Victoria Lu

“Durfee?” I remember asking with great incredulity. I was in the jungle, waist-deep in mud in the wild outdoors of Singapore at the tail end of an exhausting five-day adventure leadership camp when I finally got my phone back and saw my residential college assignment. Because the college allocations had come out a few days ago, my phone was spammed with what seemed like a thousand messages from various people, all curious to know more about me. But the one thing that stood out to me was the strange name of the place that was to be my first-year dorm. I did a quick Google search.

And that is how I got acquainted instead with Durfee Sweet Shoppe, the place that, little did I know then, was to become my favorite spot on this sprawling campus that is Yale. It was a rather confusing name, I must admit. The pretentiousness of the “e” behind its name smelt suspiciously of those phony “Ye Olde Englishe Faires” chock-full of anachronisms. In my mind, I pictured a shop filled to the brim with red-and-white striped peppermints and quaint licorice.

Nothing prepared me for the shock when I discovered what Durfee really was like. There were no chocolate fountains; only tall towers of barbeque sauce. The place smelt more like chicken grease than sugar and honey. Instead of penny candies, there were yogurts that cost more than the shirt on my back. 

Yet, it quickly became one of my favorite places on campus. One of its greatest appeals to me was its convenience. Living in Durfee E entryway, I could bound up and down five flights of stairs at the drop of a hat and grab a little — albeit, overpriced — nibble. If I was late to English class in LC, I could swing by on my way from Hillhouse and grab some chicken tenders. Most people I know who went to Yale pre-COVID-19 most definitely have at least one memory of walking down Elm Street, mentally calculating the perfect lunch swipe order at Durfee or praying that the chicken tenders would be more chicken than burned batter that day. 

For me, Durfee was also an important part of my mental health during my first year at Yale. As a self-professed extroverted-introvert, I remember dining halls were often places of incredibly stressful and awkward social interactions. Even if I was busy grabbing a bite, people-watching or spending time with my own thoughts, there was always that looming threat of a well-meaning, but chatty friend sitting down to talk. Durfee lunch swipes gave me the me-time that I needed in the middle of the day to curl up with some tenders by the skylight in my room and spend some time alone, listening to the birds chirp or the rustle of some fall leaves. 

I suppose if there was a place that you could take the pulse of a campus, Durfee would be it. It was the place to watch the swarms of people jaywalking across Elm Street and get into the ever-growing 1pm Durfee line snaking out of the store. If I was part of this line, I’d hear the cashiers shout out chicken tender orders. I’d stress about the fact that if I passed a part of the store, I wouldn’t be able to come back to it without losing my spot in the line. I’d run into random people — maybe a college crush? Durfee was where I realized that the scary junior in Econ section, that famous senior, that accomplished athlete, were all really just hungry people who wanted chicken tenders and yogurts and mango smoothies. 

Now, the light in Durfee is never on. I haven’t walked past there in a bit, but last I saw, it had been converted into a makeshift kitchen for Old Campus residents. I don’t know when next time I walk in and spend too much money on a good ol’ sandwich and yogurt will be. But I do know that somewhere in the dingy basement of Durfee Hall are the remnants of a campus life, waiting to be kindled again.

Shi Wen Yeo edits the Opinion Desk. She is a Senior in Morse College, majoring in English and Economics. Her column "Through the stained glass" runs every other Tuesday.