Last Friday’s article on the open forum with President Richard Levin (“Sparks fly at open forum,” 11/8) highlighted several issues that students raised at the forum. However, what wasn’t reported was the very first question that was raised, one that affects nearly a third of the freshman class: the issue of the ethnic counselor program.
The failure to report upon the issue itself, while perhaps unintentional, is telling of the greater unawareness of the ethnic counselor program on campus. Since non-minority students do not have ECs their freshmen year, all too often the issue itself is overlooked. However, nearly 400 students are given an ethnic counselor, and for many, this extra support is crucial in their first year of attendance at Yale. Moreover, non-minority students frequently use the ethnic counselors for the same reasons one would use their residential counselors. The article’s omission of the question from head ethnic counselor Richard Nobles ’03 is a perfect example of the Yale community’s failure to have a discourse on the ethnic counselor program. To a greater extent, it is indicative of the struggles that students of color and ECs have fought against for over 25 years.
According to the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs’ Web site, the EC program “grew in response to the experience of various minority students, student groups, and administrators with particular problems encountered at Yale by many minority freshmen.” Since 1972, the program has grown to include 12 ethnic counselors and a Native American peer advisor. Then, as of this year, each ethnic counselor has an average of 35 freshmen counselees. But because of the breakdown of minority groups, some counselors have upwards of 50 freshmen to advise. According to the same Web site, “To succeed in their duties, the ethnic counselors must be both visible and accessible.” But having 35 counselees and being visible to every single one is extremely difficult for the counselors. Given that counselees are spread across various colleges, the mere task of being an ethnic counselor and making oneself available to everyone becomes frustrating and exhausting.
I know that throughout my freshman year, my ethnic counselor was an invaluable resource in making me want to stay here and become a member of the Yale community. Retention rates of students of color are no doubt a high priority in the minds of Yale Admissions officers and the Yale College Dean’s Office, and the EC program was created with this intent. If ethnic counselors are unable to fully serve their counselees because of overextension, how will this affect retention rates for the University?
Obviously, the ethnic counselor program, the students who are affected by it, and the University have come to a crossroads. Currently, students of color across campus are demanding that the ethnic counselor program be expanded and re-evaluated in order to better serve each class of freshmen; the status of the Native American peer advisor should also be elevated to that of ethnic counselor.
To paraphrase Nobles, he asked a question that we should ask ourselves as a community and as a university that is supposedly dedicated to diversity: Given the history of oppression of Native Americans, why does the University continue to not recognize the peer advisor as an ethnic counselor? Furthermore, what is the University doing to increase the number of ethnic counselors on campus? President Levin didn’t know. He was even unable to tell us how many ethnic counselors we have this year. Levin proved that he was fully unaware of the purpose and necessity of ethnic counselors. I want to know why he was uneducated on this issue, and what we as undergraduates can do to increase the awareness of the ethnic counselor program on campus. But, in order to do so, we need your support. Hug an ethnic counselor, because they’re stressed out, busy, caring people, and too often overlooked by the administration. Then send a letter to Woodbridge Hall, and let them know how vital this program is for all freshmen at Yale.
Julia Gonzales is a sophomore in Silliman College.