Improved housing and services on horizon for Graduate School students

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(Photo by Michael Marsland)

Even as construction cranes along Prospect Street herald a new chapter for Yale College, the university is hard at work on creating improved and increased spaces to strengthen campus life for students in the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, with leaders consulting closely with students and faculty.

“Yale has a proud legacy as the first U.S. university to award Ph.D. degrees in 1861,” notes Lynn Cooley, dean of the school, which has its roots in the Department of Philosophy and the Arts founded in 1847. “It has grown and prospered magnificently across the centuries, and we are committed to making the graduate student experience even better in our time and for the future.”

Housing is a key priority. University and school administrators have an ongoing dialogue with student leaders through the Graduate and Professional Student Advisory Committee on Housing, as well as the overall Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS).

Many students live close to campus downtown and in other New Haven neighborhoods. Based on student input, administrators have developed an annual housing fair on campus to inform students, faculty, and staff about housing options in the region. More than 1,000 people joined the housing fair held earlier this semester.

New Haven’s rental apartment market continues to develop and grow — with projects close to completion offering hundreds of new units on Winchester Avenue, College Street, Church Street, and Howe Street, and plans underway for a new mixed retail-housing project on the former Coliseum site.

On-campus housing options

At the same time, Yale is committed to maintaining quality on-campus housing options for graduate students, say university leaders. For decades, some students have lived in the Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS). Time has taken its toll on its rooms, plumbing, and heating infrastructure. Moreover, it is not feasible to renovate and reconfigure the existing HGS housing to meet the standards students and administrators seek of dormitory space with apartment-like amenities including kitchens, and to comply with current housing regulations.

Yale seeks to develop new housing for graduate students at 272 Elm St., a block away from HGS, with room for 82 graduate students in 41 two-bedroom units that include kitchens. “The idea for this new dormitory project addresses what we have heard from the advisory committee on housing about more optimal room arrangements,” says Kimberly Goff-Crews, secretary and vice president for student life. Goff-Crews says that she and her colleagues value student input on housing and other quality of life issues, noting that the recently announced pilot program to increase evening hours at Payne Whitney Gymnasium in the 2015-2016 academic year was based on joint planning and advocacy by the GSA and GPSS.

The housing development will be built on land currently used as a small asphalt surface lot, thus filling in a “missing tooth” in the revitalized Broadway area. In addition to the dormitory space for graduate students on its upper floors, the project also includes retail space at the street level that will serve the public and add to the city’s tax base. University officials are working with the City of New Haven on the municipal approvals needed for the new building and hope to be able to move forward on a timetable that allows occupancy for the fall semester of 2017.

Simultaneously, Yale is pursuing renovations for other graduate and professional student housing resources, including the Esplanade Apartments on Prospect Street and the York/Crown Apartments. The renovations will improve 62 units of housing, which are scheduled to be completed for re-occupancy in the 2016-2017 school year. The Law School will renovate the Swing Dormitory on Ashmun Street and reopen it as the Robert C. and Christina Baker Hall to provide residential housing for Law students, and, as space permits, other graduate and professional students. The exact number of suites available will depend on the renovation plans but as presently configured, the Swing Dormitory can accommodate between 65 and 75 two-person suites (130-150 beds).

No ‘one-and-done’ deal

“We’ve benefitted from our dialogue with students about housing, and the new construction and renovations will help address the issues and opportunities they have raised,” Deputy Vice President Janet Lindner notes. “None of this is a one-and-done deal, so we look forward to the exchanges continuing with current graduate students and those yet to come.” She points out that the university-wide advisory committee on graduate and professional student housing was formed at the encouragement of the GSA and GPSS, and she urged all interested students to share their views through the committee, the assembly, and the senate.

As Provost Ben Polak and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler previously announced, the university will renovate HGS as a new hub for humanities at Yale. According to Polak, this can “make a strong statement about Yale’s enduring commitment to the vibrancy and centrality of the humanities.” Notably, the university is also developing a new home for the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning in Sterling Memorial Library, across York Street from HGS.

“We have heard a desire among humanities faculty and students for more collaboration across disciplines,” Polak said in January. “HGS is large enough to house many of the departments currently scattered across the campus.” The discussions about how the humanities might build on their strengths and find new synergies in HGS has just begun this semester, led by Professor Amy Hungerford, divisional director for the humanities.

The planning will unfold with plenty of opportunity for student, faculty, and staff input. Hungerford met the GSA and GPSS a few weeks ago to learn about what kinds of work and gathering spaces can best help graduate students thrive academically within and across departments. The exploratory committee will meet all humanities graduate students in small-scale conversations about the project when it continues its work in the fall.

Hungerford adds that while the HGS refurbishment focuses on the humanities, “graduate students and faculty from all divisions will find in the renovated HGS good spaces and occasions for meeting — in café settings and for symposia, performances, and lectures of broad interest.” 

New space for graduate student life

The Graduate School also will move forward to create new space for graduate student life to replace the current site in HGS. The Provost’s Office is now working to identify a location that is conveniently located, appropriately sized, and meets the needs of graduate student life as well or better than the current center does.

Polak and Cooley will communicate with the graduate school community more about the student life project once preliminary investigation has been done. “The current student center first opened just about 20 years ago and developed into a vibrant center for graduate student life programs under the energetic leadership of Assistant Dean Lisa Brandes,” the Graduate School Dean says. “Its formation was guided by a student-faculty-alumni planning committee led by then-Yale psychology professor Peter Salovey. We will engage students, alumni, and faculty again as we set out to create new space and improve further the services for graduate students that the center provides.”

“Yale has a great history. It is a place of many moving parts and many constituencies,” Cooley observes. “It is also more unified than many other large research universities — with a strong culture of collaboration and cooperation across departments and disciplines. We saw that recently in events like Faculty Bulldog Days, Lux Yale, and Inspiring Yale, and in the ongoing In the Company of Scholars lectures. My colleagues in the administration and I are working to move the school forward in new ways that build on Yale’s strong foundation in graduate education.”

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