When I was home for winter break last year, I ran into one of my high school teachers at a CVS. Despite my attempts to make a quick escape (I received a 2 on the AP test for his class), he spotted me. While we were making our way through the perfunctory questions—“How’s the school year going?” “What classes are you taking?” “Which major have you decided on?”—he glanced down at my sweatshirt, which said “Trumbull College” in big, gold letters. After a moment of hesitation, he pointed to the sweatshirt and asked, “What happened to Yale?” Upon hearing this question, I surrendered my hopes of ending the conversation and launched into an explanation of residential colleges.
The residential college system is one of Yale’s unique selling points. On tours, student guides compare the colleges to Hogwarts houses, promising late-night buttery chats after evenings spent in the Davenport bookbinding studio or the Saybrook basketball court. Yale Admissions echoes this sentiment, describing each college as a “close-knit community, housed in stunning buildings centered on a green courtyard.” (Apparently, the person who wrote that page of the website hasn’t seen Morse or Stiles.)
When I anxiously logged on to the Yale Housing portal for the first time and found out that I would be living in Trumbull, I was somewhat disappointed. I longed for Silliman’s huge courtyard or Branford’s Rory Gilmore legacy, not some irrelevant college with a strange mascot. A thorough investigation of Quora comments, which informed me that Trumbullians are “known for having no self-respect,” only furthered my dismay. When I moved into a suite on the 7th floor of Bingham Hall and found myself assigned to a single that Yale had converted into the world’s smallest double, my frustration with Trumbull grew yet again.
During my freshman year, I spent very little time immersed in the Trumbull community. My closest friends, most of whom I made through various extracurriculars and clubs, were scattered from Murray to JE. As a result, I used my room in Bingham as a place to sleep and nothing else. My common room remained undecorated all year, and I knew nothing about the people in my suite apart from what time their alarms went off each morning. We all had our groups of friends outside Trumbull, and the only time we would see each other in our dining hall was on Sunday nights for family dinner.
Even now, a month into my sophomore year, there is a script that governs most first-time interactions with Yalies, a script that invariably results in them asking, “Which residential college are you in?” Admittedly, my disdain for Trumbull has decreased dramatically since I escaped the dusty, roach-filled corridors of Bingham Hall. But still, I confess that I am in Trumbull with no real sense of loyalty.
Let me make something clear: I do not think Yale should get rid of residential colleges. I do, however, think that residential colleges are not the identifying markers that Yalies make them out to be. A few days ago, I overheard someone say, “Everyone in Hopper is gay.” The world would be a better place if that were true, but, tragically, it’s not. And then there’s the stereotype that “Everyone in JE is a legacy.” Okay, I have no counterargument for that one. As a general rule, though, it is impossible to characterize the members of any one residential college in a unified way. Despite Yale Admissions’ claim that residential colleges “offer students a sense of intimate social and intellectual connection,” they really are just glorified dorms.
Still, Yalies strongly identify with their residential colleges. Murray kids stick together, forming insular communities on their long, 1 a.m. treks back from High Street. Residents of Morse or Ezra Stiles can be found ardently defending the lack of right angles in their concrete fortresses. At Saybrook’s initiation, passionate cries of “SAY WHAT?” reverberate throughout Old Campus. Maybe if I were in one of these colleges I would defend my living quarters with a similar vigor, but as much as I have tried, screaming “MOO RAH” always feels somewhat ingenuous.
I don’t harbor an intense love for Trumbull. I have friends in my college, but I don’t consider it one of my main communities on campus. And yet, if anyone mentions the “dorms” at Yale, I invariably correct them by saying that we actually have “residential colleges.”