Residential colleges of Yale University

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The residential colleges of Yale University are a system of twelve residential colleges with which all Yale University undergraduate students and many faculty are affiliated. Introduced in 1933, the colleges are considered the defining feature of undergraduate life in Yale College.[1][2]:19 Though their administrative and architectural features are modeled after the autonomous, constituent colleges of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, they are dependent colleges of the university with limited self-governance.


Origin (1925–33)[edit]

Model of the Memorial Quadrangle, template for the residential colleges

As undergraduate enrollment in Yale College surged in the early 20th century, alumni and administrators began to express concern that the college had lost its social cohesion and lacked residential facilities sufficient for its size.[3][4] This alienation and overcrowding, along with the growth of off-campus fraternities and society residences and a desire to further integrate the undergraduate populations of the Yale College and the Sheffield Scientific School, prompted the Yale Corporation to solicit funds for new residential buildings from Edward Harkness, a Yale alumnus with major holdings in Standard Oil.[3][5]:17–19 Harkness gave money for the Memorial Quadrangle, completed in 1920, and a few smaller dormitories, but growth in enrollment still outpaced new residential space.[5]:17 In 1925, Yale President James Rowland Angell proposed a "Quadrangle Plan" to the Yale Corporation, to be modeled after the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge.[4] Harkness admired the Oxbridge colleges as models of academic community and in 1926 offered $12 million to fund the plan and suggested James Gamble Rogers, his former classmate, as the architect.[5] When the Yale Corporation deliberated for two further years and eventually suggested a modest housing plan for freshmen alone, Harkness instead seeded the house system at Harvard College.[5]:22–24

Yale provost Charles Seymour approached Harkness about the Quadrangle Plan again in 1930, and Harkness assented to donate and endow eight residential colleges for $15.7 million, with James Gamble Rogers as the primary architect.[4][5]:25 Rogers had recently designed the Memorial Quadrangle and Sterling Memorial Library for Yale. After appraising Harvard's larger houses, Yale decided to build colleges of 150 to 200 members each.[3][5]:25[6] A "Committee on Quadrangles" was convened to name the colleges, appoint masters, select designs, organize faculty fellowships, and determine their degree of autonomy within the university.[5]:30–34

New residential buildings required a major reconfiguration of Yale's central campus. Science buildings at the present-day sites of Jonathan Edwards, Branford, and Saybrook Colleges, including Sloane Physical Lab, Kent Chemical Lab, and the original Peabody Museum, were demolished and replaced by laboratories on Science Hill.[7] The Yale Divinity School campus was moved for Calhoun College, Berkeley College replaced the Berkeley Oval dormitories, and the university gym was displaced by Trumbull College. After three years of construction, the first seven residential colleges were opened in 1933, followed by Berkeley College in 1934, Timothy Dwight College in 1935, and Silliman College in 1940.

Early years (1933–1945)[edit]

Originally, students applied to join a college after their freshman year, and the colleges acquired specific social and class positions. Davenport, Branford and Pierson Colleges gained reputations as residences for the wealthy, while Saybrook and Trumbull were known as "scholarship" colleges.[6] While these stratifications were balanced by the college masters, inequalities persisted until sophomore selection was abolished in 1962 and freshmen were randomly assigned to the college before their matriculation.

Post-war years (1945–1998)[edit]

In the early 1960s, two significant changes occurred in college admission and administration. First, where before all new students had participated in a unified "Freshman Year" and were only admitted to colleges in their sophomore year, all students were instead randomly assigned to a college before matriculation, closing much of the social distinctions between the colleges. Second, a gift from the Paul Mellon allowed the colleges to endow deanships, ending a thirty-year period where the colleges were administered solely by masters and their wives and giving students dedicated academic counsel.[4][8]

Due to the abolition of the Freshmen Year and growing enrollment in the post-war period, the university sought to expand the college system.[8] Another gift from Paul Mellon allowed Yale to build Morse College and Ezra Stiles College on the former site of James Hillhouse High School in 1962. Yale attempted another two residential college in 1972 on Whitney Avenue, but aborted the plan after the New Haven municipal government rejected an increase in Yale's non-taxable property.[9][10] To accommodate increased enrollment, some of the colleges were given annex residences, former fraternity buildings or previously unaffiliated residence halls.

In 1969, Yale admitted its first class of women. Although President Kingman Brewster suggested that Trumbull College be the sole residence of all women undergraduates, student protest prompted the university to integrate women into all the colleges.

Renovation and future plans (1998–)[edit]

Between 1998 and 2012, all twelve colleges underwent renovations, beginning with Berkeley College. Since their opening, most had seen only routine maintenance and incremental improvements to plumbing, heating, and electrical and network wiring. Among other improvements, the renovated colleges feature new basement facilities, including restaurants, game rooms, theaters, athletic facilities and music practice rooms. Dormitory buildings were added to Pierson and Davenport, and the finished underground space of many of the colleges was significantly expanded. To complete the renovations during the academic calendar, Yale built a new residence hall[11] between the gym and the power plant, commonly called "Swing Space."

In June 2008, President Rick Levin announced that the Yale Corporation has authorized the construction of two new residential colleges, scheduled to open in 2015.[12] The additional colleges, to be built in the northern part of the campus between Grove Street Cemetery and Science Hill, will allow for expanded admission and the reduction of crowding in the existing residential colleges.[13] The colleges will allow Yale College to increase enrollment by 15 percent, to approximately 6,000 students. The colleges are to be built north of Grove Street Cemetery[14][15] and have been designed by the Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, Robert A. M. Stern.[16] The new colleges were originally scheduled to be completed by 2013, but construction was delayed by the 2008 economic recession.[17] In September 2013, Yale announced a gift of $250 million from Charles B. Johnson for the construction of the two new colleges, and construction is expected to begin in January 2015. [18][19]



Master's House in Silliman College, 1940

Yale's residential colleges are dependent colleges of Yale University: separately administered but not autonomous or independently funded. Although following the residential and social model of the Oxbridge colleges, they do not similarly possess directly affiliated faculty. Each college is headed by a Master, a faculty member who is appointed by the university's President to serve as chief administrator of the college, and a Dean, who is appointed by the Dean of Yale College to oversee academic affairs for the students of the college. Each college has a Master's House, a multi-story, single-family home, for the Master and their family, and private apartments for the Dean's family and resident fellows of the college.


All enrolled students in Yale College are members of a residential college. Although students once selected their choice college before sophomore year, entrenched social exclusion and economic inequality between the colleges prompted Yale to switch to a system of pre-matriculation sorting in 1962. Students are now randomly assigned to a residential college in the summer before their matriculation, with the provision that legacy students are allowed to choose whether to live in the same college as their alumnus parent or sibling.

Most freshman live in dormitories on the Old Campus, the historical center of Yale College. Members of Timothy Dwight and Silliman are the only students to live in their college as freshmen. Thereafter, students take rooms within the residential college by a lottery system. Due to overcrowding, many of the colleges have annex residences where upperclassmen members live, and some upperclassmen live off campus while remaining members of their college.


Yale faculty affiliate with the colleges as fellows by appointment of the Council of Masters, the governing body of the residential system. Fellows advise students, attend ceremonial functions of the college, and participate in its social and academic life; a small number also keep offices in the college by invitation of the Master. Each college fellowship hosts weekly dinners for its members. Nearly all university academic functions exist outside the college, with the exception of undergraduate seminars selected by the fellows. Although nearly all university academic functions are conducted outside the colleges, the fellows select several seminars each year to be hosted in the college. In addition to the Master, Dean, and undergraduate residents of the college, a few resident fellows live in apartments within the college.

Graduate affiliates[edit]

Students of Yale's graduate and professional schools are invited to be graduate affiliates of the colleges by their masters. The program offers dining hall meals and access to college facilities to the graduate students as well as mentorship for undergraduates. Colleges host up to three graduate affiliates as residents, where they help the masters organize lectures, teas, study breaks, and other functions. As resident fellows, they are junior members of the college fellowship.

Design and architectural styling[edit]

Branford Court, the Collegiate Gothic courtyard of Branford College

All twelve colleges are organized around enclosed courtyards. Most are laid out in a quadrangle, although Morse and Ezra Stiles are irregularly organized. They are gated and usually closed to the public. Each college contains a dining hall, which students from any college are permitted to use, and extracurricular facilities. Every college also features commons room, classrooms, a gym, and a kitchen; other facilities, which vary from college to college, include chapels, libraries, squash courts, game parlors, basketball courts, pottery rooms, music rooms, short order dining counters, cafes, and darkrooms.

Unlike traditional college dormitories, residences in the colleges are arranged in suites, consisting of a common room and bedrooms for two to six students. Many of the colleges also have larger student suites, which are used to host parties and events. Most sophomores and seniors live in the colleges, along with many juniors, though some are placed in annex housing throughout the campus.

Morse College's Modernist courtyard

With eight of the colleges designed by the same architect, James Gamble Rogers, the colleges exhibit strong stylistic harmony. Rogers' primary architectural motif was Collegiate Gothic, a derivative of Gothic Revival that imitated the Gothic quadrangles of Cambridge and Oxford colleges. Rogers had previously designed the Memorial Quadrangle as a Gothic dormitory, which was renovated to become Branford and Saybrook Colleges. Similarly, Rogers framed the Jonathan Edwards College quadrangle with existing buildings, Weir Hall and the York–Library dormitory. Roger's Collegiate Gothic colleges, along with Sterling Memorial Library, Sterling Law Building, and the Hall of Graduate Studies, made extensive use of granite masonry and ornament. Georgian was the primary style of two of Roger's other colleges, Pierson and Davenport, though Davenport has a street-facing Gothic facade. His final college, Timothy Dwight, was Federal, a reference to the prevailing style in American colonial colleges.

Two of the pre-war colleges were designed by other architects. Calhoun College, designed by John Russell Pope, employed Roger's Gothic revival style with greater emphasis on brick materials. Silliman College, assembled from existing facilities of the Sheffield Scientific School by Eggers & Higgins, is an amalgamation of Gothic Revival, French Renaissance, and Georgian.

Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges, completed thirty years later, were conceived by Eero Saarinen, a mid-century modernist architect, as angular reinventions of the Tuscan village.[20]

Programs and traditions[edit]

Although primarily residential centers, the colleges are also intended to be hubs of intellectual life. Since the colleges' opening, masters have regularly hosted Master's Teas, conversations with distinguished guests open to undergraduates and fellows of the colleges. In addition, the colleges each support a seminar program, where students and fellows select scholars to lead specialized coursework for credit in Yale College.

Fellows of the colleges support the college's freshman advising programs. Each fellowship also organizes a formal weekly dinner for its members, usually held in a private common room for faculty members. Upperclassmen are often invited to join the fellows for conversation and presentations.

Seniors in the colleges participate in a series of weekly dinner presentations known as the Mellon Forum, where classmates present senior thesis research. These projects are often advised by graduate affiliates and fellows in the college. The program is named for Paul Mellon, whose Old Dominion Foundation endowed a number of academic programs for the college system.


Although intramural sports have been played at Yale since the nineteenth century, the advent of the college system introduced formal intramural competition. The annual, student-run program includes several dozen events, including soccer, basketball, softball, cross country, water polo, bowling, golf, and table tennis. In addition to undergraduates, fellows and the families of the masters and deans are also eligible to play. Hundreds of matches are played each year between the colleges, and the most winning college across all events receives the Tyng Cup. Every year during the Harvard–Yale Game, two winning intramural teams face off against their Harvard counterparts for the Harkness Cup.


Associations with American slavery[edit]

Eight of the twelve colleges are named after American slaveowners, a fact to which some Yale students and faculty have objected.[21][22] Particularly controversial is the legacy of John C. Calhoun, the namesake of Calhoun College, who was a leading slavery apologist and secessionist in Congress before the American Civil War.[23][24] In 2009, a student group protested the connection by posting alternative names for slaveowner-named colleges near the college entrances.[25]

In addition to these titular connections, two of the colleges, Pierson and Timothy Dwight, have strong architectural associations to slavery. Timothy Dwight, a Georgian Revival structure, was influenced by Southern plantation architecture.[26] Although the name has fallen out of use, a secluded courtyard in Pierson was known widely as the "Slave Quarters" for its Southern-style house-like buildings adjacent to the college's main courtyard.[27][28][29] Until 1960, Pierson students were referred to collectively as "Slaves."[30] In Branford and Calhoun Colleges, stained-glass windows depicting scenes of African American slavery were displayed prominently and have since been removed.[31]

List of residential colleges[edit]

Name Opened Namesake Undergraduates Architectural style
Berkeley College 1934 Reverend George Berkeley 417 Collegiate Gothic
Branford College 1933 Branford, Connecticut 450 Collegiate Gothic
Calhoun College 1933 John C. Calhoun 435 Collegiate Gothic
Davenport College 1933 John Davenport 460 Collegiate Gothic, Georgian
Ezra Stiles College 1961 Ezra Stiles 400-500 Modernist
Jonathan Edwards College 1933 Jonathan Edwards 430 Gothic Revival
Morse College 1961 Samuel Morse 480 Modernist
Pierson College 1933 Abraham Pierson 503 Georgian
Saybrook College 1933 Old Saybrook, Connecticut 459 Collegiate Gothic
Silliman College 1940 Benjamin Silliman 450 Gothic Revival, French Renaissance, Georgian
Timothy Dwight College 1935 Timothy Dwight IV and Timothy Dwight V 400 Federal
Trumbull College 1933 Jonathan Trumbull 400 Collegiate Gothic


  1. ^ "Residential Colleges". Yale College. Retrieved 26 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Ryan, Mark B. (2001). A Collegiate Way of Living: Residential Colleges and a Yale Education. New Haven, CT: Jonathan Edwards College. ISBN 9781402850615. Retrieved 26 March 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c Seymour, Charles (22 December 1933). "History of the College Plan". Yale Alumni Magazine 43 (13). Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d Schiff, Judith Ann (May–June 2008). "How the colleges were born". Yale Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Bergin, Thomas G. (1983). Yale's Residential Colleges: The First Fifty Years. New Haven: Yale University. 
  6. ^ a b "Eli Colleges Outclass Houses as Social Centers". Harvard Crimson. 25 November 1950. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  7. ^ Adkisson, Kevin (2 October 2010). "How Science was Built: 1701-1900". Yale Scientific. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Walker, Charles A. (December 1974). Report on the Residential College Deanships (Report). Yale University. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
  9. ^ Bowie, Nikolas (Spring 2009). "Poison Ivy: The Problem of Tax Exemption in a Deindustrializing City, Yale and New Haven, 1967-1973". Foundations 3 (2): 61–90. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  10. ^ Dana, Rebecca (11 April 2011). "At 300th, a look at old plans for a new college". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Robert A.M. Stern Architects - New Residential Colleges
  13. ^ Yale University Office of Public Affairs: "Yale to Establish Two New Residential Colleges.". Retrieved 2008-06-07.
  14. ^ Yale to Establish Two New Residential Colleges
  15. ^ Lewin, Tamar: "Yale to Expand Undergraduate Enrollment by 15 Percent", New York Times, June 8, 2008
  16. ^ "Architect Announced". Yale University Office of Development. Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  17. ^ Stephenson, Tapley; Natasha Thondavadi (6 April 2012). "With designs set, new colleges waiting on funds". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  18. ^ "Historic $250 million gift to Yale from alumnus is largest ever". Yale University. Retrieved 2 January 2014. 
  19. ^ "Construction of new residential colleges moving forward, thanks to fundraising efforts". Yale University. 3 June 2014. 
  20. ^ "Eero Saarinen: Shaping The Future". KieranTimberlake. 15 April 2010. Retrieved 11 September 2013. 
  21. ^ The college namesakes who owned slaves were George Berkeley, John C. Calhoun, Jonathan Davenport, Timothy Dwight, Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Morse, Benjamin Silliman, Ezra Stiles, and Jonathan Trumbull. Samuel Morse was not a slaveowner but expressed pro-slavery sympathies, and Abraham Pierson's views on slavery are unknown. The other two colleges are named for towns in Connecticut.
  22. ^ Antony Dugdale; J.J. Fueser; J. Celso de Castro Alves (2001). "Yale, Slavery and Abolition". The Amistad Committee, Inc. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  23. ^ Hefetz, Eliah (12 October 2012). "Naming a new Yale". The Yale Herald. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  24. ^ "Yale Students to Protest Racist Acts on Campus". The New York Times. 11 October 1990. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  25. ^ Wang, Rachel (14 October 2009). "Anonymous campaign 'renames' colleges with slave past". The Yale Daily News. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  26. ^ Jensen, Kirsten (September 1999). "Building a University, Timothy Dwight: Page 3". Yale University Manuscripts and Archives. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  27. ^ Pinnell, Patrick L. (1999). The Campus Guide: Yale University. Princeton Architectural Press. p. 67. ISBN 1568981678. 
  28. ^ Mills Brown, Elizabeth (1976). New Haven:A Guide to Architecture and Urban Design. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 126. ISBN 0300019939. 
  29. ^ Jensen, Kirsten (September 1999). "Building a University, Davenport & Pierson: Page 9". Yale University Manuscripts and Archives. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  30. ^ Maslin, Sarah (23 September 2013). "In Pierson’s Lower Court, a tainted history". Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  31. ^ Bass, Carole (19 March 2014). "What's in a name? Looking for answers at Calhoun College". Yale Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Duke, Alex (1997). Importing Oxbridge: English Residential Colleges and American Universities. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300067613. 

External links[edit]