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Residential colleges: not just dorms, but microcosms of Yale's community

During your first weeks at Yale, you'll be bombarded with three questions: What's your name? Where are you from? What college are you in? The first two questions are pretty easy, but the third one often is not. What does it really mean when someone answers "Pierson" or "Silliman"?

Each residential college has a different character in which students take pride. Modeled after the college systems of Oxford and Cambridge, the residential college system is designed to make the large community of Yale University more intimate. Residential colleges provide a close-knit structure within the broader Yale environment.

You're randomly assigned to a college before you arrive, unless your sibling or parent went to Yale, in which case you can choose to be in his or her college. The random mix of students thus created allows each college to represent a broad cross-section of the campus population. Yalies often find that their memories and identities center around their residential colleges during their four years at Yale.

The Master and Dean of each college are faculty members who often put their academic careers on the back burner in order to concentrate on sustaining the lives of their colleges. They're always available to answer questions or just to talk. Masters and Deans also hold study breaks with tasty snacks in their homes during reading and exam periods.

Masters oversee the college and distribution of funds for improvements and parties. Masters also hold "Master's Teas" with famous poets, artists, and politicians as guests. The Dean provides academic advice and support, signs schedules, oversees the housing process, and makes sure that you fulfill distributional requirements. Deans listen to your complaints and have the power to give "Dean's Excuses," which override any academic deadlines.

Most colleges are equipped with a common room, either squash courts or makeshift basketball courts, a weight room, computer room, darkroom, TV room, snack shop, laundry room, printing press, game room, student kitchen, and music practice room. Each college has a private library--perfect if you have erratic study habits, loud roommates, or just don't feel like trekking to Cross Campus or Sterling Memorial.

At the heart of every college is its dining hall. It is a social site for the approximately 400 students in the college (except during a rare spell of good weather, when many people hang out in the courtyard). Students use the dining halls to eat, naturally, but also to meet friends, have discussions with professors, and, of course, to procrastinate.

Each college provides its students with a broad base of social options. The Social Activities Committee (SAC) of each college is an elected group of students who organize parties and events. College intramural teams play sports against each other, while a college council made up of elected students allocates money and makes decisions regarding college issues. Colleges also host barbecues and dances, design T-shirts and sweatshirts, and carry on individual college traditions.

Students in Berkeley (BK) are the most centrally-located Yalies on campus. BK frosh may be surprised to find their residential college split in two--Cross Campus Lawn divides Berkeley's North and South courts. In addition to its easy access to the main campus libraries, Ber-keley's central location provides a prime spot for sunbathing or frisbee. During Bulldog Days, Berkeleyites have been known to streak for prefrosh during a daring run from Old Campus to Cross Campus.

Berkeley frosh can look forward to living in the lap of luxury when they move into their college their sophomore year. During the 1998-99 school year, Berkeley was completely renovated. The entire basement of Berkeley was recon-figured. What used to be the squash court and the weight room were converted into a two-story, multipurpose activity room for events such as lectures, theater productions, and basketball games. The revamped basement also includes a lounge and snack area, a student kitchen, and laundry facilities. The dorm rooms were made more flexible and accommodating and now include air conditioning. Also, the Berkeley dining hall was improved with the construction of a balcony, the extension of the space of the serving area, and the addition of self-serve islands.

Branford (BR), the oldest college on campus, contains four courtyards; the largest, the Great Courtyard, was proclaimed the most beautiful college courtyard in America by poet Robert Frost.

Branford contains Harkness Tower, one of Yale's most prominent landmarks. The carillon bells in the tower ring periodically throughout the day, treating Yalies all over campus to an eclectic variety of musical selections, ranging from Bach to the Beatles. Branford also lays claim to Harkness Memorial Gate, which is opened only once a year, when all Yalies pass through it on their way to the graduation ceremonies on Commencement Day.

Branford College is known for its social functions, especially the God Quad--an oversized Branford suite which provides nighttime festivities. At football games, Branfordians are known for the simple style of their cheers, which include "Everybody sucks except for Branford!" and "Suck our tower!" The college flag has been the subject of many attempted thefts by rivals in Jonathan Edwards and Saybrook Colleges.

This year, Branford will undergo major renovations. Branford upperclassmen will be housed in the Swing Space, otherwise known as Boyd Hall, on Tower Parkway while their college is renovated. The renovations will include the creation of a two-story library, flexible suites with more singles and no bunk beds, and a revamped basement with an activity room and a new buttery.

Calhoun boasts a tire swing in the center of its courtyard.
Calhoun College (CC), one of Yale's smaller colleges, underwent a $24 million renovation 10 years ago, so accommodations, though limited, are more modern and luxurious than those of most colleges. In addition to the usual college facilities, Calhoun also boasts a basement cabaret (with some of the best pianos you'll find in a residential college), a carpentry room, and even a sauna (although it's tough to find anyone who's actually used it). The college recently added a new art gallery for Calhoun student artists to display their work.

'Hounies are also fond of their courtyard tire swing and their location. Students have easy access to Sterling and Cross Campus libraries, classroom buildings, and Naples Pizzeria. Calhoun's courtyard is done in faithful neo-Gothic style, and its small size helps ensure intimacy among its residents. Each spring Calhoun hosts 'Hounfest to celebrate the end of classes, with themes such as reggae and soul, and game shows like Singled Out.

In Davenport College (DC), you can always find a game of soccer, Ultimate frisbee, or volleyball in the two spacious courtyards. Intramurals (or "Davensports") are popular in this high-spirited college. In addition, Davenport's architecture is rather schizophrenic--a Gothic facade of pointed arches and stone tracery is juxtaposed with an interior of Georgian red brick and white columns.

On either side of the Davenport tower is a depiction of a mythical beast, the Yale. One of the Queen's 12 beasts, the Yale is akin to the unicorn but has two horns and two tails instead of only one. D-port has a large, beautiful common room and dining hall, with the only Waterford chandelier on campus. Rumor has it that a former University president moved the chandelier to his house, but sheepishly returned it once the donor found out.

Davenport facilities have been upgraded recently with the addition of a new weight room and buttery and the renovation of its library and darkroom.

The small, grassy courtyard of Timothy Dwight (TD) makes the college friendly and intimate. Because TD freshmen live in the college, upperclassmen are always eager to meet them. This unity creates a fierce and perhaps unrivaled sense of college pride. Despite being the smallest college, TD consistently excels at intramurals, and its section at football games is always one of the loudest. TDers also know how to party. The college is known for its wild, bare-skinned Exotic Erotic, a dance party where "the more risqué, the less you pay."

TD's Master, Robert Thompson, BR '55, known for bringing funky bands and hip-hop dancers from New York to the Yale campus, was reappointed last year to serve as Master for another five years. Dean John Loge, known for his fireside chats and love of nature, was also recently reappointed for another term.

Another small, tightly-knit college, Jonathan Edwards (JE) has gained a reputation for being affiliated with the musical arts; its two grand pianos, including one in a soundproof room, are constantly in use, and musicians often practice in the seminar rooms. Last year, the JE Master's Garden acquired a new sculpture from the Yale University Art Gallery, roughly 20 feet in height, entitled Splitting Helmets.

JE residents enjoy making fun of themselves. The college motto, "JE Sux!" can be heard from their section at football games and other spirited affairs. This beautiful college is also rich in tradition. Several times a year, freshmen greet the rest of Old Campus with a loud, musical ritual known as "COMA" (Coalition of Midnight Assholes), and the day after Easter is Wet Monday for JE residents--beware of the midnight charge of semi-automatic water weapons.

The architecture in Morse College (MC) isn't Gothic. It isn't Georgian. It is unlike anything most people have ever seen before, much less lived in. Morse is one of Yale's two "new" colleges--along with Ezra Stiles--built in the early 1960s under the direction of modernist architect Eero Saarinen, who died while the buildings were still undergoing construction.

Rooms are spacious, with walk-in closets and built-in desks. Morse used to be solely comprised of singles, but recently have created a few walk-through doubles and suites with common rooms.

Located right across the street from Payne Whitney Gymnasium, Morse is especially convenient for athletes who have to make early practices. Plus, it boasts a student kitchen and a student lounge with a large-screen TV. Many Morsels take pride in their spacious dining hall with its big windows and friendly workers.

Morsels are also proud of their recently-installed recording studio, their famous Morsel grilled-cheese sandwiches, and the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup chocolate shakes served in the buttery.

Pierson College (PC), located next to Davenport and accessible from York Street by a flagstone walkway, boasts graceful Georgian architecture and a picturesque clock tower capped with a gold dome.

Two years ago, the Pierson dining hall instituted a new "self-serve" policy, eliminating dining hall servers--a policy which many students believe improves the dining hall by making the serving line shorter and allowing picky eaters to serve themselves as little or as much as they want. Pierson also completely refurbished its TV room last year.

Among the eclectic activities that Pierson students participate in are the Tuesday Night Club (which hosts a keg party every Tuesday night), Jell-O wrestling on Pierson Day, Niko's café poetry readings, and the Inferno, a festive Halloween night costume party which truly raises hell.

While Pierson-ites really know how to get down and party, their consistently low standings in the competition for the Gimbel Cup (the prize given to the college with the highest collective GPA) has earned them the reputation of being somewhat, well, special. Their raucous football cheer begins, "P is for the P in Pierson College, I is for the I in Pierson College, E is for the E..."

Saybrook College (SY) has two courtyards: one grass and one stone. Students particularly enjoy the basketball court in the stone courtyard. The 'Brook also boasts a new band room in the basement, with equipment for student ensembles.

Until last year, Saybrook was separated from Branford by a locked gate; four years ago, a group of Saybrugians, tired and bored with their senior essays, began a "Take Back the Courtyard" campaign in an attempt to gain access to the beautiful Branford courtyard. After classes end in the spring, Saybrook holds Saye and Sele Day, which includes events such as T-shirt dyeing, a barbecue, and a courtyard party.

No description of Saybrook would be complete without a mention of the notorious Saybrook Strip, performed at the end of the third quarter of home football games,when Saybrugians, well, strip.

Art History Professor Mary Miller, GRD '81, was appointed the new Master of Saybrook at the end of last year.

Silliman College (SM) is the largest college at Yale. It has the most panoramic courtyard on campus, where Sillimanders love to play stickball (hit the Master's house, earn a home run). It also has the biggest residential college dining hall, a spacious high-ceilinged room with wood paneling, columns, and chandeliers. Despite the size of the college, Sillifolk have a strong community spirit. Because students live in the college all four years, freshmen get a head start on bonding with upperclassmen.

The Sillifrosh experience begins the second week of the year with the Frosh Olympics, a contest between entryways with events ranging from pickle eating to a scavenger hunt. After the first snowfall, Sillimanders storm across Temple Street for the traditional Silliman-Timothy Dwight snowball fight. Silliman also runs the annual Safety Dance, a return to the music and clothes of the brash '80s held in Commons.

Silliman's enormous underground tunnel system houses a basketball half-court (the Sillidome), art room, and game room, as well as a darkroom, a climbing wall, aerobics rooms, a renovated buttery, and a movie theater called Silliflicks. The college's most recent addition is a new weight room, with treadmills, Stairmasters, free weights and rowing machines.

The architecture of Ezra Stiles (ES), like that of Morse, is an eyesore to some and art to others. Stiles underwent the same interior renovations as Morse. Stilesians have their own brand of enthusiasm--their mascot is the A. Bartlett Giamatti Memorial Moose. Donated by Giamatti, SY '60, GRD '64, a former Master of Stiles and president of Yale, the stuffed moose head presides majestically over the dining hall. Stilesians learn to love living in one of the "ugly" colleges. Their proud motto: "It's the people, not the architecture, that count."

Stilesians are also proud of their athletic prowess. They have won the coveted Tyng Cup, awarded for intramural excellence, six times in the past decade. Stiles and Morsels annually co-host "Casino Night," a formal dance and gambling extravaganza which is always crowded, smoke-filled, and lots of fun.

Every spring, Stiles sponsors an Arts Week that features student performances and exhibits and draws professional artists to the college. Each month, the college holds "Musical Stiles," an opportunity for anyone to perform anything. The colleges's basement holds the Stiles Little Theater, which hosts improvisational comedy groups and other dramatic shows throughout the year.

With three small courtyards, Trumbull College (TC) has a cozy feel, and the fire doors that connect all the rooms ensure there are no secrets among the 'Bulls. The college traditions include the annual repainting of the gargoyle in Potty Court by the graduating class. Some say Trumbull has the best food of any residential college, but it may actually be Mary, who swipes ID cards before meals and is always ready with a smile, who makes the dining hall.

Trumbull boasts a small theater, a weight room, and a popular practice room which is in demand by everyone from indie rock bands to opera singers. Now that construction on the adjacent part of Sterling has ended, 'Bulls are free to use the tire swing located in Main Court again. In addition,theTrumbuttery, also known as "The Butt," provides a perfect setting for late-night procrastinating and is home to the world famous Butt-shake drink.

Peter Novak, DRA '98, took over last year as Trumbull's Dean, joining current Master Janet Henrich, a professor in the Medical School and Yale's first -ever female Master, to lead the 'Bulls.

Meredith Gordon, Jason Heller, Liz Oliner, Sangeetha Ramaswamy, Jen Richler, and Soraya Victory contributed to this article.

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