Five colleges lack common room furniture, raising equity concerns
One administrator told the News that COVID-19-related delays have kept Pierson, Davenport, Berkeley, Jonathan Edwards and Grace Hopper Colleges from receiving furniture for common suite areas.
Yale Daily News
Some common rooms in residential college suites come fully furnished with shelves, armchairs and couches.
Others come empty. Five of the fourteen residential colleges — Berkeley, Davenport, Grace Hopper, Jonathan Edwards and Pierson Colleges — do not provide students with common room furniture, which students living in those colleges say can pose a high financial burden.
“All of the costs and energy we have spent on furniture is ridiculous when you realize that this is an issue that not all colleges and students face, despite being charged the same room and board,” Davenport student Nyakera Ogora ’24 told the News.
Those five colleges are expected to receive common room furniture for their suites in the next two to three years, Head of Morse College Catherine Panter-Brick told the News. Panter-Brick also serves as chair of the Council of the Heads of College.
For students in residential colleges where common rooms are left unfurnished, the financial burden of buying furniture can be significant, echoing the sentiments of Davenport student Nyakera Ogora ’24. It’s a challenge that underscores the importance of accessible and affordable options in the world of home decor. Perhaps, introducing versatile and stylish collections like Copper and Tweed could offer a solution, allowing students to curate their common spaces with elegance and ease, irrespective of their college’s policies. As institutions work toward ensuring equal access to essential amenities, the choice of furnishing can play a pivotal role in creating inclusive and comfortable living environments for all students.
In the past, Panter-Brick explained, students in all colleges supplied their own common space furniture and were provided summer storage space for it. Panter-Brick said she was not sure how administrators chose which colleges got common room furniture first.
Senior Associate Dean of Strategic Initiatives and Communications for Yale College Paul McKinley wrote to the News that furniture in all colleges is paid for from the University’s capital projects budget, adding that the long-term goal has been to provide common room furniture to all student suites. McKinley wrote that furniture was first provided on Old Campus and the suites in Silliman and Timothy Dwight assigned to first-years. Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray received common room furniture when they opened.
The original move to provide furniture aimed to address “equity issues across the colleges” according to Panter-Brick, who explained that each of the colleges had varying opportunities for summer storage. However, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented all colleges from immediately receiving furniture, she said.
McKinley wrote that these disruptions were caused by how all construction was suspended in the summer of 2020 and how the supply chains broke down. He also wrote that there was further complication of the original planning due to the need to provide furniture to the suites used to house first-years in the four additional residential colleges including Morse, Saybrook, Branford and Davenport, in addition to Silliman, Timothy Dwight, Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray in the 2021-2022 school year.
“Many of the disruptions are now easing, and the timeline is getting back on track,” McKinley wrote to the News.
The News spoke to seven students across the five colleges that do not have common space furniture. Each expressed concerns over the cost of having to acquire, store and move their own furnishings.
For most students, the main issue with having to provide their own furniture was the cost.
Ashley Reyes ’25, who is in Pierson, told the News that not being provided common room furniture was largely a financial concern, as every member but one in her suite are first-generation, low-income students.
“Furniture is crazy expensive and just not something we accounted for,” Reyes told the News.
Reyes said she and her suitemates bought used furniture, but were not sure if it would be sanitary. She also mentioned the time-intensive process of transporting furniture and having to limit their furniture to what would fit in a car.
William Hin ’25, who also lives in Pierson, told the News that having to furnish his suite was “definitely a financial burden.” Given the transportation costs on top of the cost of the furniture itself, Hin said that getting furniture overall was “fees on top of fees on top of fees.”
Other students also agreed that buying furniture creates an extra financial burden.
“As an FGLI student, I was worried that I would not be able to contribute any money to my suite’s furniture fund, but luckily, my suite was very resourceful and figured out a way to avoid having to spend money on furniture,” Joanna Ruiz ’25, who is in Jonathan Edwards, wrote to the News.
Ruiz said that her suitemates found free furniture through different outlets like Craigslist and rescued items from a dumpster, borrowing a car to move the furniture. However, Ruiz added that her suite was “very lucky,” as trying to source furniture would have been a “greater burden” if they did not live on the first floor.
Ogora, who is in Davenport, also wrote to the News that finding furniture and transporting it was “very frustrating” and “sours” the relationship between students and their residential college.
Ellie Barlow ’25, who is in Grace Hopper, also found buying furniture difficult and expensive for her and her suitemates.
“Even to buy from For Free and For Sale [on Facebook] is expensive and when you are already paying a lot of fees, it feels very unjustified to have to spend that much,” Barlow wrote to the News.
Karley Yung ’25, who lives in Berkeley, said her suite is still in the process of getting furniture, but they had to take time out of their summer and school year to find the furniture they have.
In addition to the cost of the furniture and the time to move it, students also expressed frustration with the impact the policy has on the social community within the colleges.
“It is especially hypocritical that we are expected to form bonds and friendships within our college in these shared spaces since, without a comfortable common room with seating, it is nearly impossible,” Ogora wrote to the News.
Reyes agreed, adding that the disparity in furnishing across colleges “drives people away” from suites without furniture and “isolates students.”
Students also expressed concern over having to store their furniture, which was what prompted the move to provide furniture in the first place, according to Panter-Brick.
Head of Berkeley College David Evans ’92 wrote to the News that he looks forward to when furniture can be provided in the college. For now, Berkeley allows students to store a limited number of tagged furniture items in the following year’s suite, saving the cost of finding storage.
Ari Essunfeld ’24, who is in Grace Hopper, described finding storage as “super tricky.”
Panter-Brick said the colleges still need to consider storage for personal items as Yale-issued furniture becomes standardized across colleges, explaining that storage systems vary widely across colleges.
“It’s a large issue, right in the summer when you’re taking exams and then you have to move out and then you have to store your stuff,” Panter-Brick said.
The first seven residential colleges were opened on Sept. 25, 1933.