‘Self-segregation’ myth affects all groups

Self-segregation, as alleged by Friday’s News’ View editorial (“Self-segregation thwarts campus unity”), is a myth.

Let me put my biases up front: I am one of about 430 black students at Yale, I work at the Afro-American Cultural Center and last summer I was an aide for Cultural Connections. I also will admit that black people often eat lunch together, most of the people who go to Afro-American Cultural Center events are black and most of the attendees of Cultural Connections are students of color. Still, I think it is wrong to call these examples of “self-segregation.”

If, for example, the Af-Am House had a sign on its door saying “Blacks Only” or an alternate rear entrance for white students, then I would have no difficulty using the term “self-segregation.” But this is not the reality that exists on campus. Rather, the racial separation in Commons, Cultural Connections and the Afro-American Cultural Center seems to be caused less by the students of color participating than the white students who choose not to attend.

Last week’s editorial argued that as students of color make cultural activities “their niche,” the amount of time they can dedicate to “non-culture-specific groups” declines. I guess that’s true, as there is only so much time in the week, but the implication of that argument is that groups united by a cultural background, like the Yale Gospel Choir or the Yale Bhangra Team, are in a less valid “niche” than groups united by a political or other background, like the Dramat or the Party of the Left. Both the Gospel Choir and the Bhangra Team have students of various ethnicities, including white students, just as I am sure the Party of the Left includes a few conservatives. Why then are there no claims that the Yale Political Union self-segregates?

The problem seems to lie less in the exclusivity of the organizations and more in the interests of Yale students. I imagine as few white students are willing to join the Black Student Alliance as there are liberals who are willing to join the College Republicans. One of the reasons for this could be that people who might consider joining worry about being a minority among people with different ethnicities or political beliefs. I can also understand if it is difficult for white students to attend Cultural Connections or a La Casa event out of fear of being the lone white student. Being in the minority can be awkward.

Yet as a black student at Yale, I am confronted with the same awkwardness every time I look around and see only one or two other black people in my sections and seminars. In fact, one of my first inclinations when I’m shopping a small class is to see if I am the only student of color. I appreciate learning from other people’s differences, and it is not as though I think sometimes being in the minority is a bad thing. Nevertheless, whenever I am in the minority, as a sophomore in a junior seminar, as a man in the Women’s Center, as a black student in a Liberty in North Korea event, or as a Red Sox fan in Yankee Stadium, I am forced to think about the element of my identity that sets me apart. This happens often at this university, and it is refreshing for me to be able to enter the Afro-American Cultural Center and not be a tokenized exception.

The term of self-segregation should not only apply to students of color; contentions that black students in dining halls self-segregate are no more valid than claims that the white students sitting around them self-segregate, or that the lacrosse team or Yale Dems run exclusive eating clubs. Always being in a minority can be tiresome, and spending time with people with shared interests is enjoyable. Diversity is important because it allows students to experience other cultures, but diversifying the campus must go two ways. If white students want more students of color to join non-cultural groups, they should be willing to join — or at least be familiar with — the cultural groups that they claim self-segregate.

I agree with the News’ editorial that students should not approach discussions about race with hostility. It may also be worthwhile for white students, and the News, to explore alternative terms to describe race relations on campus than those that presume that students of color are doing something wrong. It is unfortunate that the myth of self-segregation implicates only cultural groups. As always, white students are welcome to join.

Nikolas Bowie is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College and the publicity chair for the Afro-American Cultural Center.


  • Joel Morales

    The fact that its called the "Afro-American" Cultural Center should answer your questions of "self-segregation". The same reason why my alma mater's (University of Rochester) "Minority" student affairs office is located by the entrance to the winter tunnel's in the basement of the academic building. The more things change the more things stay the same. However, articles such as this continually chip away at these outdated foundations of our "civilized" society. For that I commend you.

  • Serena

    Very good article, it gave me a new way of looking at the situation.

  • @ please

    If you are really desperate--an interestingly strong word to use in a situation so unimportant as this--then take the following to heart:

    You can't have a serious philosophical debate with people whom you refuse to respect. If you go into everything assuming your ideas are better than those of the people with whom you are interacting, you won't learn anything, and neither will they. If you don't come away with anything new, these debates won't be serious, and they won't be worth your time.

    There are many things wrong with your assumptions, among them that those who go to Yale "have no real interest in anything," sentiments which smack of a deep-seated bitterness. If you could relinquish these assumptions, these debates might be worth your time. But as long as you cannot, then the only conceivable reason for you to write such lengthy and disdainful responses to Yalies' explanations--including those of a couple Yalies who appear to share your suspicion of secret societies--is to make yourself feel smart by displaying your detailed knowledge of the history of human thought and using it to talk down to some of the most intelligent, hardest working students in the world. That is not worth your, or anyone else's time, and it is why people are telling you to get a life.

    Your studies, evidently, have been detailed, but from them you have clearly gleaned little perspective or knowledge of human nature. This is why you can't (or refuse to) comprehend what value people might find in a secret society, or at a school like Yale. I suggest you get wasted or go shopping, or do something that will help you relax, so that you can gain some.

    Until you do, here's some advice--lose the disdain, get an open mind (you'll find you'll need one once you make it to a real academic setting, not just an online message board where you can be as much of a dick as you want and suffer no consequences beyond people not listening to you), and then maybe you'll be ready for a contentious philosophical debate--perhaps even one about actual philosophy, in which there are few, if any, right answers.

  • azar k.

    Thanks a lot! This is a very good article! It's interesting to see how people think about it.. I think you are right about one thing especially: That it cannot be called self-segregation, if others are free to join.. but I guess, that because of the the enculturation-process everyone goes through, we often don't grow up in a way that gives us an opportunity to be appealed by unfamiliar "things" such as activities, groups, clubs… Another thing I think about this, is that self-segregation is kind of like a consequence of segregation itself. If someone is discriminated by one group, he/she is likely to hang out with a group, that is not discriminationg him/her in that way. In history black people have been discriminated (badly!) and to me it's no wonder that they prefer to keep to themselves. But because of that, the whites cannot accultureate with the culture of black people during enculturation adn therefore grow again up, to be so very different concerning interests, believes, norms, values and language, too.. this is why I recon, that self-segregation is existent, but just in everyones mind. People don't usually go, where they think they do not belong. This sense of "belonging to something" has to be altered, because I think as long as it isn't, everyoine will keep self-segregating him-/herself in an involuntary way.
    but that was just some of my thoughts about it..