Zoe Berg

At the class of 1969’s 50th reunion dinner in May 2019, Stephen Schwarzman ’69 — a business mogul who founded the Blackstone Group — rose to the podium. Standing under a tent on Old Campus, Schwarzman explained why he donated $150 million to the University in 2015 to transform Commons dining hall into the Schwarzman Center. As of February 2020, the Center was slated to open in September, but is now delayed because of the pandemic.

There has been much debate about the construction of the Schwarzman Center, the new student life hub that is said to feature new performance spaces, dining options and a bar. In 2015, the announcement of Schwarzman’s gift for a student life hub drew criticism from faculty members and students alike, who argued that the money could be better spent on other projects on campus. Many, including American studies professor and former chair of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate Matt Jacobson, expressed concern that major University projects seem to be driven by donors, rather than by faculty members and the University’s mission.

The Woodbridge Fellowship — which provides opportunities for recent Yale graduates to work within the University administration — will offer a position within the new division of the Schwarzman Center in the 2020–21 school year. On Feb. 18 and 19, Center directors met in Sudler Hall to present updates to students regarding the Center’s progress at sessions that drew around 15 and seven students, respectively. They presented multiple schematics describing the building’s new features, including the revamped Commons space, four dining options and a “dome room,” which will serve as a performance space. According to Executive Director Garth Ross, the “big hairy audacious goal” of the Center is to serve as a hub for the arts while also increasing social cohesion within the Yale community.

“The Schwarzman Center is an opportunity to create more porous boundaries,” Associate Artistic Director Jennifer Newman DRA ’11 said during the session on Feb. 18. “What I hear more often than not is that [what] happens here at Yale where everybody is working very specifically in their spaces and residential colleges … but where can there be a central platform where folks can come together for interdisciplinary work and see what work can actually be born when folks get together?”

In addition to its support for the performing arts, the Center will feature a rehearsal studio, meeting spaces and several locations for displaying students’ visual art. These galleries will be located in the corridors near the President’s Room — a space for formal dinners and receptions — the “dome room” and the Grotto, a new 21-and-over bar.

In addition to the Schwarzman Center construction, Yale is turning the 87-year-old Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS) into a central home for the humanities on campus and its construction is scheduled to culminate in the late summer of 2020. The facility is being redesigned to house 15 departments and programs plus the Whitney Humanities Center, marking the first time that the majority of the humanities units in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences will be gathered under one roof. The reconstructed building will expand the resources available to each, including a mix of lecture and seminar spaces.

In 2016, Yale received an anonymous gift of $50 million toward the planned renovation of the Hall of Graduate Studies, a project that is projected to transform the historic structure into a central home for humanities education and scholarship on Yale’s campus. In addition to supporting the facility’s restoration, the donation will establish a permanent endowment to support humanities programming with an emphasis on teaching, intellectual life and events that will attract visiting scholars from around the world.

This new gift adds to the $25 million contribution from Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin ’78 announced in March 2015, which will name the building’s central tower for David Swensen, Yale’s Chief Investment Officer.

“Yale has so many outstanding departments and programs in the humanities, and bringing a core group of them into one building at the heart of campus will make them even stronger,” said President Peter Salovey ’86 Ph.D. in January 2016 when the $50 million gift was announced.

The class of 2024 will be the inaugural class for both the Schwarzman Center and the new humanities hub on York Street. These additions are particularly special since the historic Commons dining hall has been closed since 2018 to accommodate the construction of the Schwarzman Center. The classes of 2022 and 2023 did not get to experience Commons, a dining hall that could fit all undergraduate students, but it will once again be open for the class of 2024.

Larissa Jimenez | larissa.jimenez@yale.edu