Intercultural office unveiled

The Yale College Dean’s Office will create an “intercultural/multicultural affairs office” to provide an outlet for students to report grievances of racial harassment or incidents of hate speech, Assistant Dean of Yale College and Director of the Afro-American Cultural Center Pamela George announced in an e-mail to some students Friday.

A mission for the office has not yet been finalized, but several administrators discussed the logistics involved in its implementation at a meeting Friday with the directors of four of the University’s six cultural houses, George said.

News of the new office comes on the heels of last week’s discovery of ostensibly racist and homophobic messages spray-painted on University property, but administrators said the office has been in the works since last spring and is not a direct response to the last week’s events.

Members of several cultural groups said they welcome the new office and are hopeful it will raise awareness of intolerance on campus and promote dialogue among different groups.

Last Tuesday, Davenport College dining hall staff discovered the words “nigger school” written on a wall outside of Pierson College. Early Wednesday morning, undergraduates reported seeing the words “drama fags” in an entryway to the University Theatre.

After meeting Friday, George said, the officials present developed an initial outline of the office’s goals.

“We are agreed that a program is needed to coordinate and implement comprehensive educational, cultural and social programs designed to combat bias, bigotry and racism, while promoting intercultural dialogue, awareness and respect for diversity,” George said.

Other administrators present included Director of the Native American Cultural Center Shelly Lowe, Director of the Latino and Native American Cultural Centers Rosalinda Garcia and Director of the Asian American Cultural Center Saveena Dhall, George said.

The deans hope to incorporate already existing programs — including Stars, Mellon Bouchet, Amy Rossborough, Beckman, Ethnic Counselors and Cultural Connections — within the Dean’s Office with the yet-to-be-finalized mission of the office, George said.

Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry said he hopes the office will develop programs that encourage collaboration among the cultural houses.

“Instead of having one cultural center doing something and having one doing something else, [it’s about] getting them to coordinate more broadly,” he said.

George said input from students, faculty, staff and alumni will be crucial in the formation of the office. As an “administrator of color,” she has always felt supported at Yale, she said, and she wants all students to feel just as respected.

“I want very much for ALL students at Yale to feel this same level of uplift, respect, support and empowerment as well as have the proper tools for handling stress, triumph, defeat and intolerance,” George said in an e-mail.

In future meetings after winter break, the administrators plan to discuss the strengths, weaknesses and potential of the current programs and to establish a mission statement for the office, she said.

Gentry said administrators had been planning such an office since before he began his job this fall. It is a coincidence that the office was announced just four days after racist graffiti was discovered on a wall outside of a gate to Pierson College, Gentry said.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey first began discussion of the idea last spring, George said.

Students interviewed involved in cultural organizations on campus said they think an office of this kind is needed to foster more respectful dialogue among students of different cultures. They said it may be challenging for the office to ensure that Yalies hear about and attend events spearheaded by the office.

Ethnic Counselor Funmi Showole ’08 said she thinks news of the office demonstrates administrators’ “goodwill.” She said she is glad Salovey is not only hosting forums but also creating a permanent, official office to deal with intolerance on campus.

But Kathryn Baldwin ’09, the chairwoman of the Yale Political Union’s Conservative Party, said she is skeptical about the office’s potential to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. The people who might spray racist or homophobic graffiti likely would not be interested in going to an intercultural/multicultural affairs office, she said.

Despite the problems inherent in attracting large numbers of students to the new office, however, Avanti Verma ’08 — the former alumni outreach coordinator for the Asian American Cultural Center — said she thinks simply getting students to understand why others are upset by events on campus can be helpful.

She said she is excited to learn more about the office and is glad administrators are taking their time in planning its mission.

“I think it’s good to think about it before jumping into stuff, especially in response to these kinds of things,” Verma said. “That’s ok. It takes time.”

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