An Independent Model

The Collegiate Way of Living is a collection of essays by Mark Ryan, a former dean of Jonathan Edwards College at Yale University. The collection depicts for its readers the history and culture of Yale’s residential colleges, which are given as a model for other universities to follow.

While the history of Yale’s residential colleges is rich and provides an interesting and intelligent argument for the merits of such institutions, I do not believe it is appropriate to use its structure as a mold for the formation of similar colleges at other universities.

Each community is unique. Its structure, culture, traditions, and government (or lack thereof) grow out of its environment and the interwoven interactions of the people who create it.

In our discussion groups, we talked about the constructs of our own residential college, the HRC. Some believed that, because of the overt emphasis the HRC places on building community, students living in the HRC have a different and more fulfilling experience of college life. Community values are formally set forth in the Charter and the HRC Student Handbook. Older students mentor younger ones and encourage the continuation of community traditions. Weekly events like Pancake Breakfast and Soup Night bring students together outside of class and help connect residents of different floors and from different social circles.

Others pointed out, however, that the overt constructions of community in the HRC, while usually successful in encouraging community development, are not universally necessary. Some communities develop on their own, without the need for an overarching structure or governmental system. Communities like Hillcrest, for example, have traditions and values equally as rich as those of the HRC—perhaps more so.

The strongest bonds between people develop naturally and as a result of a shared experience or common ideal. Because these experiences and ideals originate, in large part, from the physical and cultural landscape experienced those people, it makes sense that different places (ie: the HRC, Hillcrest, Yale) produce different experiences and ideals, which in turn produce different communities. This is why I believe that, though the structure of Yale’s residential colleges is an interesting and relevant case study of the residential college model, it should not be looked to as a universal model. Mark Ryan’s words mean something different to the recipients of his addresses than they can to us, a foreign audience. The students, parents, and professors listening to his speeches were being initiated (or re-initiated) into their community; they were receiving a lesson in their history, of which they themselves were to become a living continuation. For us, these words are secondhand. We are neither part of the cultural landscape nor the living history of Yale. We do not share that same experience, and so to use those words and that model to mold our community is not wholly appropriate. Rather, we should look to our experiences and our values, unique and independent from that of Yale or any other institution, to make decisions and create traditions that are natural to the community we wish to build.

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