Tag Archive: commons

  1. “Imagine Schwarzman”

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    The basement of Commons extends below the entirety of the building, but it lacks the first floor’s old-school grandeur and charm. Instead, the walls are made of concrete and cinderblock; white hallways tunnel through the space and wire mesh blocks off utility and storage rooms. Somewhere in the basement a machine emits a high-pitched drone that seems to get louder from room to room, and one woman on the tour that I’m on puts a hand to her ear to block out the noise.

    Daniel Flynn, director of hospitality and maintenance for Yale Dining, who has worked at Commons for many years, asks the group of around 10 to “reimagine” the space. In 2020, after five years of planning, design and renovation, he explains, this space will be repurposed as part of the Schwarzman Center. As the PowerPoint at the current open house illustrates, the basement will be flooded with natural light and transformed into a place “where [students] can meet, socialize, eat, and/or make things.” Most of the people there were seeing the basement for the first time. They had to work hard to reimagine the fluorescent-lit “maze” as the projected palace of natural light.

    Imagine All the People

    Of course, the Schwarzman Center is not news to anyone at this point. When President Peter Salovey announced in May that Steven Schwarzman ’69, founder and CEO of Blackstone Group, was giving a historic gift of $150 million to renovate Commons and create a new student center, News, alumni publications and even the New York Times hastened to cover the story. The picture of the blue Commons sign being replaced with one that reads “Schwarzman Center” received 344 likes on “Overheard at Yale.” Rumpus published an article rife with creative misspellings of Schwarzman’s name, such as “$chwarzman,” “Schwarzwoman,” and “Schwarzmaneater.” On Wednesday, unidentified Yale students played a practical joke by covering up campus building signs with blue Schwarzman stickers (e.g. “Schwarzman Chapel,” “School of Schwarzman and Schwarzmanmental Studies”). It’s safe to say that Schwarzman, name and donation, has entered Yale’s collective conscious.

    What most students lack is concrete knowledge about the project. Migs Grabar Sage ’19 said that, like many freshmen, she knew about Commons but nothing about the donation until very recently. Even some upperclassmen are unfamiliar with the details. When asked about the Schwarzman Center, Jillian Kravatz ’17 said, “I know very little.”

    “Only what exists in my imagination,” added Zachary Schlesinger ’17.

    Schlesinger was making a play on the “Imagine Schwarzman” campaign that launched last week. But the campaign is in fact a large component of the planning process. Members of the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee, which includes administrators such as Special Counsel to the President Linda Lorimer and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, undergraduate student leaders like Yale College Council President Joe English ’17, and representatives from the Graduate Student Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, have embarked on a “listening tour” that will last through September and October. The listening tour started with open houses in Commons and the Rotunda, and continues with information sessions in all the residential colleges and graduate and professional schools.

    Assistant Secretary at the Office for Student Life Erin Johnson ’08 conducts one of these “listening sessions” in the Jonathan Edwards common room on a Sunday evening. She presents a thick pamphlet of glossy artistic renderings depicting the future Schwarzman Center: performances by student groups and star-studded events featuring the likes of David McCullough ’55, Sonia Sotomayor LAW ’79 and other famous Yale alumni.

    At each event, Yale staff or members of the advisory committee explain non-negotiable elements of the renovation — the basement, dining hall and upstairs rooms will undergo extensive alterations, while Memorial Hall, which honors Yale’s soldiers, will be “preserved and enhanced.” Committee members are careful to stress that lunch service in Commons, a concern of many students, will continue.

    But a lot is still up in the air. Johnson said listening tours are meant “to collect ideas from the community that the advisory committee can use to give advice to President Salovey.” The “Imagine Schwarzman” PowerPoint asks viewers to “imagine” Commons as a performance space, the upper-floor hallway as a student art gallery and the basement as a billiard room or pub. Johnson suggested the potential for various new student events in the center, such as birthday parties for all graduate and undergraduate students born in any given month. Right now the Schwarzman Center is something of a blank slate.

    Still, representatives say that all of these ideas are subject to student and community opinion. Attendees of listening sessions are asked to fill out a questionnaire that asks them what they would like to be included in the center, and what should be avoided. Ultimately, these thoughts will be compiled into a report to be presented to Salovey by Thanksgiving, which he and those who have the final say in the planning will consult in drafting final plans.

    Members of the Advisory Committee say the response to outreach so far has been positive and encouraging. Johnson said that, because the Schwarzman Center is “a space that people know well,” most people can provide constructive responses when asked for ideas. Lorimer said it has been “extremely exciting to hear dynamic ideas from student groups.” Tyler Godoff SOM ’16, a member of the Advisory Committee, said he received a lot of input while sitting outside the JE dining hall. He added that his girlfriend, who went to Emory, said “not nearly as many people would have cared” enough at her alma mater to give their opinions about such a project, and that the level of interest is impressive considering that all current Yale students will have graduated by the time it’s completed.

    What’s on the Program?

    In his donation, Schwarzman provided a significant budget for “a small dedicated staff” to coordinate activities and programming within the student center. What exactly the programming will be, and how it will differ from what is currently offered, is still undecided. The “Imagine Schwarzman” PowerPoint envisions a “virtual lunch” with Sotomayor, who last spoke in Woolsey Hall in 2014. Notable guests who give Master’s Teas could make second appearances for a large audience in the Schwarzman Center. “Foodie events,” perhaps modeled on last year’s Final Cut competition, could take place in Commons dining hall. Although administrators and members of the Advisory Committee cited these examples, they said that programming decisions are pending input and ideas from the Yale community.

    Berkeley College Master Marvin Chun is the only college master serving on the Advisory Committee, and while he says he doesn’t officially speak for the Council of Masters, he represents the masters’ perspective. When asked if the Schwarzman Center will be able to provide truly innovative programming, he said, “If it’s not more than we have, we haven’t fulfilled our potential.” However, Chun also stressed that the Schwarzman Center will provide space for established activities the residential colleges can no longer accommodate.

    The Center could serve members of the New Haven community, such as high school performing groups or visitors who need to “grab a cup of coffee,” in a way that no building at Yale currently can. While athletic facilities are already open to the New Haven community, Chun said there is “a whole cultural world out there we aren’t able to serve in the same way,” because Yale doesn’t have a cultural center comparable to its athletic facilities.

    “As someone who’s a parent in New Haven, I would love for my kids to be able to come here,” he said.

    At a meeting between the Advisory Committee and the Yale dance community, Eliza Dach ’17 said attendees discussed the necessity of more spaces where dancers can practice. Dancers “see and care how the space could change the future of the groups they are in now,” she said. She added that space is always a pressing need because “there are so many dance groups vying for the few spaces we have.”

    Even if they can’t say exactly what kind of novel programming the Schwarzman Center will offer, those planning its creation are adamant about the necessity of new common student spaces, and the potential of the Schwarzman Center to provide them.

    Currently, many student organizations meet in residential college spaces, such as Yogis at Yale, who meet in the Berkeley basement, or the various performing groups that use the Saybrook Underbrook or the Morse Crescent. However, these spaces are no longer sufficient to house student activities.

    “Residential colleges are used to the maximum and we still don’t have enough spaces,” said Branford Master Elizabeth Bradley. Chun concurred that some kind of centralized space will benefit student groups that are not tied to a particular college, or that include both graduate and undergraduate students. “People congregate to space,” he said. “Open space will break down boundaries” between colleges or schools.

    The Schwarzman Center won’t just give undergraduates space — many feel that it will bring together students from Yale College and the graduate and professional schools in a new way. “I think one of the biggest impacts will be having a place where it’s not just grad students,” said Elizabeth Salm GRD ’18. In most places at Yale, “You see only grad students in your department.”

    Events at the Schwarzman Center will be open to all University students, unlike some University spaces, and students who belong to different schools will be able to come together in a common space that belongs to everyone.

    “All students will feel welcome,” said Lauren Tilton GRD ’16, who is also a member of the Advisory Committee.

    Tragedy of the Commons?

    But not all students are welcoming the arrival of the Schwarzman Center.

    Fifteen of 16 students interviewed did not think the Schwarzman Center was necessary, and 13 said that the money could be better spent on financial aid or research, two areas which students often feel are underfunded.

    Hannah Schmitt ’18 said she was skeptical of the fact that Schwarzman donated money for infrastructure to a university that already has state-of-the-art facilities.

    “There’s a universe of better things you could do with that money,” she said, noting that it might be better spent on initiatives that help underprivileged or minority students at Yale.

    Another qualm voiced by some students concerns Blackstone Group’s business practices following the housing crisis. In 2013, Blackstone, an asset management group, purchased about 50,000 foreclosed homes. After renovating the houses, they rented them out, and are currently expanding their role as a commercial landlord. An Occupy.com article on the subject, which accused Blackstone of “capitalizing on the housing crisis” surfaced on “Overheard at Yale” in May and sparked a lively discussion, during which students both criticized and defended Blackstone’s actions.

    However, Christine Anderson, the managing director of Blackstone Group’s public affairs arm, said that, while certainly profitable to Blackstone, the decision to buy the houses, which were “sitting around vacant, falling into disrepair,” has actually helped many communities. She drew attention to Blackstone’s hiring of 10,000 local contractors to renovate the homes, which has helped to raise property values in their communities.

    “[It’s] great for these local communities,” she said.

    Tyler Blackmon ’16, a staff columnist for the News, said the project shows that Salovey is cultivating “a legacy of expanding Yale physically,” through the two new residential colleges as well as the Schwarzman Center, rather than expanding access to Yale. Yale tuition has risen since Salovey took the reins.

    “It’s on Yale,” Blackmon said, “because Yale isn’t soliciting [large donations] for financial aid.” He notes that Access Yale, Yale’s financial aid initiative, is less publicized than enormous gifts such as those of Schwarzman and Charles Johnson ’54 to build the two new residential colleges.

    Administrators say that Schwarzman and Yale are still committed to serving a diverse population of students. Christine Anderson of Blackstone Group said that Schwarzman sees the student center as a “transformative” project that will “help a huge population of students for decades to come.” Lorimer added that Schwarzman also contributes significantly to scholarship initiatives, including a $40 million gift to the Catholic Diocese of New York’s Inner City Scholarship Fund, announced on Tuesday.

    Administrators pointed out that although the Schwarzman Center is an infrastructure project, it will promote educational initiatives, just as funds dedicated to scholarships .

    “It’s hard to imagine that the Schwarzman Center won’t have vibrant educational, intellectual and cultural programming,” said Lorimer.

    Making the Grad(e)

    The Hall of Graduate Studies is in use almost every part of the day. Classes meet there daily, the dining hall serves lunch and dinner and the Blue Dog Café is usually occupied by coffee-drinkers tackling papers. Perhaps most significant and least evident to undergraduate students, the McDougal Center for Student Life is located there, and 168 graduate students live in the building.

    However, all this is slated to change in the next few years. In January, Provost Ben Polak announced plans to renovate HGS, and beginning in 2017 significant changes will be made to the building, which is the closest thing graduate students have to a student center. The students currently living in the building will be relocated to a dormitory that will be built in what is currently a parking lot on Elm Street, as well as to apartments in Swing Space. The McDougal Center and its associated functions will also be relocated, but its new location has not yet been announced.

    Graduate and professional students have experienced a number of unfulfilled needs which undergraduates tend to take for granted. For example, HGS does not serve meals on weekends, which means that in order to use their meal plans, the graduate students living there — who do not have swipe access to the residential colleges — have to wait outside the gates of a residential college for an undergraduate to go in and then enter with them, a process many have said is tedious and frustrating. Students at the medical school who live on campus face similar predicaments come the weekend.

    Graduate students also lack round-the-clock access to libraries and study spaces that undergraduates have in residential colleges. Tilton pointed out that humanities graduate students studying at Sterling Memorial Library have to leave earlier than law students at the Law School Library. GPSS President Elizabeth Mo GRD ’18 added that at the law school, student groups often have to book study rooms months in advance, and that the Schwarzman Center will do much to alleviate the need for space. The combined population of the various graduate and professional schools is far larger than that of the undergraduate student body, yet they lack access to many of the on-campus resources that undergraduates enjoy.

    “I think one of the things we tried to highlight was that there’s different access to different spaces at different times of day for the different schools,” Tilton said. She thinks this problem could be solved by one student center providing shared space with a common schedule for all schools.

    To that end, in 2013, the YCC, GSA and GPSS joined together to create a report advocating for the creation of a student center. The report, presented in 2014, recognized the need to create a space where students could “meet, learn, eat and congregate,” and compiled a list of similar universities that already had student centers. The ad hoc committee formed to create the report was the first group that combined student leaders from the three assemblies.

    Graduate students say that opinions about the Schwarzman Center are both informed and complicated by the upcoming renovations to HGS. While they hope to gain much from a new student center, some are “alarmed” that discussion of the Schwarzman Center is a distraction from concerns about where the McDougal Center will be and what exactly the housing options will be for graduate students after 2017.

    “With all the focus on the Schwarzman Center, there’s less talk about what’s going on with HGS,” said Salm. Even with a student center, a graduate-specific space is still crucial to many. Amanda Lerner GRD ’18 compared concern about the changes to HGS to the feeling that undergraduates might have if a residential college were taken away. “[I’m] very eager to learn exactly what will happen with the location of the McDougal Center, [and to] know where our one dedicated space is going to be,” she said.

    “It’s not a viable option to maintain HGS” as is, Salm added. “We just want to know we’re being heard.” That’s why, said Mo, “it’s important to get this planning phase perfect” and to acquire ideas and feedback from all of the graduate and professional schools. Mo feels that concerns about graduate-specific needs, such as weekend dining at the Schwarzman Center, are being received well by other members of the committee and the administration.

    “I get excited about having a place that’s a central convening spot,” said Godoff. Most graduate students seem to agree.

    How the Cookie Crumbles

    Daisy Massey ’19 stopped by a table outside the JE dining hall where members of the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee were soliciting student opinion. “I just wanted a free cookie,” she said, but the food offerings drew her in. Massey filled out a questionnaire and left with several “Imagine Schwarzman” stickers. Her opinions, and those of the other students, will influence the course of a project that as yet only exists in artistic renderings, and will only be fully realized once she, and all current students, have left Yale. Most student groups try to rope people in with Insomnia cookies every so often, but this might prove the most influential batch yet.

  2. Restaurant Week may be over, but you can still dine well at Commons

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    On Monday night, Chef Cal Peternell served over 120 students an elegant multi-course dinner in Commons. I was there to investigate.

    Cal Peternell is the chef of Chez Panisse, an esteemed restaurant in Berkeley. He is also the author of a new “back to basics” cookbook titled 12 Recipes. This work, he told us, was inspired by his son’s imminent departure to college. During the dinner and cooking demonstration, Peternell read from his cookbook, reflecting on family, the restaurant business, and the Michelin star system.

    After waiting in line for 20 minutes with anxious, waitlisted friends, I was ushered into a dazzlingly bejeweled Commons. Golden strands of lights hung overhead, and great wooden folding partition walls provided a more intimate ambiance. Since Commons stopped serving dinner several years ago, the experience of sitting down for a meal under the halls’ dark beams and gothic chandeliers has been something I had only dreamed of.

    “I feel really privileged to eat dinner in Commons. The way they decorated like Hogwarts makes me even more excited for the Freshman Dinner,” Lauren Sapienza ’18 said. Indeed, there is something extraordinary about eating dinner in Commons. Chef Peternell agreed, pausing to look around. “This room, it’s incredible,” he said.

    I sat down at a table close enough to see the raised demonstration station, but just far enough to avoid catching my hair on fire should disaster strike. The appetizers included thin crisp toasts with butternut squash hummus, curried deviled eggs and mint radish iceberg lettuce wedges. The main course was twice-cooked pork with salsa verde, braised chicken, fried greens meatless meatballs, macaroni and cheese, roasted root vegetables and sautéed broccoli raab. Dessert was a delectable pear upside-down cake with whipped cream.

    The appetizers were carefully laid out on starched white tablecloths before we entered.  The hummus, a rich emulsion graced with the sweetness of the squash, paired excellently with the saltier crisps. Curry made a fiery appearance in the deviled eggs that waited patiently, yolks carefully piped and swirled for their unsuspecting victims. The iceberg lettuce wedges were refreshingly crisp and the bunkhouse dressing was a tart ranch bleu cheese hybrid.

    “Once you cook something a dozen times, a written recipe becomes unnecessary,” Peternell said as he prepared the fresh salsa verde with parsley, garlic and olive oil.  He took questions after a vigorous chop and described his time living in Italy, as well as his opinions on the Michelin Star system, of which he said, “I think it’s useless. I don’t really get it. … I’ve eaten at places that have one star and I couldn’t really figure out why.”

    The twice-cooked pork was without a doubt the highlight of the dinner. Despite receiving a scant serving (about the size of a small golf ball) I was able to confirm my salivating suspicions by swiping a hunk from my neighbors plate. The pork was indeed juicy and tender, just smoky enough to avoid actually tasting twice cooked. The fragrant salsa verde, reminiscent of a fresher, lighter Argentinean chimichurri, was drizzled liberally over the entrée.

    Despite my delight with the pork I remained suspicious. Like any Yalie with a meal plan, I knew better that to be lulled into a sleepy unfounded satisfaction by the pretty lights and a decent piece of meat. My deep-seated skepticism was validated with the subsequent arrival of several shoddy dishes. The macaroni and cheese in a home-style pan reminded me of childhood images of Grandma’s food. However, when I tasted it, it was more reminiscent of a decidedly recent memory — lunch last week in the Berkeley dining hall. Indeed, throughout the dinner, I got the sense that Yale Dining had put their own spin on Peternell’s recipes. The “braised” chicken legs were slimy and the “fried greens meatless meatball” were just plain scary. After the stress of the meatless meatballs, the cake was a welcome respite. The pears were perfectly caramelized and melted in my mouth instantly. The cake was moist and just sweet enough to harmonize perfectly with the freshly whipped cream, which I had scooped greedily onto my plate.

    Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the dinner. The menu was very well planned, providing something for everyone. I’m a proud carnivore (that pork still lingers in my mind) but I have to admit that the root vegetables were roasted to perfection, and the broccoli raab was expertly sautéed, retaining just enough bite. The pear upside-down cake capped the night off perfectly. I can’t even remember how much I ate, but I know I left my table at one point to hunt for more.

    Chef Peternell enjoyed the dinner as well, adding, “It was a treat to see people eating my food.” Of his experience collaborating with Yale Dining, Peternell said, “I feel very honored that they chose the dishes that they did.”

    Dinner in Commons is always special. Sure the food was good, but mostly I went for the ambiance. Whether it’s the menu, or the service, there’s something incredibly “throwback” about the whole experience. As I ate, I imagined how many generations of Yalies had sat precisely where I was sitting. What did they talk about? How was the food 50 years ago? These questions are important — how many schools could evoke such ponderings from a hungry teenager?  So thanks Commons, for the nostalgia and for a fun time.

  3. The Tragicomic History of Commons

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    They say Hogwarts’s Great Hall, home to treacle tarts and pumpkin juice, was modeled after it. That’s not true — the honor belongs to the dining hall in the College of Christ Church at Oxford University — but it may as well be. High, cavernous ceilings; lights strung around the interior as if it is never not Christmas; long, dark auburn tables; and portraits of mythical (mostly) men who have had some affiliation with the school. Commons is the wizarding world come alive for a few hours a day; it’s the Harry Potter series of dining spaces — some patrons are diehards, others poo-poo the popularity, but everyone recognizes the cultural importance.

    Now, it’s no longer serving you pancakes.

    On July 9, Yale Dining announced in a statement to the News that starting this academic year, Commons will end its breakfast service. The change comes as the University tries to make whatever cuts it can to chip into and eventually eliminate its $39 million deficit. Ezra Stiles, Morse, Branford, Saybrook and Silliman will now each provide hot breakfasts — eggs, pancakes, etc. — filling Commons’s former early-morning role.

    The change brings Commons down to serving one meal of its former three. When residential college renovations ended in 2011, Commons closed for dinner. In response to that announcement, students started a Save Commons Facebook group and a petition urging the administration to reconsider.

    “It’s kind of fundamental to Commons to be this neutral gathering ground,” Sophia Sanchez ’13 told the News. “Not every meal you eat has to be encapsulated within a college. We’re not just students of Davenport or Calhoun; we’re students of Yale College.”

    But the dining hall remained closed for dinner.

    Commons isn’t new to controversy. A dive into the Yale Daily News archives pulls up grievances small and large — food fights, management-student animosities, and gripes about cleanliness and the quality of food — each dispute fueled by a sense of collective ownership. Commons was the first building to unite an otherwise then fragmented community, and since its founding in 1901, everyone has felt like stakeholder.

    But while students have formed their own social structures within, and attachments to, the shared space, for most of Commons’s history, the administration has had the final say. From 1901 to 1969, students were required to wear a jacket and tie for meals. Recent, sometimes temporary, closures — in 1991, 2011, and 2014 — have come down without student consultation and to various forms of dissent.

    From Bread to Bourges

    “You may complain about braised beef and assorted cold meat, but the present fare in Freshman Commons is a far cry from the starvation rations served there in times past. Early in the eighteenth century the staff of life lived up to its name in Commons, where bread and apples formed an almost unvarying menu.”

    So reads a November 1938 Yale Daily News article headlined “Worms, Dirty Dishes, Graft, ‘Slum’ Have Caused ‘Food Wars’ in Commons” looking back on the history of the building, and the various shared eating spaces (dubbed “the commons”) that preceded it.

    In the early 1700s, the piece reported, “slum” — “an incongruous mixture of leftover food from the day before, ‘fried to a consistency which baffled digestion’” — and a quarter pound of bread constituted breakfast. For lunch, students had to drink cider straight from shared pewter pitchers because their peers insisted on stealing cups en masse — on average, 600 per semester — from the dining hall (some things never change).

    A hundred years later, the situation wasn’t much better. All freshmen were required to eat in the commons, while upperclassmen dueled with the administration over whether they too had to eat there. In 1819, the students staged a mass walk out, refusing to eat meals because, they said, “the steward had been drunk, the ham stank, the dishes were not washed clean, loose and mixed company was entertained in the kitchen, and the steward was involved in ‘graft,’ selling pies to outsiders.”

    Though the faculty responded by “conducting an inquisition” and giving a “sharp shake-down” to the culinary staff, 10 years later, the problems had gotten worse. In 1828, students staged another walk out, also refusing to take the classes that were held in the shared space. This time, the faculty didn’t budge. A large number of students simply up and left school (the majority later returned under parental pressure).


    When the building we now think of as Commons, with a capital C, was built for the University’s bicentennial in 1901, students found options a lot more appealing than slum, but expectations that ran higher as well. At the time, students lived in boarding houses scattered throughout New Haven. They slept there, ate there, and socialized there. Opting into group meals at the dining hall was one of the few ways to unite an otherwise fragmented social scene.

    It wasn’t only that students lived in different houses, grouping with those they already knew from Andover, Exeter and Choate, said Professor Jay Gitlin ’71, who teaches “Yale and America.” It was also that the Yale undergraduate population divided into two groups: the Academics (“ACs”), the equivalent of students graduating with a B.A. today, and the “Sheffs,” the equivalent of students aiming for a B.S. While the ACs spent their days on the south side of campus, the Sheffs largely remained in the SSS and Silliman region, home of the Sheffield Scientific School.

    Gitlin said Commons was supposed to link these different spheres, “It served as a bridge where everybody could meet.”

    But the new dining hall, built in at the same time as Woolsley Hall to form the Hewitt, or Bicentennial, Quadrangle, got off to a rocky start. There was a spiffy new building, but students weren’t up to its standards.

    On May 2, 1902, the News published an editorial referring to “the disturbance at the University Dining Hall.” The piece never explicitly mentions what the disturbance is, but calls it a “continuance of a practice indulged in at the Old Commons … decidedly out of place in such a building as the new dining hall.” Though the editorial never named the details of the event, the piece was followed by several explicit reports of food fights in the paper, and was probably the first of a years-long trend.

    Then, in October of 1903, a “Mr. Tyler” sat down Commons’s regular boarders for a spiel about the dining hall’s student-management relationship, which, never great, had soured. Tyler was less interested in laying down the law than having a constructive discussion. At the root of less-than-stellar service was a tipping issue, he said. Some students were tipping, some were not; the latter were, unsurprisingly, less satisfied with the service than the ones who were quick to hand over cash. Instead of individual tipping, students ought to pool their money for all the waiters at the end of every term, Tyler said.

    Tyler’s democratic management model also extended to the food fights. Students would elect representative from each table, who would negotiate between dining hall management, school administrators and their peers. It seemed to work. A few days after, the News published an article announcing that, for the first time, a food fight perpetrator had been punished.

    With the enforcement of order, came higher expectations of etiquette. There were waiters, assigned seats, pre-determined and uniform meals, and strictly enforced dining hours (you didn’t walk in and out whenever you pleased; failure to show up on time meant demerits). This lasted for over half a century.

    “Until my junior year [in 1969], there was a coat and tie rule,” professor Gitlin said. By that time, students were serving themselves buffet style, but they weren’t yet bussing their own dishes.

    Still, the signs of post-war counter culture were starting to show. Commons hosted a junior prom every year, and the big name bands during Gitlin’s time—the Byrds, Wilson Pickkett—played in the main hall, “much like Spring Fling.”

    Meanwhile high society continued upstairs. A band played in the President’s suite on the second floor of Woolsley Hall, where “everyone would go and dance the Foxtrot or some old romantic dance.”

    The affair lasted from Friday until Sunday night, when Commons switched back to a traditional dining hall that at least had the potential to unite everyone from across campus — though not in the way the administration might hope.

    “Honestly, Commons was a place we all avoided,” Gitlin said. “Nobody liked it much. You couldn’t hear anyone. The acoustics are God-awful.”

    And Back Again

    If there’s a Commons of old and a Commons of new, Gitlin’s years at Yale, from 1967–1971, were bifurcated by the two. The Commons of old served up staid dinners, punctuated by outbursts of immaturity, while the Commons of new became the home of those left out by that very society.

    In 1969 Yale simultaneously admitted women and relaxed the formal dress code in the hall, paving a trajectory of increased inclusivity. Meals were no longer a boys club, and they didn’t have to follow club rules.

    So in 1991, when Yale Dining announced for the first time that Commons would no longer be serving dinner, the loss of a common space was acutely felt by certain groups.

    “Minority and gay students often congregate in Commons,” the New York Times noted in its surprisingly detailed coverage of the event. “Nikki Montgomery, ’92, explained why she enjoyed dinner at Commons, ‘It is one of the few times on a daily basis that you get a lot of black people sitting down together to really talk because there aren’t that many black students in any given residential college.’”

    Commons only remained closed for seven years. In 1998, the administration, beginning its renovations of residential colleges, chose to restart dinner service to accommodate those students who were unable to eat in their own dining halls. But as before, Commons became a home to Yalies of every college.

    In 2011, Commons ended dinner again. This time, the announcement was over email, and the student reactions over social media. According to a News article published in May 2011, more than 800 students joined a “Save Commons Dinner” Facebook group, and more than 300 signed a petition by the next day asking Yale to reconsider.

    As before, strong reactions came from those with affiliations that crossed college lines. A member of the fencing team noted that Commons was the only place that could fit his 15 teammates at once. And then-freshman Paavan Gami ’15 appealed to a sense of larger community.

    “There is truth to the idea that cross-residential college friendships can and are formed and developed at Commons,” Gami wrote the news. “Dinner is the perfect time for freshmen to be integrated into the Yale community.”

    But as much as collective dining influences student life, the administration makes decisions based on many more factors. In 1991, then-dining hall director Alan R Kenney cited the need to cut the dining budget by more than $1 million in a letter to students. More recent news has a financial bent as well — University President Peter Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak have asked departments across the University to cut what they can from their budgets to make up a $39 million deficit. In a statement to the news in June, Director of Residential Dining Cathy Van Dyke cited “limited options for mitigating operation cost increases,” but in a recent email, she wrote that “the decision to close Commons for breakfast was not financially focused; rather the key driver was the opportunity to facilitate planning for its future renovation” and to make the “operational footprint” of the food service in the hall small enough for renovation to be feasible without impacting students’ food service.

    But while Van Dyke also acknowledged that Commons is a “precious and important resource” for the Yale community, these changes have been made without student input. Yale College Council President-elect Michael Herbert ’16 said he was not told about the decision to stop serving breakfast until the administration issued a press release.

    Commons will remain open for lunch, now from 11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m., and several residential colleges will offer hot breakfast in its place. The shift is nowhere near as large as when the dress code was imposed, or when women got a seat at the table, but for those who liked the experience of pancakes in Hogwarts’s Great Hall, a little morning magic is gone.

    For others, it simply won’t matter. As Jay Gitlin said, perhaps capturing the experience of a large segment of Yale’s undergraduate population, “I never made it to breakfast.”