Yale Daily News

In a break with tradition, Yale College students will not be allowed to host Harvard students in residential college dormitories over the weekend of the Yale-Harvard football game due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

Harvard’s Student Engagement Office wrote in an Oct. 21 email to the Harvard student body that Yale dorms will not be available to Harvard students over the weekend of the Game because of pandemic-related restrictions. According to a copy of the email obtained by the News, Harvard students are “strongly [encouraged]” to depart Cambridge the Saturday morning of the game and return that same night, forgoing the weekend-long festivities the two student bodies traditionally share in. University administrators have yet to make a formal announcement of the policy to the Yale student body. 

Yale College Dean Marvin Chun wrote in an email to the News that the decision is “consistent with the [University’s] policy that prohibits most visitors from entering campus buildings, including residences.”

The Yale-Harvard Game, which will take place this year on Saturday, Nov. 20 at noon, is a hallmark of the rivalry between the two Ivies. The game typically draws current students, alumni, parents and friends, and it was last played at the Yale Bowl in Nov. 2019. Last year’s game was canceled because of pandemic restrictions — the first cancellation since 1943.

In previous years, Harvard students were permitted to stay in the common rooms of Yale’s residential colleges over the weekend of the game on a first-come, first-serve sign-up basis. The arrangement allowed students to partake in night-before traditions like Toad’s Place’s annual Yale-Harvard night.

Associate Vice President of Student Engagement Burgwell Howard wrote in an email to the News that while planning for the game typically begins early in the fall semester, preparations have been impacted by the evolving state of the pandemic. Administrators at Yale and Harvard have been in talks to determine “the safest ways to facilitate this sporting event and the related gatherings for many students, fans and alumni from both institutions,” he wrote.

According to Howard, the decision not to host overnight guests from Harvard on Yale’s campus came in early October as a mutual agreement between the two schools. The choice was influenced by the nationwide surge in the Delta variant in September, Howard wrote. 

According to Jordi Bertrán Ramírez ’24, the Yale College Council health and safety policy director, YCC leaders were not informed of the decision prior to Harvard’s announcement. 

“We found out along with everyone else, which has made it harder for us to advocate on behalf of students,” Bertrán Ramírez said.

While the decision not to permit Harvard students to stay in the dorms might be disappointing to Yale students, Bertrán Ramírez said, it is ultimately a decision that prioritizes the health and safety of Yale students, faculty and staff. 

The University’s ability to safely host audiences at live performing arts events and sporting events — and, indeed, the ability to invite Yale alumni and Harvard students to attend the game itself — has been contingent on maintaining low case rates, Bertrán Ramírez noted. He added that he hopes the policy will be another step towards a gradual return to normal campus life.

Still, the policy has led some students to seek alternate arrangements. Emma McKinney ’23 said that she is planning on hosting four or five students in her off-campus apartment over the weekend of the game — some young alumni and some Harvard students. McKinney said that she and other off-campus friends are hosting more people in their apartments than originally anticipated as a result of the policy change.

“I’m concerned that this policy will have a disproportionate effect on either lower-income Harvard students or those without a lot of Yale friends, as at that point the only option is to book an Airbnb or hotel,” McKinney said. “I’ve heard from friends visiting for the Game that these places book out a long time in advance and since this policy was only recently announced, the few options left could very well be prohibitively expensive for many students.”

Bertrán Ramírez echoed the sentiment, saying that while they “[commended]” the University for trying to keep the Yale community safe, the policy is nevertheless disadvantageous to many Harvard students. Students without the “financial means or social networks” to book a hotel or stay with off-campus Yale friends will be “unable to participate in the same festivities as those who do,” they said.

According to Chun, all students should receive the same level of support, “regardless of income,” because Harvard is planning on its students returning to Cambridge after the game on Saturday evening.

However, according to the Oct. 21 email from Harvard’s student engagement office, the number of event tickets will significantly outstrip the number of shuttle bus tickets available to transport Harvard students to and from New Haven on that Saturday. A substantial number of Harvard students will therefore likely find themselves forced to find alternate transportation — such as a Zipcar, train or Uber — and pay for it out-of-pocket. 

Harvard’s email did not indicate any plans to financially support students for whom finding alternate transportation was cost-prohibitive. 

While Howard noted that fans have the individual liberty to book local hotels or Airbnbs for the weekend, he stressed that neither university recommended doing so, nor will either school participate in organizing lodging arrangements. For off-campus students planning to host Harvard guests, Howard wrote, he urged caution. Howard encouraged students hosting guests to confirm their vaccination status, mask indoors and keep the windows open. 

Chun echoed Howard’s sentiments about off-campus guests and safety practices, adding that Yale and Harvard students who receive positive COVID-19 test results in proximity to the weekend should follow instructions regarding quarantine and isolation. 

Howard said that the University is still expecting a “strong turnout” of Yale and Harvard fans at the game. He also acknowledged that the crowd may not be as big as in previous years.

“We recognize that some fans may not wish to gather with a large crowd in-person this year, and may choose to gather in smaller groups and watch the televised event,” Howard wrote.

In 2019, Yale rallied from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Harvard 50–43 in double overtime.

Olivia Tucker covered student policy & affairs as a beat reporter in 2021-22. She previously served as an associate editor of the Yale Daily News Magazine and covered gender equity and diversity. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a senior in Davenport College majoring in English.