. “We’ll also have homemade tea snacks as usual, which students can sign up to pick up in advance in safer individually wrapped portions which will be made by our amazing service assistant Cara in our Sillikitchen.”

Silliman is set to host Jay Shetty, a former monk and current viral content creator, as well as Emily Anthes ’05, an award-winning science journalist and author, who will discuss the psychological effects of life indoors.

Still, other colleges have hosted virtual teas in the past. Timothy Dwight Head of College Mary Lui told the news that last semester, the college hosted several teas over Zoom. One speaker, renowned graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, was able to show close-up spreads of his new novel, “Dragon Hoops,” through Zoom’s screen sharing abilities. This feature gave students a clear look at the art and storyline in detail that would have been impossible in person. TD also posted a recording of the tea online in case time zones or busy schedules prevented students from being able to attend the session live.

Since speakers no longer have to come all the way to New Haven, colleges can also bring in speakers who would otherwise be unable or unwilling to attend in-person. 



Jordan Fitzgerald is a staff reporter covering gender equity and diversity. She is a sophomore in Trumbull College majoring in American history.