Courtesy of Francis Dzikowski

Sept. 1 marked the long-awaited opening of the Yale Schwarzman Center, or YSC, commencing with lunch for Yale undergraduates in the Commons dining hall for the first time since 2017.

The Schwarzman Center is a student union offering spaces for community gatherings and the arts. The center’s facilities build upon three tenets: collaboration, wellness and belonging. The center, originally known as “Commons,” closed for renovations in 2017 following a $150 million gift from Stephen Schwarzman ’69 in May 2016.

“The activation of lunch in Commons, seating in The Underground, and grab-and-go service at The Bow Wow marks a busy start to the process of bringing the center’s spaces online,” YSC Executive Director Garth Ross said in an interview with the News. “We’re so grateful to our partners in Yale Hospitality for these achievements. And we look forward to activating the entirety of the center in coming months as the University’s COVID guidance allows, and to seeing it further come to life with performances, events and dining with students, faculty, staff and our friends across New Haven and beyond.”

According to YSC marketing and communications director Maurice Harris, the center encourages interdisciplinarity, and every space encourages Yalies to design new ways to take advantage of offered features.

YSC’s focal point is Commons, the University’s historic dining hall that first opened in 1901. The now-renovated space preserves its long wooden tables and chandeliers, complemented by a new PA system, air conditioning and projection screens.

Yesterday, diners were introduced to a novel method of food selection: a plated meal from one of four themed stations. According to Yale Hospitality Marketing and Communications Senior Manager Christelle Ramos, meals at Commons are different from the “all-you-care-to-eat” style of residential college dining halls. This supports Yale Hospitality’s 2019 Food Organic Waste Reduction Initiative.

There are two cafes, located in YSC’s Underground area, which will open at a later date. These shops are named Elm and Ivy as tribute to “Elm City,” or New Haven, and the Ivy League. Elm is an all-day cafe with gelato and brewed coffee, while Ivy serves “late night pub fare” in the evenings. Yalies over 21 years of age can come to The Well, a dimly lit pub carved into the building’s granite foundation and serving beer from Handsome Dan-shaped beer taps. Harris said that the name applies not only to the room’s appearance but also to its mission of wellness. The room is devoid of TVs and meant to be a place for free-flowing conversation.

Another just-opened snack shop in The Underground is The Bow Wow, unofficially replacing Durfee’s convenience store. Here, students can use lunch swipes to pick up snacks such as sushi, kombucha, and seaweed, and they can also purchase toiletries and Yale merchandise. Durfee’s is closed this year and Ramos said she was “uncertain” if it would ever open again.

YSC is primarily a space for arts in addition to community building, and its arts offerings begin in Commons, where exhibitions can be displayed on screens. Ramos described the connections of food with art by explaining Commons head chef David Kuzma’s meticulous care with each meal.

“Food is an art form in itself,” she said.

Visitors can experience student and professional art in two galleries. In coming months, students can request these spaces to display their work or book performing arts venues via YSC’s website.

The Underground hosts a theater and dance studio. The theater is Yale’s only proscenium theater — a type of ancient theater where a rounded stage juts out to the audience — and viewers watch from four small booths with fireplaces called “inglenooks.” The dance studio, on the other hand, includes pan-tilt-zoom, or PTZ, cameras that swivel in several directions, AV systems, mounted speakers and a drop-down projection screen — adapted to the post-Zoom world. The space is currently used as a COVID-19 testing site.

“The studio is gorgeous; they’ve put a lot of time and energy and money into it, which the dance community is really grateful for,” said Nora Faverzani ’23, co-president of Yale Dancers. “The hope is that as the need for testing declines, the studio can be used for dance — there’s a lot of places you can do testing but not a lot of places you can dance.”

In the past, graduate students were typically excluded from Commons. An appeal from three student governments — the Yale College Council, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, and the Graduate Student Assembly — sparked the concept of a center bridging boundaries between undergraduate, graduate and professional students at Yale.

On the center’s second floor is the Annex, a naturally-lit hallway with alcoves for students to meet. The Annex includes a graduate student lounge and will house a satellite location of Silliman’s Good Life Center beginning in October. 

Alexa Vaneghas ’20, a Woodbridge Fellow at the Good Life Center, said that graduate and professional school students often find the GLC’s residential college location inaccessible. She looks forward to the GLC’s new reach and envisions other campus wellness centers in the future. 

“It’s impossible to think about student life without also thinking about wellness,” Vaneghas wrote in an email to the News. “Creating a Good Life Center in YSC not only emphasizes the communal nature of student life, but also helps create a campus culture that promotes wellness as a fundamental, accessible human right.”

On the third floor is The Dome, a performance space that is equipped to serve any artistic purpose and exemplifies YSC’s call for creation and innovation. It includes a sprung floor, a PTZ camera, projection screens and a performance space in the center of the room. Harris is eager to see Yalies bring their creativity to the room.

On Tuesday night, YSC residential dining senior director Robert Sullivan sent an email assigning times at which undergraduate students could eat lunch at Commons depending on their residential college.

Courtesy of Francis Dzikowski

Hannah Landau ’23 said there was no line when she received her meal on Wednesday, which was an improvement considering the crowds at places like Silliman and Berkeley college. This allowed her to ask about ingredients and mention dietary restrictions. Veronika Denner ’23 added that Commons has fewer vegan options than residential college dining halls, but those available tasted better.

Sam Heimowitz ’23 said his only frustration was the restriction to one meal swipe.

“I was very pleasantly surprised and impressed by how good the food was,” Max Heimowitz ’23 said. “It feels like a fancier experience than the [residential college] dining halls.”

Commons is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch daily.

Marisol Carty was Arts Editor from 2021-2022 and previously covered Music. She double majors in Economics and Philosophy.