Welcome Back, Programming, and Thoughts on the Master Role

March 29, 2016

Dear Sillimanders,

Welcome back from what I hope was a rejuvenating spring break for all. I look forward to reconnecting with you in individual meetings (which I continue to have with you, and which I greatly enjoy) and in group events (such as the many study breaks and Forums and Teas we will continue to have for the rest of the semester – see below).

As you can see from our fabulous new monitor on the first floor of Byers Hall, which is hard to miss, we have a large amount and great variety of programming planned for this spring. I hope you will give yourself time to enjoy some of these offerings and that you might even try something you have not enjoyed before.  This week’s list is attached below.

When I was appointed to Silliman, I was especially excited by the potential afforded by our amazing art gallery, courtyard, and other facilities. Now that we’ve got a full team in place in both the Master’s office and house (Sergio Gonzalez, our crack Operations Manager; Elaine Vivero, our Senior AA; and Cara Vo, our house manager, are all new this year, like me), and now that we are officially into the spring home stretch, I’m confident that we will continue to make even more inventive use of these special spaces.  As you may have noticed, Maya’s Room (which is the best college gallery on campus), is getting non-stop use, with shows that feature student and professional art – ranging from shows about the Syrian Refugee Crisis, Burmese contemporary art, and (this week) photographs from Cuba in the 1960’s, to diverse student shows, including one on “Womyn in the Arts” and others still to come. For our courtyard – apart from our hammocks and spontaneous student activities (such as marshmallow roasts and Frisbee) – we have planned diverse sorts of performances, including (this coming Saturday night) the rapper Matisyahu. We also hope to use our natural amphitheater for theatrical performances, and we are in conversation about having outdoor sculpture installations and a student-run spice and flower garden.

Please talk to us about your ideas regarding all this. If you are interested in serving on our recently formed speakers committee or want to suggest ways to highlight our Silliman students’ talents and interests, please let Elaine or Sergio know or speak to me directly. Our series on comedy (more about that later) have sprung directly from student leadership and suggestions, and is being spearheaded by, among others, Fred Nicholas.

What does the college master do all day?

A number of students have asked me about the role of a college master, so I thought I would take a moment to share a description that was offered to me when I assumed the role and that I have found very helpful, as well as a little detail about my work.

In a fundamental sense, as the head of the college, I am responsible for everything that happens at Silliman and the buck stops with me. However, the role of the college master is primarily to handle things that affect the whole college, whether related to the academic, intellectual, social, artistic, moral, physical, or financial, aspects of the college.

Although I greatly enjoy getting to know students as individuals and I welcome students to meet with me at any time (indeed, I have met with quite a few of you these past months, over meals in the dining hall or late evenings in the Master’s House), the college master’s office especially handles issues in the college that affect students as a whole (whether in small or large numbers). The Dean’s office, by contrast, primarily handles issues in the college that affect students as individuals.

There is obviously much overlap between Dean Hill’s office and mine, and there are plenty of exceptions to this distinction; we both take an active role in communicating with students and their families during crises of all sorts, for example, and Dean Hill provides sought-after suggestions regarding how to allocate funds for college programming. However, the primary division between college master and college dean still holds: it is not a distinction between social and academic; the primary division is between collective and individual. 

Examples of our work in the master’s office include oversight of our various speaker series and visitors (ranging from our Forum and Tea series, to the events our graduate affiliates and visiting faculty put on, and so on); our just-introduced graduate affiliate program (our graduate affiliates, in case you haven’t noticed, are putting on quite a few events these days); our budgetary and hiring decisions (including appointment of our residential fellows); our use of (and forthcoming renovation of) communal spaces (such as our gallery, gym, kitchen, and courtyard, etc.); and our policies and practices related to events, safety, and dining (for example, we revised and liberalized the party policy this year). I also work with our SAAC to support various student-organized events (ranging from the ski trip to the upcoming SkyZone event), and so I see Matthew Stock and Eva Landsberg, and the many other members of SAAC, almost weekly. Finally, I also work with the Council of Masters and with Dean Holloway and President Salovey and other senior administrators to develop and enact policies affecting students (for example, a pet issue of mine that affects students as a whole is the absurd rise in the number of classes that are lotteried, and I am also interested in strengthening the college seminar series). Living among students on the “front line” of collegiate life, I see myself as an advocate for students whose concerns are not always readily visible to those in the administration with less direct student contact. I see Yalies as capable of judgment and control over their own lives, and my job is to support you to achieve your potential.

As some of you know, independent of my college master role, I run the Human Nature Lab at 17 Hillhouse Avenue and I am also the Co-Director (along with mathematician and computer scientist Dan Spielman) of the Yale Institute for Network Science. I have academic appointments in the departments of Sociology, Medicine, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Biomedical Engineering. Many aspects of my academic interests inform my job as a Master, ranging from my understanding of the impact of social interactions and so-called “peer effects” on human behavior, to my training as a physician. For example, while I no longer see patients, my medical knowledge comes in handy when we are dealing with student physical and mental health concerns or public health problems in the college. Some of you have already worked with me in my lab, where we do many experiments in network science and population genetics, or in one of my classes. Each year, I offer summer internships to students wishing to work at my field sites in Honduras and Uganda, and you should feel free to get involved in my work outside of Silliman if it interests you. I accepted the job of Master, when President Salovey asked, because I have always been devoted to students and have found my mentorship role very meaningful.

I hope this description of my work and role is helpful. Please be in touch with me – email is the most efficient and I generally respond very quickly – if you would like to share your thoughts or would like to have a meal. If you see the lights in my office at the Master’s House on at night, do not hesitate to ring the doorbell and stop by (as more than a few students have!).

Finally, I look forward to seeing you all at some of our upcoming events (note below).

Very best wishes,


Upcoming events:

All Week:   March 28th-April 2nd
Art Exhibit “La Societe Francaise” (Maya’s Room)
Come see Yale’s own Cordelia De Brosses display work of and about life in France

Tuesday March 29th 11-12:30
Dance Workshop (Silliman Dance Studio) with Sidra Bell
Yale graduate, world-renowned choreographer, creator of SBDNY.  Known for an unconventional, forward-looking investigative process that pushes past dance’s traditional vocabulary, venues, and boundaries. The movement material is risky, elegant, fantastical, peculiar, and darkly romantic with original themes and larger than life characters.
Please email Joana Andoh if you are interested in attending this event

Tuesday March 29th 7-8:30pm 
Tea and talk with Sidra Bell (Master’s House)
“Embodiment, Language, and Movement:  A Choreographers Pursuit”

Wednesday, March 30th, 8-9pm
Mindfulness Meditation session (SAAC meeting room, Silliman Basement)
Clear your mind, re-energize your spirit with a quick one our session hosted by YUMEI

Wednesday March 30th 9-10pm
Thai Food Brain Break (Master’s House)
Satisfy your late night cravings with great food and company 

Friday, April 1st 3:30-5:00pmCup o’ joe & a law school chat (Annex Room)
Interested in applying to law school?  Accepted and have pressing questions?  Want to know more about the process?
Join Silliman Graduate Affiliate, Alexandra Guiterrez, for a cup of coffee and answers to your questions from a refreshing first hand perspective 

Friday April 1st 8-10pmUndergraduate Comedy Show (Silliman Movie Theatre)
Come listen to the future stand-up comics, late night talk show hosts and entertainers of America
Hosted by the very talented, and Silliman’s own, Frederic Nichols
Snacks and beverages will be served

Saturday April 2nd 9-10:30pm
Matisyahu Concert (Silliman Courtyard)
Bring a blanket, sit back in our beautiful courtyard and enjoy the free show