First years weigh in on residential colleges

First years weigh in on residential colleges

Published on September 5, 2019

Although most first years have been on campus for less than two weeks, a recent survey by the News shows that members of Yale’s newest cohort already have a healthy dose of residential college pride.

To learn more about the freshest class of Yalies, the News distributed a survey last week to members of the class of 2023. Of the 1,554 first years in Yale College, 726 responded to the survey — a 47 percent response rate. Survey results were not adjusted for selection bias.

When asked which residential college they would most prefer to be a member of, 69 percent of 696 question respondents chose their own residential colleges, while 28 percent chose a college different from their own.

Camilla Ledezma ’23, a member of Ezra Stiles, said she loves her college, but was also struck by the amount of residential college spirit she saw so early in the year at Saturday’s “Yale Up!” event, the annual beginning-of-year pep rally for first-year students.

“We’ve been here for maybe two weeks or less than that, and people … identify with their college already so much,” Ledezma said. “That’s kind of surprising to me … it’s interesting that it’s so easy for people to become so attached to this totally arbitrary sense of identity and place of residence.”

Of the 199 students who did not select their own residential college as their most preferred college, 25 percent preferred one of the two new colleges (12 percent chose Pauli Murray, while 13 percent chose Benjamin Franklin), 24 percent said they would prefer to be in Silliman and 11 percent chose Branford.

Mpilo Norris ’23, a member of Trumbull College, said that he can understand why many of his fellow first years would prefer to live in their own colleges, due to the social circles that many new students form within them. While he prefers Trumbull’s social atmosphere, Norris said that Benjamin Franklin has better amenities that are not present in his own college. Between the two of them, the new colleges boast a black-box theater, a student-run coffee shop and a ballroom dance studio, among other things.

Of 710 respondents, 57 percent responded “yes” to the question, “Do you believe your college is objectively the best residential college?” Twenty-nine percent were unsure, and 14 percent disagreed.

Among each of the residential colleges, a plurality of first years said that their college was objectively the best. Silliman, Ezra Stiles and Pauli Murray colleges performed strongly on this question, with 84 percent, 72 percent and 70 percent of first year members, respectively, believing theirs is the best.

Joaquín Lara Midkiff ’23, a member of Saybrook College, responded that he would prefer to be in Saybrook but — along with 32 percent of all Saybrook first years surveyed — was “unsure” whether his college was objectively the best.

“It is true that though I have heard, even from my fellow Saybrugians, that the food is better elsewhere (I’m thinking now of colleges like Pauli Murray), I must admit that I’ve had no direct experiences with other colleges in this capacity,” Lara Midkiff wrote in an email to the News. “Indeed, I’ve chosen to eat all my meals [in Saybrook] these last two weeks — never disappointed with the quality of food, by the way. So, other than preferences in architectural aesthetics, I’m very suspicious of any claims to objective superiority put forth by any one college.”

Lara Midkiff added that the community and culture at Saybrook is what he believes sets his college apart, and is the main reason he wants to stay in the college throughout his four years at Yale.

Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun said he is not concerned by perceived imbalances among the colleges, particularly in terms of facilities.

“We know that community matters more and that every college has different strengths, and that students come to love their strengths as they spend more time in the colleges,” Chun said. “This is really based on initial impressions of a college, and we know from happiness or satisfaction research that people’s actual long-term experience will differ from their first impressions. A very common finding is that it evens out — if there is disparity at the beginning, it becomes very steady and equalized over time.”

The Yale College Dean’s Office sent out a survey last spring to all students asking for feedback on their residential college experiences. While Chun said that his office has reviewed its results and will be sharing college-specific feedback with the leadership of each residential college, he noted that the results are intended to remain private and for internal use only.

Looking at the residential college system holistically, the vast majority of first years surveyed by the News said they viewed the system favorably when they were deciding whether to attend Yale. Ninety-one percent of 710 question respondents saw the residential colleges as a positive factor, 0.3 percent viewed it as a negative factor and 9 percent viewed it neutrally.

“I really like it,” said Isabel Shim ’23, who did not know a lot about the system before she committed to Yale but later familiarized herself with it. “It kind of makes the campus smaller so it’s not so overwhelming.”

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