The Yale College Council finalized the details last month of its roughly $380,000 budget for this academic year.
This year, YCC revenue consists of last year’s $42,783 surplus, a $40,000 grant for Spring Fling and funding through the Student Activities Fee amounting to $297,375. In sum, the budget is approximately $20,000 larger than it was last year. Spring Fling alone takes up about 78 percent of the total budget.
But while Spring Fling is the single largest event hosted by the YCC annually, the council is looking to put the remaining portion of the budget toward more community-focused initiatives, including the Campus Events Fund and the Community Fund. While many budget lines stayed the same over last year, Spring Fling funding increased by roughly $21,000. Still, the percentage of the budget set aside for Spring Fling remained the same, said YCC Events Director Lauren Sapienza ’18. Sapienza added that because more students attended Spring Fling last year and may again this year, greater security measures are needed to keep up with the volume of attendance.
The Spring Fling fund pays not only for the artists’ booking fees, but also for the costs of Spring Fling security and set production. The exact amounts paid to each artist cannot be released due to privacy agreements, Sapienza said, adding that talent costs increase steadily regardless of whether the act’s popularity has increased. This rise in cost was covered in part by the 2015 increase in the Student Activities Fee from $75 to $125 per student.
YCC Finance Director Zach Murn ’17 said the YCC Events Committee kept its budget the same as last year, as they had spent precisely what they were allocated. Murn added that the YCC aimed to pass the budget as smoothly as possible.
“We wanted to pass the budget at our first [budget] meeting to make financial planning more straightforward and efficient,” Murn said.
However, not all proceeds from the expanded SAF went toward Spring Fling. YCC President Peter Huang ’18 noted that the Yale College Dean’s Office allocated other parts of the SAF to the Undergraduate Organizations Committee, which will reallocate the money to student groups in the form of administrative, event or publication grants. The total funds available from the SAF depend on the number of students who enroll at Yale each academic year.
Murn said that the Spring Fling Committee requested an increase in funding relative to last year. Murn also cited a “notable increase” in attendance relative to that of previous years — over 7,000 people attended Spring Fling last year. The YCC has also commissioned a student research team that will analyze and compare revenues and expenditures of student governments from other Ivy League schools in order to determine whether an additional increase in the SAF would be necessary in the near future, he said.
Already, the YCC is aware of a significant difference: Unlike similar events at other schools, Yale’s Spring Fling does not charge admission, which is a source of revenue for other student governments to cover costs.
“We feel strongly that Yale parties should be as open and as inclusive to everyone,” said Murn. “So we don’t generate revenues from ticket sales, which might create a dynamic of who can afford to go to Spring Fling and who can’t.”
While Spring Fling occupies much of YCC’s budget, the remaining 22 percent of the budget funds all the other YCC initiatives the council is seeking to bolster. Around $18,500 goes toward the Community Fund, which includes the Freshman, Sophomore and Junior Class Councils, the Yale Society Initiative — an organization of undergraduates and alumni that aims to reform senior societies — and the recently created New Ideas Fund. Each class council receives $3,500 to fund events such as Freshman Screw, Freshman Barbecue, Sophomore Crush and Box Night. The New Ideas Fund, which is $6,600, will ideally be distributed at a rate of $1,000 to $1,500 per approved student idea, said YCC Student Life Director Nicolas Zevallos ’19.
According to Sapienza, the over $55,000 Campus Events Fund will cover events throughout the semester, such as Hoedown, the Taste of New Haven Workshops and study breaks. The YCC’s budget approval process also involves a system of internal checks to ensure each year’s budget fairly distributes funding to all parts of the YCC.
“If the council isn’t happy with how the finance director divided up funds, representatives can request changes. For example, this year, the representatives petitioned for our New Ideas Fund, which was not on the original budget but which was subsequently added before it passed the council vote,” said YCC Vice President Christopher Bowman ’18.
All YCC bodies affected by budgetary decisions, including the class councils and various committees, are included in budget conversations to make sure funds are allocated with as much responsibility and fairness as possible, said Bowman.
Last year’s Spring Fling headliner was the singer Janelle Monáe.
The Yale College Council approved a new funding initiative last week that aims to finance student projects focused on community building and inclusivity.
The New Ideas Fund was proposed last month by Pierson YCC Representative Julia Feldstein ’18 and YCC Student Life Policy Director Nick Zevallos ’19 and has already been added to the YCC’s budget for this academic year with $6,600 in funding. The fund’s central aim is to provide an avenue for students to present and possibly receive funding to develop their ideas.
“This year, I’m hoping for students to take advantage of this opportunity to fund their ideas … new ideas are constantly floating around Yale, and often the major deterrent is finding funding,” said Zevallos. “The New Ideas Fund directly addresses this issue and will allow the YCC to utilize its budget to support student ideas aimed at creating a stronger community.”
YCC President Peter Huang ’18 said the YCC will release a New Ideas Fund application to the student body in the next few weeks.
According to YCC Chief of Staff Sydney Wade ’18, YCC members noticed last month a surplus in the Community Fund part of the concurrent budget. The Community Fund supports all the freshman, sophomore and junior class councils, as well as the Yale Society Initiative, an organization of students and alumni that seeks to reform Yale’s senior societies.
Zevallos and Feldstein began discussing other possible allocations for the surplus and decided to put the money toward the furtherance of new student ideas that could benefit the wider Yale community. Zevallos formally proposed the New Ideas Fund to the YCC Council of Representatives, which then approved it through a vote.
In addition to Zevallos and Feldstein, the New Ideas Fund has been shaped by Steve Blum, strategic initiatives director of the Yale Alumni Association, former YCC president Brandon Levin ’14 and by other YCC members on the executive board.
Zevallos said the money for the New Ideas Fund is not coming directly from the budget surplus but is simply a repurposing of funds usually designated for the Community Fund. Looking forward, Zevallos said he expects the fund to be a permanent part of the YCC and its annual budget.
“We are particularly looking for new events and programming that focus on inclusivity and community,” Wade said. “We want to support events and programming that bring different campus communities together. The applications will be evaluated by a panel of YCC members who specifically applied to be on the panel, and the panel will choose the applications that stand above others for strengthening inclusion and diversity on Yale’s campus.”
The New Ideas Fund Review Committee will solicit undergraduate ideas and present these ideas to the YCC Representatives Council, which will then vote to fund a selection of the ideas. Throughout the rest of the semester, the New Ideas Fund Review Committee will support students as they see their ideas come to fruition.
Zevallos is currently the driving force behind developing and implementing the new fund, Wade said. However, Wade continued, once a “New Ideas Fund Panel” has been formed, someone else may become the main organizer.
Still, the fund presents some logistical challenges. YCC Vice-President Christopher Bowman ’18 said the main challenge will be ensuring an effective distribution of funds to all YCC-approved student ideas.
Zevallos noted that ideally, the fund would provide between $1,000 to $1,500 per approved proposal, and coverage could include ideas beyond holding events.
Bowman highlighted that the YCC has a limited amount of money for the fund, so not all ideas can be funded. Bowman added that these projects are ideally different from those of existing extracurriculars, which already receive funding from the University Organizations Committee.
“Our panel of representatives that oversees the fund will have to prudently determine where the money can be best placed,” said Bowman. “However, we’re also going to try to focus on initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion, which will give us a bit of a clearer direction to go in for distributing funds.”
According to Yale’s website, there are over 500 active student organizations on campus.
In the viral video, “That’s Why I Chose Yale,” cheery Yalies sing about the merits of their suite camaraderie, in which a pair of roommates even have matching sheets.
But living in a suite of four girls, Adrien Gau ’17 almost never sees any of them, doesn’t have meals with them, and often doesn’t return there to sleep.
“I’d much rather hang out with my suite of guy friends every day,” they said. “It would’ve been much easier if I could’ve just lived with them.”
Gau has moved their schoolbooks and food into their common room, effectively creating a mixed-gender suite. Though on friendly terms with their four suitemates, Gau, who identifies as gender-neutral and prefers the corresponding pronouns, believes their living situation constitutes an unfair restriction of their choices.
“It is really dysphoric for me to think about how I’m forced to live with girls. It’s like a slap in the face from Yale,” they said. “It’s not that I don’t like girls, it’s just, that’s not me. I’m not a girl, but Yale doesn’t care.”
If Gau had entered the University one year later, they wouldn’t have had to move their books and food to their ideal suite. Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway announced the expansion of gender-neutral housing to the sophomore class on Dec. 9, 2014 — it will become an option this fall, affecting the class of 2018.
In a survey sent to a random sample of undergraduate students by the News, 91 percent of 104 students surveyed were either in support of or indifferent to the policy extension.
Helen Price ’18, for one, is seriously considering living in a mixed gender suite as a sophomore. She’s happy to be able to live with her best friend next year, rather than wait until her junior year, just because he’s not female.
Many upperclassmen wish Yale had offered them this choice earlier. Dayrin Jones ’16, who currently lives in a suite with four women, found the lack of choices during his sophomore year frustrating, and considered transferring colleges at the end of his freshman year.
“I thought about rooming options outside of [Ezra Stiles College] because I had few male friends in my college,” he said. “I almost ran out of time before I found a roommate sophomore year, because I had no possibilities in mind.”
The class of 2018, whether or not they choose mixed-gender housing, will at least have all the possibilities open to them.
Even students who don’t plan on taking advantage of this opportunity commend the change. Though Summer Kim ’18 has personal reservations about co-ed housing, she appreciates that it’s now available, especially at a place like Yale, because her concerns “don’t resonate with everyone or even a majority of students here.”
Despite the fact that 50 percent of freshmen surveyed expressed interest in mixed-gender housing next year, historically speaking, it has not been quick to catch on. In 2010–11, the first year with mixed-gender housing as a Yale College policy, only 39 seniors took advantage of it. Though Jones, Gau and Price have strong feelings about the issue, and though they have the support of the student body, they may be in the minority.
The greatest change may not be the number of students who live in co-ed suites, but rather the way the policy’s adoption affects campus culture.
Daniel Dangaran ’15, a freshman counselor in Ezra Stiles College, said his freshmen are very excited. One freshman told him he was glad the YCC succeeded in its task — even if he does not live in a co-ed suite next year, he’s happy the option is available to other freshman.
Dangaran knows that freshmen may hesitate at first.
“Only time will tell which freshmen will decide to take advantage of the policy and opt to live in mixed-gender suites,” he said, “but the option will help to normalize having friendships with people of all genders.”
Yale’s spaces seem already gender-neutral in many ways, with shared bathrooms, suites connected by fire doors (which are then left open, creating “double suites” of men and women), and even unofficial room swaps or permanent sleepover situations. But, Jones said, an improvised situation is not enough.
“In those instances, there still is a lack of the shared space that you would experience if you were living together,” he said. “With the policy change, I think campus culture will see an increase in respect for the opposite sex.”
The YCC has argued that co-ed suites will de-sexualize spaces — in a suite where men and women choose to live together as friends, the environment mitigates potential instances of sexual hostility. Price agrees with this assessment, adding that the policy change breaks down the symbolic barrier between men and women.
“Now I feel like I can live with my friends, and some of them just happen to be boys. Separating the genders seems very juvenile,” she said.
Alex Borsa ’16, former president of the LGBTQ Co-Op, meanwhile, believes that the policy change will not generate a massive shift in campus culture. The great majority of students, who have supported the policy even if it will never affect them, have already created a gender-neutral environment.
He added that the extension is a success for many queer and gender non-conforming students, and finds it ridiculous that it hasn’t already happened.
Only the official label has been missing. YCC Vice President and project manager for the issue Maia Eliscovich Sigal ’16 said that the administration’s approval was key.
“I think that the rules that they impose shape the culture we live in,” she said. “Through those rules they make it more open, and more flexible.”
Kim shared a similar perspective, adding that “the administration making it official recognizes how students at Yale already live, and how they would feel most comfortable, which is awesome.”
For most Yalies, the new policy merely adapts the suite, the cornerstone of university living, to fit the relationships we have come to rely on for late night food runs, inside jokes and emotional support. The friends we live with are the family we choose for ourselves, unobstructed by gender norms or bureaucratic policies.
Will there be any obstacles for freshmen next year, despite this seemingly perfect policy? YCC President Michael Herbert ’16 came up with one: “A potential mistake freshmen could make would be choosing to live with someone with whom they are in a relationship,” he explained. “Such relationships often do not last, which could lead to a very awkward situation.”
One set of connected sophomore suites, which became gender-neutral once the fire door was unlocked, saw the effects of one such relationship. The room by the door, the border between the men and the women, now has a sign. “My room is Sweden. Neutral zone.”
Zachary Blickensderfer ’16, a Jonathan Edwards housing representative, dismissed these pitfalls.
“The question of ‘living with significant others’ as being a legitimate concern is absurd, because the University should feel no obligation to prevent couples from making that stupid decision,” he said.
Dangaran is enthusiastic about that freedom, arguing that those who create their suites with all genders will forge trust-filled bonds in a comfortable setting, without gender as a barrier. Dangaran stresses that those who do not wish to live with suitemates of the opposite gender will obviously have their wishes respected. To him, the change in policy won’t be an obstacle to their campus welfare.
As YCC project manager for the issue, Eliscovich Sigal never encountered any opposition to the change among fellow students. And not a single student interviewed objected to the policy. They all briefly endorsed it, almost surprised that I had even asked.
Blickensderfer agreed that the policy is just common sense. “Living with people you like is fun. It’s as simple as that.” Simple, but a complicated process.
In 2013, Holloway told the News he was not in support of mixed-gender suites for sophomores.
“There was a feeling that developmentally, sophomores are not ready for mixed-gender suites,” he said. “There are a whole host of cognitive and social abilities sophomores are still forming, and I think many are not quite ready for the interesting complications that may arise from gender-neutral housing.”
Yet, by the end of 2014, the administration had decided that the complications were secondary to the benefits of the policy.
The possibility of change was first brought to the administration in December 2007, after the LGBTQ Co-Op led demonstrations like a public “sleep-in” on Cross Campus in the snow. The YCC followed, with formal reports that would soon become a staple in their efforts to expand the policy.
From the beginning, the YCC found that “support for gender-neutral housing at home was wide: some Yale students needed gender-neutral housing and virtually none were opposed,” according to Eliscovich Sigal’s letter in the Winter 2014 newsletter. In 2010, after three years of lobbying, the Yale Corporation extended the option for seniors, but some in the administration still considered it an “experiment.”
Since 2010, half a decade has passed, in which the YCC has often returned to students, and heard universally positive experiences from those who chose mixed-gender housing. Herbert explained that at the beginning of this academic year, YCC chose their issues of focus, which included divestment, financial aid, mental health and improving Yale’s sexual climate.
“But of all of the important subjects, the one with the most straightforward fix was the expansion of mixed-gender housing to sophomores,” he said.
Former Yale College Dean Mary Miller had concurred, leaving a recommendation for her successor that the plan become a reality.
So when Herbert and Eliscovich Sigal brought up the issue at their weekly meeting with Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry in September, they were astonished to be told that the option had been taken off the table due to logistical impossibilities. Herbert was floored, feeling that the “sentiment of permanence had not been communicated to students, and … we did not really understand what “logistically impossible” meant.”
At this point, Yale was “the exception, not the rule, in the Ivy League,” so Herbert and Eliscovich Sigal reached out to residential college deans, and to Holloway. They then asked both the YCC Council of Representatives and the Freshman Class Council to vote — both voted unanimously in favor of the policy change.
Herbert lauds campus enthusiasm for the issue, citing various op-eds from students, and the FCC’s engagement with the freshman class, the first to be affected by the change.
Throughout the fall of 2014, Holloway worked with the YCC, citing reasons for the length of the process: difficulties in housing configurations due to more possible options, the readiness of new housing software, and the various administrative channels the policy had to pass through before a decision.
Herbert and Eliscovich Sigal returned to the drawing board, as their predecessors had done many times since 2007, trying to galvanize support from the administration and students. Herbert found Dean Holloway to be receptive and engaged, and the students and administrators collaborated throughout the fall. Eventually, the Council of Masters approved the policy without obstacles, culminating in this major coup for YCC.
Eliscovich Sigal considers this “a victory to be celebrated by every Yale student as a triumph of student voice. Only we know our experiences here.”
In his address to incoming freshmen on September 13, newly appointed University President Peter Salovey remarked that one of the “last taboos among Yale students” involves talking about socioeconomic status. “When the issue of money comes up, students are often profoundly uncomfortable,” he said. “To the Class of 2017, I encourage you to be sensitive and open to one another. The uncomfortable conversations that you will certainly have represent opportunities for true understanding and true friendship.”
What Salovey did not mention was mental health. Since becoming University President, the closest he has come to publically addressing this topic was a convocation speech he gave at the Hopkins School — a coeducational institution for grades 7-12 in New Haven — on Nov. 13. Salovey discussed his work as a psychologist, focusing on “emotional intelligence,” a concept he developed with colleagues in the 1990s. In an interview with the News after the speech, Salovey said that he wanted to show how observing emotions provides useful data about people, and that it is important to persist in the face of struggle. (Contacted by email in late October, Salovey wrote that he would be unavailable to comment for this article.)
As reports issued by Yale undergraduates and their graduate and professional school counterparts have indicated, it is not uncommon for students to struggle with mental health; Yale’s Mental Health and Counseling (MH&C) department sees more than 20 percent of the entire student body each year, and that number only continues to grow. The result has been increased wait-times and variable quality of care at MH&C.
So far, top University officials have not openly discussed their efforts to reform mental health resources on campus. Besides an email sent by the Office of the Secretary and Vice President in December, which said “discussions and collaborative efforts have been underway at all levels,” campus-wide communications have been slim. The University’s relative silence on this issue has increasingly caused student leaders, masters and deans to take matters into their own hands in making Yale a happier and healthier place.
Changing the Culture of the Place
Elizabeth Bradley, Stephen Davis and Jeffrey Brenzel ’75 — of Branford, Pierson and Timothy Dwight Colleges, respectively —are three such masters already working toward this end. Bradley, who is a professor of public health and directs the Yale Global Health Initiative, says she sees part of her role as master as contributing to “a culture of greater balance” among undergraduates. Davis, appointed master this year, says he wants his office to be a “safe space” for students, where they can feel comfortable sharing both their successes and struggles. Brenzel, too, hopes to foster this type of environment within his own college. His former position as Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, however, also allows him to see the systemic causes behind a campus culture where mental health concerns abound.
“We’ve picked people who are extremely intelligent but who are unusual in their expectations for themselves,” Brenzel says. “We have a group of students here whose identity is wrapped around achievement, so when something throws them off it can snowball.”
Still, all three masters agree that managing students’ expectations about mental health resources on campus could improve negative perceptions of MH&C.
Michelle Ross ’12* attributes many Yale students’ dissatisfaction with MH&C to a lack of understanding about mental health treatment. Ross began her visits to the center after a suitemate sexually harassed her during her junior year and she became “deeply depressed.” There, a social worker taught her coping skills that were specifically tailored to her situation, but she admits that she had to see multiple clinicians before she felt comfortable.
“Mental health care is so much about rapport and the therapist-client alliance,” Ross explains. “The times when you’re trying your hardest, you have to keep trying to find someone who’s a better fit for you.”
Ross adds that few Yale undergrads question the expectations set by themselves and the University’s larger “success-driven” culture. If more professors and administrators were willing to be open about their own mental health struggles, she notes, students might feel less alone. “You never hear administrators speaking about tough times they went through; you only hear that it’s okay to have a tough time,” Ross says. “That’s great, but make it real. Show that you’re human, that these people who are huge successes have struggled also.”
For some administrators, the constant pressure to succeed is ultimately at the root of students’ mental health concerns, along with their unrealistic expectations of treatment. University Chaplain Sharon Kugler believes students need to learn how to “step off the Yale treadmill” and take care of themselves, asking for help from others when needed. “You’re messaged from day one that you’re tomorrow’s leaders,” she says. “My soapbox speech is: You are tomorrow’s whole people. What you can be is healthy and have a sense of what it means to fail and survive.”
A Tale of Two Ivies
Although students groups such as Mind Matters and Walden Peer Counseling are seeking to increase mental health dialogue on campus, there is no student liaison group specifically endorsed by MH&C. Instead, each residential college has a Mental Health Fellow — a trained clinician who can advise students on how to navigate Yale’s peer and institutional resources. The program was created in 2011 as a joint collaboration between YCC and MH&C. Fellows meet incoming freshmen during orientation and can accelerate the treatment process for students who reach out to them in need.
But few undergrads seem to know that the fellows exist or how they function in the overall scheme of Yale’s mental health resources. “The residential college Mental Health Fellows can and should be on the front lines of getting these messages out,” the YCC report stated. “Right now, however, a lot of confusion exists around the [program]. While some residential college administrators have introduced students to their fellows, most students we surveyed do not know what the fellows do.” There is no information about the Mental Health Fellows on the websites of MH&C, the Dean’s Office or individual residential colleges.
“Exactly how this program is supposed to work is deeply unclear to me,” Reuben Hendler, one of the YCC report authors, says. “What are the different roles of every party? I don’t have a clear picture of how those parts are supposed to interact.”
Harvard may offer some lessons about tackling mental health issues in an academically intense environment. Since 2008, Harvard has had a Student Mental Health Liaisons (SMHL) program that was founded by the Department of Behavioral and Academic Counseling at Harvard University Health Services and Harvard students themselves, as part of an ongoing effort to promote emotional well-being on campus.
According to Angela Lee, a Harvard senior who currently serves as co-president of SMHL, the group has grown to include over 30 students spread across the College’s 13 residential houses, whose job is to raise awareness about mental health issues and resources. Liaisons host mental health workshops for freshmen each year, run a wellness blog on their website and serve to connect peers with the University’s resources, Lee said.
SMHL also strives to reach students in innovative ways. In August 2012, the group created an online video platform called “Harvard Speaks Up” to address stigma surrounding mental health concerns. Championed by former SMHL co-presidents Seth Cassel ’13 and Meghan Smith ’13, “Harvard Speaks Up” hosts short videos recorded by members of the Harvard community talking about their personal struggles and encouraging others to seek treatment. Those who have given testimonies include Paul Barreira, Director of Harvard University Health Services, Steven Hyman, former Harvard University Provost and former Director of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, and renowned Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker. The videos typically last under five minutes, and the website contains links to both peer and professional mental health resources at Harvard — precisely the type of program that Michelle Ross believes would benefit Yale.
“What was really surprising to me was professors and administrators opening up about their own experiences and struggles and that they were willing to be vulnerable ,” Lee recalls. “Some students were like, ‘Wow, I had no idea so many people were struggling.’”
Cassel says the project garnered positive reactions from administrators and students alike, and sparked productive dialogue across Harvard’s campus. “The basis of SMHL is that students respond best to what their peers are saying,” Cassel explains. “Fellow students are more likely to be responsive to the message of getting help if it’s normal that people like them are doing it too.”
On November 16, about 30 Yalies met at 17 Hillhouse Ave. to attend an open “Forum on Wellbeing and Campus Culture” organized by the authors of the YCC Report on Mental Health. The choice of venue could not have been more apt — Yale Health was formerly located at 17 Hillhouse before moving to 55 Lock St. in 2010. Refurbished during the summer of 2012, the building now serves as classroom space.
The attendees came for different reasons; some were leaders of student organizations, while others wished to voice their concerns about Yale Health. At the beginning of the meeting, the authors of the report distributed a “mental health reference sheet” compiled by the YCC, detailing Yale’s institutional and peer resources, as well as a list of student organizations devoted to student wellness. Members of the group broke into small brainstorming sessions structured around mental health publicity, residential college resources, a potential website like “Harvard Speaks Up” and a “Mental Health Week” that would be similar to Yale’s biennial “Sex Week.”
Hendler notes the meeting was the first of its kind, “at least in recent memory.” Future forums, he continues, will be organized to gauge the progress being made on mental health initiatives, such as workshops, a residential college liaison program and alternative behavioral therapies. Such projects could help reduce the backlog of students at Mental Health and Counseling. In an early January email, Hendler said he and the other authors of the YCC report would contact various student organizations devoted to mental health, in the hopes of forming a coalition that would coordinate projects and communicate with the Yale administration.
“I was initially skeptical of creating yet another organizational structure but have become convinced that this is the best way to accomplish these goals,” Hendler wrote. “Supposing that people sign on, I anticipate a first meeting within the first few weeks of the semester, focused on putting together a mental health week for the spring.”
Christopher Datsikas ’16, the president of Mind Matters, says he was most intrigued by the prospect of a Mental Health Week, where students could attend panels on a variety of topics and promote conversation on campus. Although Datsikas believes it would be difficult to coordinate the logistics of such an event — including which students would be in charge and how much the University’s administration would be involved — he feels hopeful that a Mental Health Week could be organized within the next two years.
“It’s not an instant fix; it’s not like we put out the report and suddenly campus culture has changed,” Hendler admits. “But we believe in the good faith of the administration, and we’re trying to engage with them constructively by focusing on common ground.”
In the waning weeks of the fall semester, meetings about mental health also occurred among the college’s masters and deans. Although these meetings were “confidential,” Brenzel said in a mid-November email that there would be a follow-up by the 12 residential college masters with the YCC. Bradley added that the meetings were “engaged, productive and collaborative” with “a commitment made to try to move ahead wisely.”
Caroline Posner ’17 represents the next generation of Yale undergrads for whom such discussions may ultimately matter. A freshman in Berkeley College, Posner has lived with an anxiety disorder since the third grade, a condition she wrote about in an October 9 opinion column for the News, “Addressing mental illness.” Given Yale’s tremendous progress on issues such as sexual misconduct, Posner wrote, it’s time for the University to tackle questions of mental health with an equal commitment.
Today Posner says she is “cautiously optimistic” that Yale’s mental health environment and resources will improve during her time here. She adds that the path to clinical treatment at Yale Health should be made “as clear as possible” and that students themselves should be more open about their struggles.
“The expectation is that we’re good and functioning all the time,” Posner explains. “I don’t know necessarily why that is. Maybe it’s that Yale is painted as such a happy place where people function on these surreal levels, balancing a job, five classes with Nobel laureates and three extracurricular activities. That’s true sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you’re always in a good place mentally or emotionally.”
Last Saturday’s Inaugural Ball proved that Yale knows how to get down (and keep it supremely classy while doing so). We at WEEKEND, from what we can remember, had a glorious time, and now are desperate to know: in light of the ball’s inevitable passing, what event will step up to claim the title of Yale’s Next Best Dance?
Yale Does Diwali
I’m going to preface this one by saying I was that girl in high school. And by “that girl,” I obviously mean the one who pushed for “Bollywood” to be my school’s prom theme every year. My dream date is Hrithik Roshan and all of the songs played would have to be from “Khabi Kushi Kabi Gam.” Needless to say, I was in the minority, and I sucked it up to have fun in “Fire and Ice”- or “Midsummer Night’s Dream”-themed spaces. But I am still waiting to whip out the sari my best friend from high school bought me on Devon Avenue. And you know what is coming up next month? Diwali.
Maybe you celebrate Diwali at home, maybe you came to Yale for exposure to different cultures, or maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about. For the last groups, Diwali is the five-day Hindu “festival of lights.” For all groups, let us get together for a marathon of partying and drinking Taj Mahals (or a mango lassi — but remember, you must be 21 to consume alcohol in the State of Connecticut).
Each day, the quality of dancing would get better and better as the student body gets to know the traditional dances. People would stop just “screwing in the light bulb and petting the dog” and begin to engage in a complex interweaving reminiscent of that scene in “Pride and Prejudice” with Keira Knightly, and also I guess that scene in “Bride and Prejudice.”
Each Indian restaurant would cater a different day. This way, students can finally end the classic Thali Too vs. Zaroka debate, and those other Indian restaurants near Chapel and Howe could get their names on the map so that Indian-ophiles like me would remember them, unlike now.
As a New York City ad campaign has recently taught me, “We’re a culture, not a costume,” so I want everyone to know I mean this with absolutely no pretense whatsoever. I would love it if the Yale community could come together to learn more about the importance of this holiday, giving those who celebrate at home a chance to share it with their friends. I am sure something like this happens (hi, invite me), but Yale has never seen it like this.
Disney, College Style
Throwing a Disney sing-along dance is like providing condoms in entryways: the University knows an event is imminent and so might as well provide the resources for it to happen safely. Now that Safety Dance has been cancelled, Yale no longer oversees the inevitable girls’ wearing spandex and neon — Dean Gentry has delegated that responsibility to Toad’s. Now, rather than being offensive on grounds of public decency, the outfits at Yale’s biggest dance risk offending the politically correct partygoer: every vaguely Indian, Middle Eastern, or Hispanic-looking girl comes dressed as Pocahontas.
When they first walk in, partygoers take turn posing with Woody and Buzz cutouts (so they can advertise who their best friends are posting the photos on Facebook in case they’ve already used the “‘23 things best friends do’ Buzzfeed link on the wall” move). The music first starts up with selections from “The Little Mermaid.” When “Part of Your World” comes on, collective euphoria overwhelms the mob, which has already formed a ring around the dance floor. “Bright young women, sick of swimmin’: ready to stand!” prompts especially dramatic pull-your-fists-into-your-chest gesturing. Next is the “Circle of Life” moment, and some guy raises up a bottle of Bacardi like it’s baby Simba.
The staff behind the “Lady and the Tramp”-themed spaghetti counter look the other way. When the DJ — who pretends never to have seen Disney movies because of their mainstream appeal — plays “Mulan,” a number of kids shuffle out: they’ve sung the first two lines of “Let’s Get Down to Business” so enthusiastically that it’s too embarrassing for them to stick around mumbling the rest of the lyrics. The end of the night leaves a very drunk circle of die-hard fans with their arms around one another, swaying, singing, “You’ve got a friend in me.” “This is just like my bar mitzvah!” one kid exclaims.
A Seminar-Themed Affair
Dances are festive, inebriated affairs, free of Yale’s social mores like “stressing out,” “walking upright” and “being able to identify the gender of the person you are making out with.” Yes indeed, dances are a blast. You look forward to them all year and show up ready to impress. Then there’s a stampede at the door as everyone tries to get in, and your outfit that you thought was just SO cute is nothing compared to the next girl’s. You finally enter, and it turns out that it’s kinda the same as all the other dances: people who think they can dance, people getting sloppy, the music sucks, and despite this all your friends are apparently having the time of their lives. Plus, get ready for the hangover. And you didn’t even get any action. So that’s dances.
Seminars are sober and academic, where we go to interact meaningfully with our peers and use words like “problematic” and “dialectic.” The best seminars are among the best moments of your college career. You look forward to them from the moment you spot one in your Blue Book, and you show up ready to do all the reading and contribute meaningfully. Then you get there and there are 35 people trying for 18 spots and people are forced to sit on each other’s laps in LC 213 and the comment you made wilts compared to the next girl’s. But you stick it out and get in off the waitlist only to find out that it’s pretty similar to the seminar you took last year: intolerably self-important assholes, no one does the reading, the professor is a bore, and despite this everyone else talks about how much they love him. Just wait until the final paper. And you didn’t even get any action. So that’s dances. Wait, I mean, so that’s seminars.
Crowds, disappointment, redundancy, sexual frustration: Dances and seminars are exactly the same.
In light of this I propose a seminar-themed dance. Or perhaps a dance-themed seminar; who can tell the difference? In any case, applications would be due by 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 28. A short statement of interest/whether or not you’re DTF is required. Some may require a twerking sample of no more than 500 words. Preference to majors and people wearing neon spandex.
Show Some Skin, 18th Century Style
This is the start of a long, long journey upwards. The Inaugural Ball, in truth, was simply an enjoyable, glorified club night, and just the beginning of centuries of smashing parties and classy balls at Yale. Since Yale obviously has no qualms against hosting Woad’s (of sorts) straight on campus (no need for the stumble to Toad’s and back), I say we kill the restraints.
The Inaugural Ball was all fun and games, but if we can’t match spirit of Toad’s, I say we’ve failed. We want Toad’s Place with a flourish of Bulldog spirit and a veneer of class.
What ungrateful, wretched children are we if we do not celebrate the founding of our glorious university? It’s October 9th and the night is young. Women, grit your teeth and flatten that tummy as your suitemate yanks relentlessly on those corset strings. Curl your hair, don your gown, your petticoat and your slippers. Embellish with ruffles.
Men, pull on your stockings, breeches and your buckled shoes. Wear your knee-length coat over your waistcoat. Place that colonial hat on your head. Be not shy because this is the Founder’s Day Ball: annual, socially mandatory and shameless.
There shan’t be any more heels sinking into the soft grass. No more tripping over the cracks on the paths of Old Campus. No more strange ambient lighting underneath a colossal tent where the strobe lights fade into the thick air. This one’s going to be at Commons, where the black lights shine blue and the strobe lights pulse and the dirty beat drops.
We tip our hats to the founders with our swanky garb, but this one’s for the rebels. It’s for the card-playing, tavern-hopping, skirt-chasing, rule-breaking sons of the elite back in the day. So don’t be afraid to flash a little ankle to get the boys’ hearts racing. Feel free to shimmy up to that girl with the nice ruffles. Boola boola, Bulldogs. Happy Founder’s Day – we keep it classy at Yale.
In an email to the student body this morning, the Yale College Council announced a report including five recommendations for improving the University’s drinking culture based on the results of a survey of nearly 1,500 students, open forums and discussions with individual students.
The report recommended firstly that University President Richard Levin make a public statement supporting a reconsideration of the legal drinking age. The current legal age limit of 21 has repeatedly come up in discussions among students and administrators as one of the main challenges to creating a safe drinking environment, according to YCC President John Gonzalez ’14, and the best way to address such as a “macro level” issue is to join a movement advocating for long-term change.
Yale College Dean’s Office Fellow Garrett Fiddler ’11 said there is a general awareness on college campuses that reducing high risk drinking might be easier with a drinking age of 18, particularly because it would allow universities to teach students how to drink responsibly upon entering college.
“One idea would be that freshmen could drink with their master and dean at a reception when they came to campus if they were legal,” Fiddler said. “Drinking in a social situation with adults would be a much less risky initial drinking environment than pre-gaming in a suite.”
However, Fiddler said he thinks the end goal of improving Yale’s drinking environment by attempting to change the legal drinking age is unrealistic and unlikely to happen in the near future. While the current legal drinking age impedes alcohol education on college campuses, Fiddler said, the law has many other reasons for being in place, such as preventing drunk driving.
The report also recommended the creation within a year of a dry, large-scale dance or other event where students can socialize on weekends. The YCC has found that there are limited late night options for students under 21, Gonzalez said, and providing alternative outlets is important.
In addition, the email advised the University to clarify their alcohol disciplinary policies and that Yale Police and administrators do not ask students where they received their alcohol. The survey found that over 200 students have chosen not to seek assistance when intoxicated due to fear of disciplinary repercussions.
According to the email, the YCC plans to meet with Levin, President-elect Peter Salovey and Yale College Dean Mary Miller over the summer to reevaluate Yale’s alcohol policies.
Don’t you dislike one-man elections? Don’t you think they decrease the legitimacy of the institution at stake? The saying goes, “Vote or DIE!” but here at WEEKEND, we just cannot take the Yale College Council elections seriously this year. We were hoping for the first female YCC president in recent memory, or a Brandon Levin ’14 surprise bid. Instead, we got three uncontested races. What. The. Fuck. So long, healthy competition. So long, government by the people. For the sake of democracy, though, here’s our list of potential candidates for the YCC presidential election. No, but actually — consider these honest contenders! Read their candidacy statements, “like” them on Facebook, tell your YCC representative to include these four names in the ballot. WE WILL NOT STAND FOR TYRANNY!
Caleb Madison’s Super Awesome Presidential Platform Just For YOU!
// BY CALEB MADISON
Hey, you! Yes you, reading this right now. I want to introduce you to a cool new candidate for YCC president. This person is awesome, cool, funny and smart. Sounds like the perfect candidate, right? I bet you can’t wait to meet this person. Good news: You don’t have to wait, because you can see this person right now. Take out your iPhone, open up your camera app and press the twisty camera icon on the top-right corner. That’s right. The candidate is you.
The Constitution once said, “We the People!” The Gettysburg Address once said, “Of the people, by the people, for the people!” These famous American words are why I am running for YCC president. I believe that normal, everyday Americans like you, me, or an autistic man with a heart of gold and a passion for ping-pong can truly make a difference in people’s lives. Yale is a perfect place, and everyone here is so wise, amazing and talented. I wish everyone could be YCC president!!!! But they can’t. 🙁 That’s why I’m running for YCC president: for you.
I’ve always wanted to have a leadership position in my college student government because I’m selfless. First and foremost, I want people and my friends to be happy. If I were YCC president, I would organize fun events around campus so that everyone was happy. Still not happy after all the events I’ve organized? Send me an email at my email address, and I will make you happy! After all, that’s why I’m running for YCC president in the first place: you. I’m coming to YOUR dorm and talking to YOU about why I’d be a great president. I’m inviting YOU to a million Facebook events about voting for me. I’m taking pictures of YOU with a sign that has my name on it. So when you have the ballot in front of you next Thursday, whom are you going to vote for? Someone else who isn’t you? Or yourself? I think the answer is clear.
Yasmine Hafiz for YCC President: An Advocate for Riotous Chilling
// BY YASMINE HAFIZ
Does anyone really give a fuck about academic minors at Yale? I’m currently on the senior thesis strugglebus and have neither the time nor the inclination to have another random title on my diploma, a document which will probably vanish into the recesses of my grandmother’s basement along with the other things she likes to save and hoard for posterity — a collection of molded straw hats, photos in slide form and various other knickknacks.
In addition to the academic minor pointlessness, my opponent’s platform apparently includes restoring reading week, making the YCC “stronger and more relevant” on campus, and overhauling alcohol policy. As a super-senior I have three things to say: Reading week/fall break is for drinking, YCC doesn’t matter, and when it comes to alcohol, always eat dinner first.
So here’s my suggestion for the betterment of Yale. It’s fucking nice outside, so everyone should be hanging out and chilling in the sunshine, preferably with some music and a beer or two. No matter how stressed you are, stop procrastinating with Netflix and messing around on your computer and GO OUTSIDE.
In order to push this initiative forward, I have created the Picnic Panlist. Our manifesto and welcome message is below. If you can figure out the new Google Groups situation, then you are welcome to join us. Let the riotous chilling begin!
“Welcome to the Picnic Panlist. You are receiving this invitation because you have either attended/expressed interested in picnics. Messages will be sent out to alert members when picnics are occurring (usually on Cross Campus). Message the group if you are organizing a picnic of your own, but please DO NOT SPAM!
‘A picnic is a pleasure excursion at which a meal is eaten outdoors (al fresco or en plein air), ideally taking place in a beautiful landscape such as a park, beside a lake or with an interesting view and possibly at a public event such as before an open air theatre performance, and usually in summer.’ — From the Wikipedia entry on picnics.
See you soon for drinking and sunbathing! If you would like to be removed from this panlist please email me.
For a Clean Candidacy
// BY YUVAL BEN-DAVID
Hello. My name is Yuval Ben-David, and I am running for president.
Listen closely. Do you hear the stirrings of a 2032 White House campaign?
No, you don’t. Kids, I’m not just using this as a stepping-stone to greater things. There are no greater things out there. This is it, the endgame: Yale College Council.
I’m not one of those vest-wearing brats who’s just gonna write about this on his “Grand Strategy” app. Nuh-no. I’m clean. I’m moral. I’m so dedicated to the YCC I read the salad dressing reports.
Speaking of which, that last one was a little short, don’t you think? (See what I did there? I asked you a question. I invited you to a “public discussion” about pressing issues. Democracy comes naturally to me!) Anyways, Mr. Gonzalez, I’d have really appreciated news on whether the blue cheese dressing is compatible with my gluten-free, macrobiotic diet.
I’m not going to make cheap promises, but allow me to outline some ideas:
1. Expand the alcohol “safety first” policy to marijuana. Under my command, the YCC will work aggressively to supply parties with pure, untainted medical marijuana. It’s ethical, too! No more of that blood-diamond Mexican stuff.
2. Work with Blue State to introduce a platinum membership for those of you who squat there, like me. (Perks will include preferred access to the comfy chairs.)
3. Send the Mafia after the folks at U.S. News and World Report who ranked Yale third.
4. Work with President-elect Salovey to find the most tactful way to avoid an athletic recruitment policy.
5. Expand grade inflation. You’re all above average. Ubermenschen, really. Way, way above average.
Thank you. God bless you, and God bless America.
Dear Leader: The eternally glorious hero Yale deserves
// BY KARIN SHEDD
To the Comrades of what will henceforth be correctly referred to as the Democratic People’s University of Yale (DPUY):
This Thursday, in a landslide election enacted by you, the loving Comrades, WEEKEND will take its rightful place as the Dear Leader* of the YCC, henceforth known as the Supreme Undergraduate Assembly (SUA).
As the hero responsible for single-handedly releasing Comrades from the oppressive yoke of the inferior Communists at Harvard, as well as establishing the DPUY in 1701, WEEKEND’s assumption of this title is not only deserved, but three centuries late.
As restitution for this late acknowledgment of WEEKEND’s birthright and to maintain the happiness and superiority of all Comrades, the following resolutions will be put into effect immediately:
1. All media will be condensed under WEEKEND’s umbrella, with the exception of the communistic Rumpus, whose current staff will have the honor of serving as the practice run for resolution 5 (see below).
2. The “$10K Challenge” will be officially renamed the “$10K Celebration of Our Heavenly Leader,” to be used every year for the purpose of honoring the deserving WEEKEND. This year, those funds will be used to correct the statues on Old Campus from the defectors Nathan Hale, Theodore Dwight Woolsey and Abraham Pierson to appropriate likenesses of the Dear Leader.
3. Once a year, all Comrades will feel a powerful compulsion to pay homage to their Dear Leader by making a pilgrimage to the Dear Leader’s birthplace (202 York St.).
4. All musical and performing arts groups will be condensed into the Company for the Adoration of Our Dear Leader. They will spend the whole year rehearsing for the annual Mass Games — a replacement of the communistic glorification of outsiders known as “Spring Fling” — for the purpose of celebrating our Dear Leader’s role in the glorious establishment of the superior DPUY.
5. Ezra Stiles, Morse, Silliman and Timothy Dwight colleges will be restructured into re-education and rehabilitation camps for Comrades who fall out of line with any of the aforementioned resolutions.
All glory to the Dear Leader’s eternal reign over the DPUY!
*Alternative acceptable prefaces for the title “Leader” are any combination of the adjectives “Heavenly,” “Grand” and “Eternal.”
It looks like this year’s race for Yale College Council President may not be uncontested after all.
Some Yalies have launched a mysterious Facebook page that has started soliciting students to “#VoteJodie” for YCC President. Yes, the Facebook is seeking votes for Jodie Foster ’85, the Academy Award-winning actress and Hollywood A-lister. In her alleged candidacy statement, Foster vows to “make Contact with every Inside Man and Taxi Driver on campus. Call me a Maverick, but I have a Flightplan for A Very Long Engagement with Yale. #VoteJodie.”
Surprisingly, her impromptu campaign manager could not figure out a wholesome way of incorporating the title of her most famous film, “The Silence of the Lambs.”
While the Facebook exhibits Yale student’s typical sense of humor, it perhaps also speaks to lack of candidates running for student government this year. For the first time in the YCC’s history, more than one race will go uncontested: President, Vice President and Events Director.
We’re psyched to tell you that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis will be performing at Spring Fling 2013.
We wish the YDN hadn’t ruined the surprise, as we were in the middle of working on a pretty epic announcement music video, complete with a cameo from Mack and Ryan themselves. So much for that … The guys are upset to hear we’re going to have to scrap the project.
Enjoy the weekend.
YCC, Spring Fling Committee
We’re psyched to tell you that, for the first time in 35 years, Yale has had an official snow day.
We wish the YDN hadn’t ruined the surprise before the YCC could make an official announcement. We were in the process of collaborating on a video press release with Mayor John DeStefano Jr., which would have featured a cameo by J-Stef himself. So much for that … Needless to say, John was pretty disappointed that the YDN ruined his special day.
Enjoy the snow.
YCC, Meteorological Committee
We’re psyched to tell you that Durfee’s will be closed this Tuesday, Feb. 19, due to prohibitive weather conditions.
We wish the YDN hadn’t ruined the surprise, as we and the Durfee’s staff were right in the middle of creating a smooth R&B mixtape, which we were really excited to show to you guys. So much for that … Guess we’ll never get to hear it.
YCC, Committee on Undergraduate Snacks
We’re psyched to tell you that Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, N.J. (birthplace of actor Ray Liotta!) will be this year’s Class Day speaker.
We wish the YDN hadn’t ruined the surprise, as we had just finished scrapbooking C-Book’s second term as mayor, which includes several headline newspaper clippings from The Newark Star-Ledger. So much for that … The mayor was visibly disheartened when he heard that his first chance to speak to a crowd of over 1,000 people had been marred by the YDN.
Enjoy rewatching Amy Poehler’s Harvard Class Day speech from 2011.
YCC, Disappointment Mitigation Committee
We’re psyched to tell you that Pope Benedict XVI has announced his retirement.
We wish the YDN hadn’t ruined the surprise, as Benny-16 was in the process of choreographing a farewell performance art piece to be enacted in the center of Old Campus, in the nude. So much for that … Needless to say, His Holiness was pretty miffed to hear that the force of his artistic and religious message was diffused by the machinations of YDN.
YCC, Vatican Liaison
We’re psyched to tell you that I am asking Mike Bernardi out on a date to Basil on Friday, Feb. 15.
We wish my friend Ashley hadn’t ruined the surprise by telling everyone in our entryway, including my FroCo, that I liked him, as I was in the middle of gathering up the courage to finally talk to him after our “Civil War” section on Thursday. So much for that … Needless to say, this whole experience has taught me to be more careful when choosing my friends.
Enjoy your big mouth, Ashley.
YCC, Committee on Social Justice
We’re psyched to tell you that there is a hilarious View written by Caleb Madison and Cody Kahoe in today’s edition of WEEKEND.
We wish the YDN hadn’t ruined the surprise by publishing it, as we were in the process of constructing a great email announcing that the YDN was going to publish it. So much for that … Needless to say, Caleb and Cody are pretty upset that their article was ruined by you reading it right now.
Professor Dana Angluin’s office on the fourth floor of Arthur K. Watson Hall, the home of the Computer Science Department, is covered in graphs. One, which is pinned to the outside of the doorway, lists the enrollment numbers for the major’s introductory-level lectures. The color-coded bars rocket upward as the graph approaches the present.
This surge in interest might explain why the average Yale undergraduate has received several campuswide emails mentioning “hackathons” and “HackYale.” According to the Yale College Council, today is the first day of Tech Month, an initiative meant to bring the campus’s programming scene to the fore.
It has been a long time coming, but now, the signs are clear that more and more Yalies are learning to scan lines of code in addition to lines of verse. In the spring of 2010, 28 students were enrolled in “Introduction to Programming”; three years later, 187 students squeeze into the lecture hall. This semester the number of applicants for HackYale, a student-run course that teaches practical programming basics, was around 250 for about 50 coveted spots in the capped lecture.
In response to such record interest in computer science, members and supporters of Yale’s tech community have suggested turning HackYale into an official college course. In the process, students have cited the example of similar practical lectures courses taught at Harvard, Stanford and Penn.
But there are growing pains. The computer science major has had roughly the same number of faculty members for the past three decades. Now, with increasing enrollment, professors have struggled to keep up. Classes lack sufficient numbers of teaching assistants for their size, and without the extra help, professors cannot meet the needs of every student.
Despite University interest in expanding tech-related initiatives on campus, students, faculty and administrators have pointed out that the practical instruction required for this boom seems incompatible with Yale’s liberal arts mission. In computer science courses, Yale’s faculty is known to emphasize concepts. There are no lessons on how to build the app that will make you rich. The College is, after all, more well-known for DS than it is for CS.
But most people involved in Yale’s tech community say that graduates can find success in this ever-evolving field on their own terms. The University may never churn out programmers or engineers like MIT or Stanford. But as pointed out by members of HackYale and Yale BootUp, an organization that sponsors events for campus programmers, the liberal arts pedigree isn’t always a drawback. Computers can be made to crunch the numbers behind the big questions: the political science major who builds a program to analyze AIDS rates in Africa, the art major who programs panels of LEDs, one node at a time.
Tech at Yale is here; it has been for several years. The challenge is finding a space for it to stay, and figuring out whether there’s enough room in the University’s old stone walls for both theory and practice.
The Source Code
It’s easy to fantasize that coding in college means scribbling on your dorm room window at 3 a.m. while your suitemates get drunk and Trent Reznor’s electronic score blares in the background.
As put by Stanley Eisenstat, the director of undergraduate studies for the Computer Science Department, many fledgling programmers are inspired by stories like those shown in the movie “The Social Network,” about Mark Zuckerberg and others who became billionaires by starting a company in college.
Others cite stories closer to campus. Last year, Yale bought the license to Yale BlueBook from Jared Shenson ’12 and Charlie Croom ’12, the two students who designed the now-ubiquitous course database. Croom currently works for Twitter.
“[Computer science now] is cool, which hasn’t always been the case,” said Angluin, who taught “Introduction to Computer Science” in the fall.
You know what else is cool? A billion dollars.
Throughout his time at Yale, Max Uhlenhuth ’12 developed software to help forestry companies more efficiently manage their inventories. These efforts laid the foundation for the company he co-founded, SilviaTerra. In 2012, Forbes magazine named Uhlenhuth an “All-Star Student Entrepreneur” and reports that Uhlenhuth estimates that his company will pull in more than $3 million this upcoming year.
Uhlenhuth, however, saw tech-savviness as necessary for more than just big payouts.
“One of the skills that a Renaissance person needs to have in 2013 is how to interact with this digital world,” he said.
This perspective is understandable, as coded products, from JSTOR to Snapchat, have become inseparable from college life, and Angluin echoed this sentiment.
“In a terrible economy, tech hiring is a bright spot,” she said, commenting on recent employment statistics. But, financial concerns aside, “[students] expect to know how to use the things they use in life.”
Despite the intense competition, HackYale does not pander to the experienced programmer. The vast majority of its students have never coded before. Only 20 to 30 percent of the students in each of the two 25-person sections tend to be computer science majors. In addition, the proliferation of online programming guides has made the coding world more accessible, said Yale BootUp President Aayush Upadhyay ’14.
“You can just Google ‘How do I build a web app?’ and the first 10 links are all incredibly informative,” he said. “They assume you know nothing and they just take you step-by-step, and you build an entire thing that works and it looks nice.”
Upadhyay also mentioned that Yale’s recent effort to increase STEM enrollment could promote a culture of innovation that will come to feed itself, even if it’s not destined to dominate campus life.
Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Steven Girvin said that the economy has driven a large part of the rise in technical and entrepreneurial interest at Yale in recent years. After a visit to Silicon Valley earlier this week, Girvin confirmed that the tech industry shows very few scars from the recent recession.
A cultural shift may also underlie this change. Girvin pointed out that Yale’s quantitatively minded have begun to resist the siren song of the financial sector after graduation.
“I’m not sure [these finance positions] led to very fulfilling lives or to making a difference in the world,” he said. “And I think there has been a national swing back towards science, engineering and computer science for those people.”
As the demand rises for a more technical kind of education, Yale’s resources might not be ready to properly face the changing times.
“Yale’s [Computer Science] Department is undersized compared to other institutions,” Angluin said. Yale’s computer science faculty, according to Angluin, has been the same size for the last 25 years. “Now that the Admissions Office has presented us with more students, that will have to change.”
The problem? According to professor Eisenstat, who has been on the faculty for all 25 of those years and more, “we don’t control the purse strings.”
As noted by both Eisenstat and Angluin, Yale’s peer institutions — especially Harvard, Stanford and Penn — have pumped money into their computer science departments in recent years. Famously, Harvard reinvented its introductory programming lecture, CS50, in order to cater to a wider swath of the student body. In 2011, over 600 students had enrolled in the course, which employed two multimedia producers to record every lecture.
“It has a very odd design,” said Angluin of CS50, commenting that it needs “rafts and rafts” of committed and paid undergraduate teaching assistants to make it work. Yale’s computer science faculty, which is currently experiencing difficulty having professors work one-on-one with students for senior projects, just doesn’t have the manpower for that kind of course offering.
Reneau-Wedeen said that enrollment in many computer science courses has tripled in recent years. The department has also struggled to find enough qualified teaching fellows; approximately 70 students and only one teaching assistant formed part of an artificial intelligence course taught last fall.
“We have to sort of swallow a tiny bit of a bitter pill, ” Reneau-Wedeen said. “There is a little bit less attention per computer science student right now. But you have to imagine that the administration notices the increase in demand and will adjust accordingly.”
Staffing concerns, however, have proven to be a problem for members of Yale’s tech community, many of whom see Yale’s lack of a practical programming lecture as a sign of lagging administrative support.
“I don’t feel that [the administration has] detracted from anything, but I also don’t think they have contributed too much either,” said Upadhyay. “I think it’s been very student-led, whatever tech initiatives we have seen here.”
Is Hacking a Liberal Art?
Does the stereotypical Yale student code? Would he spend hours, even days, glued to a screen, out of sight of the University’s Gothic buildings? Would alumni scoff at the idea of a course that teaches students how to build a website, and not simply how to think about one?
“Yale sees itself as very much a liberal arts place,” Uhlenhuth said. “[It] doesn’t want to become a trade school.”
To that end, Yale’s Computer Science Department is designed to give students a strong background in theory. Up until a few years ago, “Introduction to Programming” taught students Scheme, a programming language that Uhlenhuth said is infamous among programmers — while it is good for teaching theory, it’s a “huge pain in the ass” to build anything with.
Because of the department’s history, the proposal outlining a for-credit version of HackYale potentially faces more fundamental trouble than a lack of funding and a dearth of TAs and student input. Girvin said that while he could imagine engineering departments embracing a course like one modeled after Harvard’s CS50, he expressed doubt that the computer science program would be as receptive.
“My impression is that [our department] views that kind of course as separate from their academic mission,” he said.
Indeed, Angluin also believes that computer science at Yale is designed to be something more “fundamental.” According to professor Eisenstat, this focus on adaptability will serve majors well in the constantly changing technological world.
This measure of well-roundedness, however, does not necessarily translate as well into the business world.
“They don’t even recruit at Yale for Twitter,” Croom said. Yale graduates like Croom do work in Silicon Valley, but the road to get there is not as well-worn as those in peer schools.
Because of this, it’s easy to see Yale’s lack of a tech pipeline as a problem, especially for high school students who see college as a stepping stone to career goals.
Rafi Khan ’15 does not think Yale is particularly known as being a tech school. Khan placed third in the App Challenge last year for Screw Me Yale, which helps students pair off their roommates for residential college dances.
But, as Khan said, that perception can change, and not in a way that threatens the University’s core appeal. Indeed, the scene of students spending time in a hackathon, tinkering with code for hours with little more training than HackYale, is perhaps quintessentially Yale. For better or for worse, the College’s focus on broad-based education has defined the tech lives of its students.
“You are just not going to compete with the hard-core MIT guys in raw computer science,” said Uhlenhuth. “But you can eat their lunch in computer science plus x.”
The fusion of technical skills with a liberal arts background, School of Engineering Deputy Dean Vincent Wilczynski said, gives Yale students a competitive advantage, especially when compared to graduates of a more technical school.
The new Center for Engineering Innovation and Design aims to provide a meeting and working space for students of all majors. It now houses the HackYale classes, fulfilling the center’s mission to host that unique blend of technical knowledge with liberal arts breadth. As of the start of this term, fewer than half of the center’s members planned on majoring in one of the STEM fields. The CEID counts among its 485 official members 59 students at the School of Management, 26 economics students and 16 architecture students.
“People in your generation are not going to have one job at General Motors for the rest of their career, they are going to do 12 different things,” Girvin said. “The purpose of your Yale education is in part just to learn how to learn and to keep moving as the world changes around us.”
Building a Framework
“We don’t want to keep starting from scratch,” explained YCC President John Gonzalez ’14, commenting on a proposal to allow HackYale to be taught for course credit.
Yalies have tried to make HackYale a for-credit course almost since its founding in the fall of 2011. Last year, the YCC helped propose a course based on the HackYale model. The proposal fell through, however, because it lacked sufficient input from students and faculty in the Computer Science Department. The faculty felt that any plan would need to propose a legitimate computer science course and not merely a vocational one, Upadhyay said.
This year, Upadhyay hopes to finalize a plan by the end of February after consulting with computer science majors and professors.
Given the demand for more computer science professors in general, Upadhyay added, Yale should bring in faculty to teach the class. Upadhyay said that President-elect Peter Salovey is “really interested” in bringing this type of course to Yale.
Salovey wrote in a Tuesday email that he is pleased that a greater number of students are enrolling in introductory computer science courses. But the ultimate decision, he said, of whether to offer a course similar to HackYale for credit, rests with the faculty.
“I hope we can provide even more opportunities of this kind,” he added.
Students hope to capitalize on Salovey’s sentiment. Gonzalez mentioned that, on the YCC’s upcoming “Salovation Report” (a list of recommendations for the President-elect), many of the proposals would involve supporting student innovation.
“I campaigned on applicable tech,” Gonzalez said.
Tech Month is the result of that campaign. The event kicks off with a 12-hour mini-hackathon this Saturday. While providing some time for programmers to come together, share expertise and delight in snacks, the hackathon also marks the official start of the YCC’s App Challenge. Past winners, including events app Roammeo, Yale BlueBook, and One Button Wenzel, have all walked away with the hefty $1,000 prize.
“The app challenge is the biggest win I’ve seen at Yale,” said Croom, the Yale BlueBook co-creator and Twitter employee. Croom is one of many returning to Yale for “tech talks” later this month and will be speaking in association with TEDxYale and Yale BootUp.
The last weekend of February will feature a full, 24-hour hackathon sponsored by numerous tech giants, including Google, Microsoft and Facebook.
Will the Bubble Pop?
From 2000 to 2001, the price of Amazon stock fell from $107 to $7 per share. Shares of Cisco fell a similarly frightening 86 percent. The effects of the dot-com bust were mirrored in Yale’s course enrollment numbers: in spring 2000, 143 students were enrolled in Yale’s intro programming class; in spring 2002, the number fell to 67.
2013 is, of course, a different time, but even with recent success stories, the tech industry has yet to prove its staying power, at Yale or otherwise.
Even HackYale Director Reneau-Wedeen said there is no way of knowing whether the booming tech culture that we live in today will fade as it did 10 years ago. But he has strong hope that the burgeoning interest in technology and entrepreneurship at Yale is here for the long haul.
“It’s not just about getting jobs,” he explained. “It’s extremely intellectually interesting, stimulating, collaborative, and it relates to all fields on study.”
Most importantly, Reneau-Wedeen said, every group involved, from HackYale to Yale BootUp to the YCC is working toward a common goal — having a positive influence on the Yale experience. And from this endeavor, each organization contributes unique strengths.
Yale BootUp brings in speakers, organizes hackathons and other social coding events. HackYale recruits student-teachers to instruct other Yalies how to code. The Student Technology Collaborative taught a course last fall on the programming language Ruby on Rails. The Computer Science Department continues to provide theoretical foundations. The YCC promotes their own technology initiatives as well as spreading the word about others.
“It’s very mutually symbiotic from everyone,” Reneau-Wedeen concluded. “I think that’s going to be necessary in order to make this something that lasts.”
This level of energy comes at a very important time for Yale. With the selection of a new president and provost, the University has been given a chance to consider on its own identity.
“Our vision of Yale is in flux,” said Gonzalez, pointing out not only that the President-elect’s administration will “decide how much money the Computer Science Department gets,” but also how much support will be given to the tech community in general.
What will this momentum lead to? According to Khan, “it’s foolish to speculate. What will happen is what the students decide.” Yale may still be more famous for producing people who campaign for office than people who code, but the coders are here, and they’re not about leave.
Professor Angluin agreed. When asked if she thinks the numbers of Yale students interested in technology will continue to grow, she merely pointed at her door.
“Well,” she smiled. “You saw the graph.”
Correction: Feb. 6
A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Rafi Khan ’15 and his app Screw Me Yale won the 2012 YCC App Challenge. In fact, Travelogue, an app by Jared Shenson ’12, Charlie Croom ’12 and Bay Gross ’13, took first place in the challenge. Khan’s entry ranked third.
The Yale College Council released its “campus safety report” today, presenting an array of Yale safety issues ranging from inadequate lighting to safety services.
The report aims to synthesize student feedback generated from a form on the YCC’s website, a crowdsourcing Google Document that was sent to all undergraduates on Nov. 13 and a “lighting patrol” conducted by YCC representatives to investigate areas of campus reputed to suffer from poor lighting.
YCC President John Gonzalez ’14 told the News Tuesday that the report aims to strengthen ongoing conversation with Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins.
“We have been in constant contact with Chief Higgins, and often brought many student concerns to him,” Gonzalez said. “We thought what would be the most effective thing for our relationship moving forward would be to compile a campus safety report that he and the YPD could look through and begin addressing.”
Despite nine reported crimes on or near Yale’s campus so far this academic year, the YCC report concludes that “the biggest concern that students had regarding student safety dealt with inadequate lighting around campus.”
In response to a purported outcry for better lighting on campus, the report lists in detail student-reported lighting problems in addition to those “recorded by further investigation.” According to the list, high-risk areas include Temple Street in front of Timothy Dwight College, York Street in front of Davenport and Pierson colleges and Sachem Street by Ingalls Rink. Other issues reported include a poorly-lit Blue Phone behind Pierson College and two lights flickering outside of the Slifka Center.
On the question of safety services, the report largely relates student satisfaction with the nature of current resources, including the desire to increase the quantity and availability of services such as safety rides and shuttles. According to the report, students looking to avoid wait time want more vehicles making the rounds. It can take “30 minutes plus,” the report quotes one student as having said, to use such services. One other suggestion includes allowing groups to preschedule safety rides after weekly meetings or other previously planned events.
In a section of the report devoted to alcohol safety, the YCC excerpted a handful of comments that raise concerns about the University’s focus on discipline, which the report said dissuades students from getting the medical attention they need. Specific recommendations from students include no longer asking students at the hospital where they got their alcohol and creating “disciplinary amnesty for anybody who willingly goes to Yale Health.” Students also commented on the worrisome effects of Yale’s pervasive alcohol culture, with one student reporting that he or she is “uncomfortable to venture out on a Friday [and] Saturday night.”