Fourteen Fortresses

“You’ll practically be living in a castle!” says the hundred-thousandth well-intentioned Yale mother to her progeny. Tour guides, parents, and guidebooks all draw the same tired comparisons between our homes here at Yale and the legendary bastions of yore. James Gamble Rogers’ grand collegiate Gothic designs certainly give that impression. 

If we are so eager to declare our common rooms citadels, it is only natural to consider the practicality of this statement. When it comes down to it, which of our residential colleges could best withstand a medieval assault? 

Certainly not Berkeley, as its split-down-the-middle design leaves it defeated before the battle begins, nor Timothy Dwight, which, though filled with the most fanatic of defenders, finds itself surrounded by tall buildings, neutralizing any advantage afforded by its walls. 

Stiles and Morse, Brutalist monstrosities that bear more resemblance to the Maginot Line than a college campus, seem to be the obvious answer. Coarse concrete walls and imposing towers loom over each brolic beefcake on the path to Payne Whitney. These impenetrable fortresses would undoubtedly triumph—if anyone were actually willing to defend them. At least the dining hall is open until 8. 

Pierson’s main entrance is a natural defensive funnel; protected by two wrought-iron gates and overlooked by the sturdy Pierson Tower, it is strategically ideal. This college would be a force to be reckoned with—that is, if anyone could agree where Pierson’s sovereignty ends and Davenport’s begins. The optimistically named “Pierson-Davenport shared activity area,” undoubtedly modeled after the Korean Demilitarized Zone, represents the two colleges’ attempts at reunification. Nevertheless, this petty border squabble endures, sapping the resolve of the knights within. 

Hopper’s towering walls are their own undoing. Subsistence farming during a siege would be impossible given the scarce sunlight afforded by one of the smallest courtyards on campus. 

Might the legendary Branford-Saybrook alliance win the day? The carillonneurs-in-training already wage daily, brutally effective sonic warfare, but some well-made earplugs would be the death knell of this formidable deterrent. 

Could it be Silliman, then, the largest college by area on campus? Incongruous Neoclassical, Gothic, and Georgian architectural elements produce major discontinuities in the walls, rendering their impressive gatehouse useless. 

Jonathan Edwards? Blew its defense budget on tacky tote bags. Besides, have you seen the Harry Potter movies? Slytherin loses. 

Then there’s Trumbull, with the counter-terrorist commandos that staff the Sterling check-out desks manning the ramparts. They’d probably welcome their adversaries in (just open your bags as you enter, please). 

This leaves us with the new colleges: Murray and Franklin. Strategically situated on Science Hill, with clear lines of sight radiating in almost every direction, these colleges were built for war. A psychotic fear of losing their precious air conditioning compels the occupants to unabashedly prepare for combat. They even construct pumpkin patches in their courtyard to provide sustenance in the event of a prolonged siege. Is it really a mere coincidence that these colleges contain a higher proportion of student-athletes? I think not.

In the end, our hallowed homes are nothing more than grand facades, propped up on steel I-beams and constructed long after the last knight was laid to rest. Though perhaps, in the dead of night, as you seem to hear the clattering of hooves and the shaking of swords in the dimly lit nave of Sterling library, you’ll know where to run.

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