When Hao Wang ’07, political chair of the Chinese American Students Association, read about a restaurant in Philadelphia with a racially charged name, he said he felt the need to encourage discussion of race at Yale.
In response, the Chinese American Students Association held a forum Thursday evening, “Race, Racism and Dialogue.” Faculty members and about 50 students from various backgrounds discussed their perspectives on race.
Sociology professor Jonathan Gillette said he thinks Yale’s intellectual environment often makes race more difficult to discuss because students and professors are trained to think in strict, intellectual terms instead of listening to each other’s subjective experiences.
“Race is about our feelings and articulating them,” Gillette said. “Our perceptions are reality.”
Gillette also said he thinks the Yale administration fails to support open discussion about difficult issues on campus. He also said the large portraits of white men in Commons are just one example of Yale’s cultural history that embraces some students, but alienates others.
Another presenter, political science and African American studies professor Ange-Marie Hancock, cited popular films such as “The Joy Luck Club” and “Bringing Down the House,” to illustrate her views on minorities and the entertainment industry.
She said members of minority groups often represent themselves in films in ways they know will be lucrative.
Hancock also said money is the primary reason why sports teams such as the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins have refused to change their names — they are afraid of losing profits, she said. She said corporations are at “the intersections of race, ethnicity and class” and must choose whether to gross more money or to “work towards positive change.”
“In the movie business, money is significantly related to what we’ve seen on the screens,” Hancock said. “There has never been a black Michael Eisner, who could make executive decisions from a perspective different from the white male’s.”
Will Tanzman ’04, who attended the teach-in, said being an Ivy League school in New England does not absolve the University from discussing race.
“A lot of people at Yale feel that we’re a good liberal campus that doesn’t have a problem with race,” Tanzman said. “But we do.”
Later in the night, students broke up into small groups to speak about how they have responded to their own experiences with racism from their youth through their time at Yale. Following the small discussions, members of Amnesty International and the Asian American Students Alliance, or AASA, distributed petitions in support of the End Racial Profiling Act and the Hate Crime Prevention Act 2003, both of which are currently being debated in Congress.
Marina Spitkovskaya ’04 said she thinks race issues are discussed too infrequently on campus.
“I think it’s rare that we get to talk about [race], even though we think about it a lot,” Spitkovskaya said. “Too often, it’s an issue that we just sweep under the rug.”
But Ikponmwosa Ekunwe ’06 said the audience and faculty members at the forum did not discuss race as openly as she would have liked.
“I feel like tonight’s dialogue was a reminder of how much more is needed on campus,” Ekunwe said. “Many people are still very uncomfortable.”
Toward the end of the teach-in, AASA member Sunny Kim ’06 called on attendees to continue their discussion after leaving the meeting.
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