Zoe Berg, Photo Editor

On Nov. 21 at 2 p.m., campus residences will close for all Yale students. For juniors and seniors, this date — now under four weeks away — marks the beginning of a two-month break from New Haven. For most first years, however, it may mark the last time they’ll see Yale until next August.

University President Peter Salovey announced at the beginning of August that first years would not be invited back to Yale’s residences for the spring 2021 semester unless granted an exemption. Since they won’t return after Thanksgiving, first years will have spent a total of 13 weeks on campus, 43 percent of the approximately 30 weeks spent on campus in a normal academic year. 

According to four students interviewed by the News, first years are feeling the discomfort that comes from a year ending too soon. Some first years have applied for exemptions to remain on campus after Thanksgiving. The first years who will not be on campus next semester fall into three main categories: those returning home, those finding off-campus housing in New Haven and those living someplace entirely different.

“It is so sad to leave, because it was just starting to get really homey,” Ben Cifu ’24 told the News. “It was much better being here than I thought it would be. The freedoms we had were more than enough, and I was able to build friendships that will be very helpful for the next nine months. But I wanted to explore more, and to meet more people, and that’s all getting cut short.”

First-year students who feel that their homes are not a satisfactory learning environment — due to time zone differences or other reasons — could petition to stay on campus. The application for such petitions closed last Friday. Students have not yet been informed about whether or not their petitions have been accepted, nor have they been given a timeframe on the matter, according to Margot Lee ’24.

According to Lee, international students form a fair portion of these exemption applicants. Lee, who is from Australia, explained that her home country has placed limits on how many people can leave at any given time. If she returned to Australia for Thanksgiving break, Lee said, it would not be clear if she could come back to Yale in the fall should the restrictions stay the same. On top of the travel restrictions is a 15-hour time difference between New Haven and Sydney. Many international students would have to deal with disrupted sleep schedules if they were to take classes from home, Lee said.

“My family lives overseas, so that means it would be very difficult to attend classes at New Haven time,” said Amre Proman ’24, who applied for the exemption. “While it might be possible, it would limit my options to the classes I could take, and it would make it really hard to socialize with friends on the East Coast. The on-campus experience, while not ideal, is the best experience Yale has to offer right now.”

The administration has not yet announced where first years receiving spring exemptions will live next term.

While the number of first years on campus in the spring will be small, Proman said she thinks a strong community will form regardless.

“It’s going to be a different experience, because first years won’t have this broad sense of community as the main class that is here right now,” she said. “That will be something to get used to. But I’m really hopeful that there will be enough first years on campus that we’ll have ways to meet each other. I also don’t want to discount the value of meeting the sophomores. It will be great to meet people who are closest to us in age, so I’m really excited for that.”

Jessie Cheung ’24 told the News she is requesting to stay partially because she would rather not have to handle the stress of her first college finals season at home.

“My home situation isn’t the greatest,” Cheung said. “I left when we were in an argument, and I felt the pressure to take care of my family and make sure everything was ok. I didn’t get to focus on my schoolwork. Staying here and having finals would be hard enough. Having to do that in a completely new environment for the next two months is too much.”

Some first years not returning to campus in the spring are looking for other housing options to live and learn remotely with fellow students.

Josephine Cureton ’24 is trying to find off-campus New Haven housing with several friends. She said she is already engaged in Connecticut policy work that she’d like to continue, and that she did not want to be separated from her new Yale friends for the next ten months.

Cifu, however, is planning on learning remotely in a new location. He and his suitemates will live together in Middlebury, VT. Cifu said that part of this decision comes from a desire to spend the spring with people going through a similar academic schedule.

“Being around people who are on the same schedule and going through similar things will make classes a lot easier,” Cifu said. “Talking with friends back home, everyone’s had mixed experiences, and everyone’s in a different place. It would be easier for me to keep my focus if I could remain with people on the same wavelength as me.”

First years began moving in for the fall semester on Aug. 24.

Owen Tucker-Smith | owen.tucker-smith@yale.edu

OWEN TUCKER-SMITH
Owen Tucker-Smith covers the Mayor's office, City Hall and local politics. He is also an associate editor at the Yale Daily News Magazine. Originally from Williamstown, MA, he is a first-year in Ezra Stiles College majoring in statistics and data science.