Guides try to up their diversity

The Yale University Tour Guide program is increasing its focus on diversifying its membership this year in response to concerns that the group was not adequately representative of the Yale student body as a whole.

A disproportionately high number of tour guides in the last few years have been Caucasian, some guides said, prompting the program’s leaders and Yale administrators to more strongly consider ethnic and racial diversity as part of the review process for new members. Although other guides hesitated to label the current situation as problematic, they said efforts to attract a more diverse applicant pool have already shown a measure of success among the 210 students who applied by last week’s deadline.

The Tour Guide program, which in the past has lacked the diversity that the University at large boasts, will strive to increase minority presence this year.
Rachel Engler
The Tour Guide program, which in the past has lacked the diversity that the University at large boasts, will strive to increase minority presence this year.

Competition for the paid positions is always high, and only 17 of the 210 applicants will ultimately be hired to tour visitors and prospective students around campus.

Part of the effort to increase diversity among tour guides this year was the inclusion of a question on the application asking candidates to discuss their backgrounds. Apart from this addition, the majority of the application review process continues to be blind, meaning that evaluators do not know the candidate’s name, gender or race until the interview stage — the penultimate step before acceptance.

While the gender ratio has been fairly equal over the years, the program would benefit from increased ethnic diversity, Yale Admissions Director of Outreach and Recruitment Jeremiah Quinlan ’03 said.

“We would in fact like to see more ethnic diversity in our applications for the positions, and have been making efforts to reach out in ways that would promote that,” he said in an e-mail.

Head tour guide Larry Wise ’08 said the staff, which numbers slightly less than 40 members, currently consists of about 30 percent minority students. About one eighth of the guides are international students, he said.

A guide who asked to remain anonymous said the pool of 15 students accepted last spring was “mostly male and white,” which he said caused concern that guides would perpetuate stereotypes of the University.

The program this year solicited minority candidates through a variety of methods, Wise said, including word of mouth through the freshman and sophomore classes, e-mails to the various cultural houses and recruitment of students who already work in the admissions office.

The efforts have already produced encouraging results, said Neil Chatani ’08, the other head guide. Still, the program selects guides not specifically on the basis of ethnic or geographic origin, but on their ability to attract a diverse group of applicants, he said.

“In order to do the job, we need a diverse group of tour guides to attract a diverse group of applicants, and to make sure we continue to have a diverse group of tour guides, we made an emphasis on that this year,” he said. “That being said, I think it’s worked wonders — the applications that remain in the tour guide process are diverse in just about every way imaginable — as far as we know, because we don’t ask race, but in terms of interests and activities.”

Tour guide Amanda Elbogen ’07 said that while consideration of diversity has a greater role this year, it is not dominating the selection process.

“There was a shift in philosophy from ‘Everyone going on tours is only going to see one face, so we just want to make sure every tour guide has the best personality possible,’ whereas this year we’re making a conscious effort to say we want to have a diverse group to actually reflect diversity at Yale,” she explained. “That said, while we definitely want a diverse group, the diversity factor is not going to override the personality factor.”

Students disagreed about the extent to which tour guide diversity influences those visiting campus.

Rachel Geronemus ’08 said offering a diverse group of guides is not of the utmost importance in reaching out to prospective minority applicants and visitors.

“I think it’s important but only to some extent, because [prospective students] know when they apply about diversity at Yale,” she said. “They’ve heard from information sessions about the number and makeup of the students at Yale.”

But Geraldine Gassam ’07 said prospective applicants on tours have a lot to gain from being able to identify with the tour leader.

“I definitely think having more diverse guides helps,” she said. “I’m a black female and I think if I had a black female tour guide, I would find common ground with her, and it would only help [my perception of the school].”

Tour guide Ayaska Fernando ’08 emphasized that the key criterion in choosing a successful guide is the candidate’s ability to be enthusiastic and knowledgeable about Yale when giving the presentation.

“As much as we are focusing on hiring a diverse group of tour guides to reflect Yale’s diversity, we are still looking for quality, and diversity is one small factor in the whole process,” he said. “If a prospective applicant can’t give a tour properly, even the most diverse person won’t be chosen as a tour guide.”

Of the 42 tour guide applicants chosen this weekend to progress to the final stage, 17 guides will be selected.

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