The entire sophomore class remembers the pre-COVID-19 scene pretty distinctly. We exited campus blissfully hoping for a smooth return after spring break, only to face online classes and an indefinite absence from campus. As COVID-19 conditions improved, some students were allowed to return to Yale, with one exception — sophomores. Barring a housing exemption, our class would spend the first semester remote.
I’m in Branford, and my college’s spirit has remained resilient. This January, Branfordians marched into our storied suites with our heads held high. We’d stuck it out and hoped to rebuild our collective spirit.
Now Yale has presented us with another challenge. Next year, rising junior Branfordians might be kicked off campus — again.
We were told that first years would be living in the college, sophomores would be living in Vanderbilt Hall on Old Campus, seniors would get first pick and juniors would be subject to the leftovers. In other words, we’d sift through the remainders after selection by other classes. If there weren’t enough rooms, there was no plan to annex us, and there was no communication as to why we were being torn apart again. We were on campus for under 1.5 semesters our first year and have barely been on campus for a full semester now. This is a little more than 2 semesters of housing in 2 years. As Yale students, we are guaranteed two years of on-campus housing according to the official Yale College Undergraduate Regulations. Why does this not hold true for us?
Some colleges, including Branford, began using a new housing portal system this year: StarRez, as opposed to Vesta. Navigation of the new portal is difficult and we have been unable to assess the true extent of the housing shortage. If we go through with the draw and reject a room that is less than ideal, we will incur “a nonrefundable deposit of one-quarter (25%) of the term room rent,” per Financial Services. This is upwards of $2,000, which may pose an insurmountable barrier for some students. By contrast, a deposit-free system could allow students who don’t want their housing assignments to relinquish them without consequence, opening up slots for students who wanted housing but did not get it, generating more space in the college.
Many students, if denied campus housing, do not have the financial means or resources to live off campus. In Branford, our housing draw has been pushed to April 28. Other colleges have similarly late draws. How are we expected to secure decent, inexpensive housing without knowing if we need to? Moreover, many students already experience housing instability, and most people who planned to live off campus have already signed leases. Housing instability, food insecurity and the mental health repercussions brought about by the sudden loss of the vibrant Yale community will pose a serious threat to those forced to leave.
Yale has been hit extraordinarily hard by the pandemic and our community is still reeling. Divided, fractured and missing the heart and soul of our usual collective presence, how can we rebuild our community if we are to be separated again?
Through an outburst of over 300 messages in the Branford class of 2023 group chat, we realized that no one is worried about getting the biggest single or having a beautiful view of the courtyard. Rather, we’re concerned for the coherence of our class community.
Branford’s administration offered one solution — converting our already tiny single rooms into dual occupancy standalone doubles. These types of rooms, which dominate the remaining doubles draw, are perhaps preferable to being kicked off campus altogether, but nevertheless represent a betrayal of the founding tenet of the Yale residential college system: after all, common rooms and suite-style living are fundamental to the microcosmic communities that characterize residential colleges on a broader scale.
I feel lucky to be here on campus during such turbulent times. I appreciate the administration’s efforts. But sophomores are upset and confused. Why are we being forced to scramble for housing at the last minute? Why do we always get the short end of the stick?
Here are a few solutions.
First, in order to reduce density on campus and to ensure singles, universities have secured housing in hotels adjacent to campus. For example, The U.S. Air Force Academy, University of Pittsburgh, New York University and Emerson College rented out floors of nearby hotels for students. There are many hotels and apartments around Yale’s campus that Yale could rent out which accommodate the cherished suite-style living.
Another solution is to count students from the class of 2023 who took leaves of absence as sophomores. Currently they are counted as members of the original rising junior class. Those of us who spent all of last semester at home, effectively losing a semester of true college life in the process, should be getting priority in the housing draw, not being pushed to the back of the line. This is especially true for those students who opted to take the entire year remote, who, if forced off campus, would only have one opportunity to live in their residential college, if at all.
Lastly, if hotels and changing the layout of the housing draw cannot be changed, we would appreciate greater transparency surrounding annex housing. Regardless of the situation, the Yale community will be fractured in one way or another. If we are annexed to other residential colleges or to nearby Yale-affiliated buildings, at least we will still be part of the on-campus Yale student community.
I understand that we are dealing with a pandemic, and that we all have to adapt. But I believe that I, as a rising junior in Branford, have been asked to do more than others. The promise of Yale’s residential life should be given to all members of the community equitably. Yale, do better.