Scorching heat. Noisy fans. That girl throwing up in front of our window. This is the atmosphere at Yale in the beginning of the fall semester. My suitemate screams out of the blue as if he’s in deep pain, and proceeds to take off his clothes to take his fourth shower of the day. And the school year has just begun! Just a few days ago, we were dreaming about how eventful and joyful the first few days at our new “home” would be. Eventful, joyful — and scorching hot!
The first modern air conditioning system was invented in 1902. Sadly, 120 years later, some universities still seem to struggle to understand the brilliance of the technology. Even among Ivy League universities, air conditioning is considered an elite privilege. Out of the 8 world-class schools, only Columbia has started to use pre-installed air conditioning units. But what reason could Yale and universities with similar prestige have for roasting its students in exchange for a rent equivalent to a New York apartment? Perhaps it’s for energy conservation? I bet the energy consumption of two fans per student and four daily showers uses at least as much environmental damage as the air conditioning would, not to mention the enormous amount of appliances thrown away at the end of each school year.
Sleeping in over 82 degree heat can have long-term impact on your body and brain function. The next day work activity will be objectively slower, your brain will lose focus and you will become exhausted more quickly. Considering that these are especially important factors for students, it seems like the lack of A.C. units propose a serious problem for the student population. But what if a student, knowing the health risks and work consequences, would be determined enough to install a permanent air conditioning unit in their living space, covering all costs, and donating it to the university at the end of the year? It turns out that Yale’s New Student FAQs website answers with a short and brutal “no.”
Admittedly, in newer colleges there are systems available that could be used to cool the air. However, “the cooling system in Franklin and Murray would not be turned on in student rooms, in fairness to students in other colleges,” former head of Benjamin Franklin college Charles Bailyn wrote to the News in 2018, shortly after these units were installed.
This year, due to an internal temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit, Pauli Murray College issued an official heat advisory. Assistant director of operations, Melissa Jungeblut sent out an email to the student population, titled “Extreme Heat.” Sent on Sept. 6, during 90 degree weather, the email acknowledged the lack of comfort in college dorms: “I’m sure your rooms are less than comfortable temperature-wise,” said Jungeblut. The email proposed an alternative accommodation solution: “please feel free to sleep in some of our public spaces that are air conditioned: buttery, common room, library — even the basketball court. Just a reminder to be respectful of our custodial staff and clean up after yourselves if you do choose to sleep in one of these spaces.” Maybe sleeping on the streets will soon be added to the long list of alternative options. The message ended in a positive tone: “Hopefully the heat will be much better by Saturday!”
Despite Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin colleges sharing very similar facilities, students of Franklin have not received a similar advisory. A resident athlete of Franklin College, Rebeka Roth ‘25 said to the News: “They did not tell us the reason why they are not willing to turn on the air conditioning systems. We haven’t been made aware of such a possibility. It was just as warm as in any other student dorms in other colleges.”
As for the costs, according to publicly available data of leading manufacturers, current market prices would allow the university to purchase and install units in all student dormitories for about a total of $1.09 million, with an annual operation cost of about $227,000. Meanwhile, in the beginning of 2023, Yale reported an operational surplus of $166 million in its annual budget report. The question remains: why is it not an obvious priority to install these units?
In his capacity as an astronomy professor, Bailyn said promisingly in 2018: “Fortunately, in my capacity as an astronomer, I can assure everyone that winter is coming!” He added: “There are very few problems that can be solved completely by simply waiting a month or two, but this is one of them.”
Until then, I will continue my regular escapes to Columbia over the weekends.