During my Yale admissions tour, forty overeager highschoolers and I were herded through the iron gates of Silliman, arranged in a corner of the Frisbee-dotted courtyard, and regaled with the merits of the residential college system. A couple of months later, in my interview, I cited these merits as one of my primary motives for applying to Yale. I babbled about how I longed for an intimate liberal arts experience in the midst of a research university and described a dream of four-year friendships, fierce loyalty, and a surrogate family. I was certain I would be a blissful Yale student.
Accepted, I spent the endless stretch of summer repeatedly logging onto the Internet, where I was greeted by my homepage�www..yale.edu. I navigated my way through residential college websites, comparing coats of arms and acquiring a familiar ease with the Berkeley Dining Hall, the picturesque Branford courtyard, and the Silligym. I envisioned the envelope containing my college assignment as my most life-determining piece of mail to date. I knew just enough about the colleges to determine that I would be happy�as long as I wasn’t in Morse or Ezra� Stiles. It was an aesthetic opinion; they were the �ugly� colleges, lurking in an isolated corner of campus that definitely wasn’t included on my admissions tour. I held my breath and mentally chanted, �Not Morse, not Stiles, not Morse, not Stiles.� I opened the letter. Stiles.
* * *
When I lugged my boxes across Old Campus in late August, I quickly learned that Camp Yale is all about colleges. Registration meetings, receptions, and formal dinners plucked me from the grassy, Gothic paradise of Old Campus and deposited me amidst the irregular angles of Stiles. At gathering after gathering, I was told why my college was the most tightly-knit, enthusiastic , and charismatic of all Yale’s colleges. To cope with my disappointment, I decided to buy into the hype. I attended study breaks and IM practices armed with a rabid devotion to my underdog college. I told my parents�who worried about the unusual architecture and abundance of crime in Stiles� environs�that the college’s students made up for its �undesirable� status. All of my friends were in Stiles, and even the dining hall was growing on me. hen I arrived at Yale, I tried on a new personality. I went out two or three nights a week, hosted countless dance parties in my common room, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Removed from the college environment by three weeks of winter break, however, I was dissatisfied with the new me. Something about my college experience was beginning to make me uncomfortable. I sifted through my photos on Facebook.com and cringed to see they all featured a dressed-up version of myself posing with people I barely knew at parties I scarcely remembered. I spent hours recounting these feelings to my best friend from home. At the end of one of these long sessions, she reassured me, �Don’t worry. I lost you there for a bit, but now you’re back.� And I was.
Upon my return to Yale, I was not entirely sure how to fix the problem I started avoiding everything I had embraced during the fall; stopped spending time in Lawrance, used the back door of my suite in order to circumvent my common room, and cut off the Stiles friendships which, up to that point, had defined my social life. My next step was to find a new world in which to immerse myself. I strengthened friendships I had formed around shared interests and activities rather than residential proximity. One of my closest friends was in Calhoun. I’d met and liked a couple of her suitemates. By February, I informed my dean that I wanted to switch colleges.
* * *
Although I filled out the paperwork and met with the appropriate officials, a sense of betrayal deterred me from telling other Stilesians about my plans�even my suitemates. It also took time to get up the nerve to tell my family. After mentioning it off-handedly to my sister during a phone conversation, she confronted me on issues I�d refused to acknowledge.
�I thought you loved the college system because it threw you into a group of random people who you wouldn�t have gotten to know otherwise,� she reminded me. �During the entire fall you were raving about how much you love the diversity. And now you’re just going to leave and try somewhere else?� Embarrassed, I could only mumble a reply. �I hope you�re not switching just because you want a nicer living space, Nicole,� she added with contempt.
I did not want to switch in order to wake up to gothic arches. My reasons had nothing to do with Stiles� looks or location. And I refused to feel like a failure because I didn’t fall in love with the people whom I was randomly grouped with. That said, I did realize that I could not blame my alienation on Stiles or other Stilesians. They had not changed�I was the one undergoing a transition.
Despite my effort to keep it quiet, my decision soon leaked throughout Lawrance. However, the backlash of my peers was diluted by the fact that eight other Stiles freshmen (of the original 113) were also transferring out. The knowledge that nearly ten percent of the freshmen in my college felt similarly misplaced gave my claims a sense of legitimacy. I resolved to surmount my feelings of hypocrisy and explain the situation to fellow Stilesians. Yes, in the fall I had loved Stiles. I had played IM’s. I have pictures of myself grinning, my fingers vaguely contorted to spell out the letters �E Sti.� But aren’t we expected to grow during freshman year?
* * *
Three of my closest friends also switched colleges�two from Stiles, one from Jonathan Edwards. I’ve talked to many others who have tried, with varying success. Reasons range from�aesthetic inequality��Stiles is depressing and ugly� (a transfer request that was not granted)�to a lack of friends in one�s current college and a concentration of them in another.
Due to a housing crunch this year, neither Silliman nor Trumbull accepted transfers, contributing to a slight dip in the number of requests and the success rate. This year, 41 people attempted to switch and 29 succeeded. Last year’s results are more typical: 59 requests to 49 approvals. These numbers reveal that the residential college system is not without its faults�not surprisingly, though, they are not advertised by Yale.
My dean described the transfer selection process as �pretty much like poker.� From what I could gather, the deans of each college sit at a large table, hold cards with the names of students attempting to switch, and barter. If three people leave Branford, the dean of that college can accept three new students. Colleges like to keep the in/out ratio as even as possible. Stiles usually has a seven-in, seven-out average; but this year proved a departure from the norm. Nine students are leaving. No one is switching in.
* * *
The amount of hard work and luck necessary to make the switch prompts many students to remain passive even when they are unhappy in their colleges. When I explained my reasons for switching, various friends in Stiles echoed most of my dissatisfactions. But, unlike me, they still feel a vague loyalty to the college to which they were assigned. I may have insulted some Stilesians with my decision, and my story will be omitted on an admissions tour of the University. A glitch in the ancient and infallible college system, my transfer will disappear within the greater history of Yale University’s residential colleges. But I signed up for this glorified residential college system as advertised, and I am still determined to experience it to its fullest potential. Next year I look forward to living with three of my favorite people, going to breakfast in my pajamas, attending Master’s Teas, and fanatically screaming college cheers with my new family.
Nicole Allan, a freshman in Calhoun College, is Production Manager of TNJ