Schwarzman Center report offers roadmap for ‘interconnected community that builds new traditions of student engagement’

Throughout the fall semester, a committee of 27 Yale students, faculty, and staff worked to solicit ideas from every part of campus and develop recommendations for the new Schwarzman Center. Almost 2,500 students, faculty, and staff participated in the process.

The committee’s work, and the input from throughout campus, followed the announcement last spring by President Peter Salovey of a $150 million pathbreaking gift by Blackstone founder and Yale alumnus Stephen A. Schwarzman ’69 B.A. to create a world-class, state-of-the-art campus center for students from every school at Yale by renovating the historic Commons and three adjacent floors at Memorial Hall.

“So much of the educational experience at Yale takes place outside the classroom,” Salovey said in the spring. “But until now, Yale has lacked a central gathering space that can serve as a locus — and a catalyst — for students from every part of Yale to interact with one another. We thank Steve Schwarzman for his vision and support in helping us advance our vision of a more unified, accessible, and innovative university.”

When Salovey announced the gift on May 11, 2015, he said that final determination of the configuration and use of the center would be made in close consultation with a student, faculty, and staff planning committee.

Yale Graduate School of Arts and Science Dean Lynn Cooley and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, co-chairs of the Schwarzman Center Advisory Committee, recently shared the group’s report to Salovey with the Yale community. The report can be read in full on the Schwarzman Center website here:

"Campus blitz" outreach sessions

“The committee placed an emphasis on reaching out to the Yale community. Importantly, this meant working hard to engage graduate and professional students along with undergraduates throughout the process,” said committee member Lauren Tilton, a student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “I appreciate how the committee thought critically about how to make this new center welcoming to all students on campus. At the meetings, I appreciated the consistent return to the question: What do the students think? The committee turned regularly to the recommendations heard through conversations and the online survey as well as to the student representatives on the committee.”

In their message to the Yale community, Cooley and Holloway said, “The report sketches how the Schwarzman Center can create new opportunities at Yale while deepening its strengths by drawing upon the creativity of the community, the involvement of alumni, the prominence of the arts, and the rich array of existing programs around campus that can be amplified in the center for the benefit of many more students.”

The report draws from extensive input from students in all of Yale’s 12 undergraduate residential colleges, all of the graduate and professional schools, and every degree program, as well as from alumni and postdoctoral students, and from faculty and staff.

A key part of their outreach was “the campus blitz” — two open houses in September in the Schwarzman Center to give members of the Yale community an opportunity to learn about the project, tour the complex, and share their ideas, and 57 “listening tour” sessions throughout the month at locations all around Yale. The committee also solicited input through an online form.

 “We wanted to ensure that every member of the community had an opportunity to share ideas for how to make the center a success,” the committee members said in their report, noting that they sought advice with these three questions:

  • What words come to mind when envisioning a successful student center for Yale?
  • What would you like to see included in the center?
  • What should be avoided at the center?

As the extensive set of planning and programming ideas in the report demonstrates, the committee’s comprehensive outreach campaign generated substantial input for the members to review and synthesize as they developed their report to Salovey.

“It was an energizing experience serving on a committee made up of members from every corner of the university,” said committee member Tyler Godoff, a student at the School of Management. “It was this broad reach that enabled us to execute such a successful campus blitz — over 57 listening tours in a little over two weeks. During these listening sessions I was inspired by how much Yalies cared about shaping the report. Whether it was tabling at Jonathan Edwards College, sitting down with the LGBTQ Student Co-Op or meeting at the architecture school, students took the time to provide us with ideas and feedback. This report is a reflection of the input of countless Yalies.” 

Technology an important ingredient

The deans noted that the report highlights how “technology will be an important ingredient of the design so that programs can be shared with the world, especially alumni, and speakers and performances can be brought virtually into the center.” Ree Ree Li ’16, another committee member, said she is “excited to see the innovation and unity that the Schwarzman Center will hopefully foster.”

The project will transform 84,000 square feet in ways that will support ambitious programming for the entire campus. As the report notes, the enormous basement of Commons will provide new opportunity for programs and events when it is renovated for use by students. The tribute in Memorial Hall, which honors Yale students and faculty who gave their lives in armed conflicts dating back to the Revolutionary War, will be preserved and respected.

“We are particularly fortunate that Mr. Schwarzman’s gift not only includes funding for the renovation, but for programming as well,” Cooley and Holloway wrote.  “We know that there will be no end to students’ creative ideas for this new center at the heart of campus.”

The deans noted that while the eventual budget will dictate realities about the center’s staffing, hours, and programs, they are certain that the Schwarzman Center will accomplish the overarching goal stated by the advisory committee in its report:  to “become an integral part of a student’s Yale experience and become a true commons, advancing a sense of ‘One Yale,’ and creating an interconnected community that builds new traditions of student engagement around the campus and into the world.”

The theme of “One Yale” was reflected in the make-up of the committee: There were 12 student members, with four each from the Yale College Council, the Graduate Professional Student Senate, and the Graduate Student Assembly, including the presidents of all three student groups. The deans of the divinity and drama schools served on the committee, along with Holloway and Cooley, the secretary and vice president for student life, and eight other faculty and administrators.

Committee member Skyler Ross ’16 observed, “The successful involvement of students in planning the Schwarzman Center is a testament to the strength of Mr. Schwarzman's desire to make the area a hub for student life at Yale. Students from all across the university served on the advisory committee, which I hope foreshadows the center's role as a crossroads for generations of Yale students to come.”

Their work also drew on the expertise of Michael Kaiser, former president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and leader of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Royal Opera House, who joined the committee’s two retreats. The committee also met with Beyer Blinder Belle, the architectural firm working on the project.

The university and the architects will use the advisory committee’s report as they develop and finalize renovation plans for the center, which will be constructed and completed by 2020. The report’s recommendations will also inform the university’s development and staffing for Schwarzman Center operations and programming.

'The Big Ydea' think-a-thon

Cooley and Holloway pointed out that the opportunity to shape the center’s programs is an ongoing and dynamic process, highlighting the “The Big Ydea: Schwarzman Center Thinkathon” on Saturday, Feb. 20, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The one-day brainstorming competition will feature teams of students proposing their “Big Ydeas” in three categories: arts and performance, ideas and opinion, and social events and spaces.