Orientation program opens to all

The pre-orientation program Cultural Connections — which grew out of a program founded in the 1970s for freshmen of Puerto Rican descent and, through 2003, was limited to members of ethnic minority groups — admitted all 101 applicants this year, including one white student, program director Assistant Yale College Dean Rosalinda Garcia said.

Former Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead announced last February that this year’s program would be open to non-minority students. Changes made to accommodate non-minority students were slight, said Garcia, who directed Cultural Connections for the first time this year.

The fee for the program was raised this year, from just $10 to $100. The increase was partly due to the expenses incurred by offering the program to all incoming students, Garcia said. Cultural Connections invitations were mailed to the entire freshmen class this year instead of only to minority students.

But Garcia said the fee hike was also prompted by a review of other pre-orientation programs, which charged participants hundreds of dollars.

“There was a big disparity between what our program charged and what other [pre-orientation] programs charged,” she said.

Because the program was now open to the entire incoming class, applicants were required to respond to essay questions regarding their interest in attending, she said.

The program formerly received 85 to 125 applicants each year and admitted them on a first-come, first-serve basis, she said.

Julia Gonzales ’05, who attended the program before her freshman year and has been an aide for the last three years, said she had been somewhat concerned by the rise in fees.

“I was afraid the cost would be prohibitive, that people weren’t going to come to Cultural Connections anymore,” she said.

But Gonzales noted that the fee was waived for students who were also financial aid recipients.

There was only one change to the program itself, Garcia said. One of the activities required students to meet with their ethnic counselors, she said. For this portion of the program, all students who were not assigned an ethnic counselor were paired with their residential college’s ethnic counselor.

Garcia said the change was not related to the new admission policy: some minority students are not assigned an ethnic counselor because they do not designate an ethnicity on their application to Yale. This year, there were five students in Cultural Connections who had not been assigned an ethnic counselor, she said.

Ryan Murguia ’05, who served as one of the head aides this year, said the program’s focus on cultural issues proved beneficial to the non-minority student who attended.

“The [student] was very active, very well-liked,” he said. “He got a lot from the program.”

Murguia welcomed the possibility of more non-minority students participating in the program in future years.

“It’s a great opportunity for kids to get to know each other and to learn about other cultures,” he said.

According to Gonzales, the success of Cultural Connections this year can be verified by the warm responses she’s received from its participants.

“I’ve had so many kids come up to me and say, ‘this program is amazing,’” she said. “We want students to be able to say, ‘I feel like I belong, I’m included in this institution; I have a home.’”

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