Groups focus on racism

In response to the recent proliferation of apparently racist messages on campus, student cultural groups are preparing several proposals to the University calling for immediate changes in administrative structure and policy to avoid future incidents of racial intolerance.

Over the past few weeks, cultural groups have been meeting to discuss possible ways to improve the experiences of minority students at Yale. Cultural group leaders discussed several of these reforms in a Monday meeting with University administrators, whom the students said responded positively to some of their calls for action. The groups plan to propose formally a comprehensive list of reforms by next semester.

A student wears a black gag on Cross Campus as part of AASA’s “Day of Silence” last April. The group also held a forum to discuss alleged racism in campus publications.
Christopher Young
A student wears a black gag on Cross Campus as part of AASA’s “Day of Silence” last April. The group also held a forum to discuss alleged racism in campus publications.

Many cultural group members said they are “fed up” with incidents of racism on campus, including material published by the Herald and Rumpus last year and the Yale Record this fall, as well as anti-Muslim flyers posted earlier this month. While a number of students and administrators said the University should increase efforts to encourage campus discussion of racial issues, others believe that building bridges between cultures is the duty of cultural groups and individual students. Some students, however, said they think Yale’s environment is already welcoming to minorities.

Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said the administration is working to address student concerns about racism on campus.

“In an institution of higher learning, discourse is one of the most important things we do,” she said.

Black Student Alliance at Yale co-moderator Christina White ’07, who is one of the students spearheading the reform effort, said recent incidents have made the need to battle intolerance more urgent.

“Several instances on campus have made it necessary for us to come together as groups that feel like they are not fully a part of the school,” she said. “People feel like they are being treated as second-class students.”

White said that although the groups’ proposal is still being developed, it currently includes a more comprehensive racial issues orientation program for freshmen, increasing ethnic diversity among Yale staff and faculty, and a University-sponsored forum on racism in the media. Students will also seek to have a say in the search for Trachtenberg’s replacement — who is scheduled to take over in July — in order to ensure that he or she is sensitive to issues of race, White said.

Additionally, the newly-formed Coalition for Campus Unity is drafting a proposal for a cultural studies academic requirement for undergraduates. Vietnamese Students Association President Jerry Nguyen ’08 said the requirement would be modeled after the cultural studies distributional requirements at the University of California and Washington University in St. Louis, and would be similar to the foreign cultures requirement currently in place at Harvard.

Salovey said that the University will review any proposal submitted by the students, but that faculty may be reluctant to approve further changes in distributional requirements before the impact of the new curriculum, which was first applied to the class of 2009, can be assessed.

White said she hopes the University will move quickly to respond to students’ concerns despite its traditionally slow pace in addressing racial issues.

“While students can certainly be activists, the administration sets the tone for campus,” she said. “The administration needs to make it clear that these issues are really important to it.”

Prompted by cartoons about the prophet Muhammad posted on bulletin boards on Nov. 15, Trachtenberg and representatives from the Chaplain’s Office and Office of International Students and Scholars met with cultural group members Monday afternoon to discuss intolerance on campus.

International Students Organization President Saad Rizvi ’08, who attended the meeting, said that although administrators have not identified who is responsible for the flyers, the discussion was productive because it gave students the opportunity to introduce several of their ideas.

Administrators said they will expand the freshman cultural orientation program by holding small-group talks within the residential colleges, Rizvi said. In addition, Salovey said, the University will likely form a council of editors of campus publications to discuss journalistic ethics.

“The more voices that could be added to these planning efforts, the better,” he said.

Yale administrators and students have participated in several discussions of racial issues both on and off campus in the past few weeks.

Cultural center directors and assistant deans Pamela George, Saveena Dhall and Rosalinda Garcia and four student cultural group leaders attended the third annual “Race Relations Conference on New England Campuses” in Boston, where students and administrators from many colleges spoke about methods of encouraging diversity and inclusion in educational environments.

Tamiko Younge ’08, coordinator for Realizing Race — a group that facilitates discussions to raise awareness of racial issues on campus — said she and the other students who attended the conference would like to petition the University to increase diversity among professors so “students can see parts of themselves reflected in the University faculty.” Josh Williams ’08, a member of BSAY, said that while many schools have a vice provost to deal specifically with diversity issues, Yale does not, and the University has not hired enough residential college deans of color in recent years.

George said she thinks Yale should consider hiring a vice-provost to focus on diversity initiatives or a vice-president of intercultural relations.

“These senior level offices should be well-funded, staffed and serve as a coordinating body, policy maker and leadership model that engages the entire university,” she said.

Several students said they would like to see the University take the lead in resolving race-related issues on campus, but others said that responsibility is not primarily the administration’s.

Maya Bernadett ’08, the president of the Association of Native Americans at Yale, said she was glad to see the administration respond to allegations of racism in student publications last year by stating its disapproval of intolerance in campus print media.

George said she has requested that the University bring experts in diversity in higher education — including the former dean and creator of Dartmouth’s Office of Pluralism and Leadership — to campus to consult with the administration on how to foster a better environment for minorities.

But Rizvi said the onus for promoting dialogue should fall on the students themselves, especially cultural groups.

“It’s the responsibility of cultural organizations to not only look after people from their own backgrounds, but also to actively pursue projecting their cultures onto the Yale campus,” he said.

Some students said they think Yale already boasts a healthy environment for minorities and a large-scale racial awareness campaign could have unintended and divisive effects.

Jasmine Walker ’09 said she believes there are ample resources available at Yale for minority students.

“I think Yale really makes an effort to make minorities feel welcome here,” she said.

Brittany Kelso ’09 said a campus-wide effort to spotlight racial issues could have a negative effect.

“Too much of an effort to single out students and make them aware that they are minorities could lead to stereotyping,” she said.

Student cultural group representatives and University administrators will meet again in two weeks to discuss possible reforms further.

Comments