Megan Vaz, Contributing Photographer

For the first time since the pandemic’s start, the gates of Old Campus are open, allowing local residents and members of the public to walk through its arches. 

Phelps Gate, High Street Gate and Daniels Memorial Gateway, located on three sides of Old Campus, were previously closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a sweeping shift in access policy, Yale Security cited returns to pre-pandemic rules for opening the gates. Old Campus has historically served as a popular stop for touring families, nearby residents and non-undergraduate members of the Yale community. Visitors expressed excitement and gratitude over the return to normalcy. 

“It’s nice to see people walking around — the students, the energy — people walking around in the middle of the day,” said New Haven resident Zack Babin, who lives in an apartment near Phelps Gate.

During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Yale implemented several restrictions on movement through and around campus, including limits on student access to campus spaces. After briefly resuming on-campus tours in October 2021, the University suspended tours for prospective students and their families from late January to February 2022. Undergraduate students were also prohibited from hosting guests on campus, at times violating restrictions during events like Family Weekend and Yale-Harvard weekend. 

One high school junior, Karintha Liu, enjoyed experiencing Yale and Old Campus for the first time on a campus tour today. Accompanied by her mother and family friends, she expressed appreciation for the access change.

“Being able to tour around a place physically, in person, is really different from touring it online or through websites, since I know a lot of schools are doing that,” said Liu. “Getting a sense of the school, you also get a sense of the community around, the people — the town itself.”

Before the pandemic, Old Campus experienced periods of closure several times. After three women on Old Campus were assaulted in their dormitories in 1976, Yale Security barricaded the Phelps Gate entrance to curb violence against students. Meanwhile, the closure to outsiders prompted a wave of racial tension between white and Black Yalies and community members that led to a rise in racial profiling. 

Weariness toward Yale community outsiders persisted on campus. In 2002, one Op-ed published in the News noted tensions between the freedom to move around campus and a diminished sense of safety, continuing to note confusion in discerning between visitors and potential intruders. Later on, in 2007, one News article further discussed Black Yalies’ association with “townies,” with another student describing that “Yale as an institution both tacitly and explicitly encourages students to feel superior to those outside its gates.”  

Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the University moved to “insulate” its students from the threat of pandemic in the city, both literally and figuratively closing off its gates to New Haven. Now that campus and city COVID-19 rates of infection have fallen, Yale aims to make the campus accessible to city residents again. 

“The University has decided to return Old Campus access to the pre-pandemic schedule,” Duane Lovello, director of Yale Security, wrote in an email to the News.

The shift in access accompanies other choices to relax COVID-19 restrictions on campus after Yale’s COVID-19 alert level dropped down to yellow. This includes the lifting of indoor mask mandates after spring break and loosened quarantine rules for returning students. 

Some have expressed enthusiasm for increased integration of the New Haven community with Yale’s campus, including a few residents who frequented Old Campus before the pandemic.

“We welcome the public, visitors and guests back on Old Campus and look forward to continuing to provide connections of our campus and our community,” wrote Lauren Zucker, associate vice president for New Haven Affairs and University Properties.

Visitors are using their returned access to campus for peaceful breaks, family time and fresh air. Amid warmer weather and more sunshine, Old Campus residents may see parents shuffling behind strollers on the paths and an influx of dog-walkers. One man briefly spoke to the News about his appreciation for the open Old Campus, as he used to take walks through the lawn during his work breaks.

“I personally love it because I don’t have to bother someone to walk behind, because my eight month-old needs as much grass as possible and this is the closest to my apartment,” said Babin, who roamed Old Campus with his dog today.

Students have also welcomed the change to gate access, reporting little concern for safety despite past closures for security breaches.

Braiya Nolan ’25, who lives beside Phelps Gate in Bingham Hall, said that she does not worry about security on campus because the Old Campus gates are still closed after dark. 

“During the day I think it’s really lovely with more life walking through,” Nolan said. “Plus, I like not having to scan.”

The first building on Old Campus was established in 1718.

Megan Vaz is the former city desk editor. She previously covered Yale-New Haven relations and Yale unions, additionally serving as an audience desk staffer.