Sanchez: Better reforms for ECs

I graduated from Yale in May. As my name was called to walk across the stage, members of my family cheered, and I felt great pride. It was a humbling moment, especially knowing how I had come so far from my Mexican-American neighborhood on the west side of San Antonio. It was a moment I hope to always remember.

I strongly believe this moment would not have been possible without the help of my ethnic counselor.

When I arrived on campus, I experienced much of the culture shock many Yale students feel. In my classes, my residential college and my entryway, I consistently felt I didn’t fit in, and I attributed my uneasy fit to my background, which I felt — which I knew — was different from that of many Yalies. When I needed someone to talk to about these issues, I went to my ethnic counselor. I didn’t feel anyone else would understand, since none of the other freshman counselors came from similar backgrounds, and none had reached out to me like my ethnic counselor did.

A month before I arrived on campus, I received a handwritten letter in the mail from my ethnic counselor, followed a short time later by a phone call to ask whether I had any questions about moving in. I didn’t fully understand the program, but I remember feeling comforted and reassured by the letter, for it came from someone who had a background similar to mine. In the weeks before school started, when I was most apprehensive about leaving home, it was helpful to know that there was someone like me who had made it through and was willing to help me along the way. I often feel I might not have finished that first year without the help of my ethnic counselor.

In the coming weeks, the Yale administration is planning to make changes to the freshman counseling program. The new program would eliminate the ethnic counselors and combine them with the existing freshman counselors. I understand the rationale behind these changes, because the current program has limited effectiveness.

The amount of responsibility carried by ethnic counselors is overwhelming, and the diversity of the counselor teams is often insufficient. The existence of the ethnic counselor program meant that the other freshman counselors did not require training to prepare for issues related to race or ethnicity, and it meant that the counselor teams did not always need to reflect the racial diversity of the colleges. As an ethnic counselor my senior year, I saw these problems first hand. I served on a team of freshman counselors in which I was the only student of color, and I had many more responsibilities than the other counselors.

I agreed with the need to reform the program. I supported the efforts to replace the ethnic counselor program with a separate support system and to expand the diversity and cultural training of freshman counselors. But the most critical elements of the ethnic counselor program needed to be preserved. Reforms needed to include a committed resource to mentor and counsel incoming students of color by pairing them with students from similar backgrounds. Without this, I believe many students will fall through the cracks.

The plan for the new counseling program that the administration is implementing eliminates the ethnic counselor program without preserving any of its most significant benefits. It blends the ethnic and freshman counselor positions and provides diversity training for all new counselors. While this new training may be beneficial (it is currently unspecified), it is clearly a loss in resources for students. It does not provide for any new mechanism to provide mentoring or counseling to students from diverse backgrounds based upon race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

The new plan also does not require input from the deans of the cultural centers on campus in the selection of counselor teams. These deans are uniquely familiar with the students from these communities, who often are not as involved with their residential colleges. Their involvement is critical to creating freshman counselor teams that are diverse and responsive to all members of the Yale community. Finally, the new plan was created without any input from students, who will be most affected by these changes.

By eliminating the ethnic counselor program without maintaining any of its key features, by not including input from the deans of the cultural centers in the selection of freshman counselors, and by implementing this new system without taking any input from the student body, I feel the administration’s actions will hurt the freshman counseling program.

As students and alumni, we must respond to these new plans and call for further necessary changes. Reforms to freshman counseling will affect the quality of the Yale experience for future generations of students, so they must be made properly. After all, it could determine whether the students who enter Phelps Gate as freshmen will be able to walk across the stage at Commencement.

Robert Sanchez is a 2008 graduate of Saybrook College and a former ethnic counselor.


  • G

    I completely agree with Robert… as a student of color, I have benefited so much from talking to my ethnic counselor about anything and everything. I did not have the same relationship with my froco. And it will not be the same for the frocos to become 'trained' in issues of race/ethnicity/gender/religion. To become 'trained' and 'aware' of these issues is completely different from living through the experiences growing up and going through the Yale experience as a minority student. The ECs will be sorely missed..

  • C

    G's comments reflect an ignorance typical of Yalies who would like to believe that we live in a post-racial world where race doesn't matter.

    As a student of color, I see a value in having older students of color serve as mentors of sorts for students who may have a hard time transitioning to Yale, whether that be because of race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economics, the weather…etc.

    I don't think, however, we necessarily need ECs as they exist today. As independent and intelligent Yalies, we don't need an administration codifying social distinction by race, or by any other type of social marker. The EC program, just like Cultural Connections, works against campus cohesion by encouraging racially distinct social enclaves within the University.

    A more fruitful approach, which sadly it seems Dean Miller has rejected for fear of intruding on the authority of the Yale College Masters' offices, would have given the Cultural Center Deans input on the selection of a culturally diverse set of frocos in each college, and would have created Student Peers similar to "Queer Peers" that could have A) served as mentors to students who need help transitioning to college life for cultural reasons, and B) served as liaisons between the Cultural Centers, and freshman interested in participating in diversity-related groups on campus.

    Together with a well-trained set of frocos, this approach could ensure that support structures for students of color could continue to exist without the need of an EC program that contributes to racial self segregation.

  • Y09

    Please. Why is Yale accepting people that can't make it through their freshman year in the first place? Everyone has to adjust in some fashion, be in ethnically, economically, geographically, culturally, academically… whatever.

  • N

    At H: The EC program, while it had its faults, as Robert recognized in his article, was a important resource provided to incoming freshman. No freshman was ever forced to develop a relationship or interact in depth with their EC - you can choose to "opt out" in a sense, simply by not engaging. The program was not implemented because Yale believes students of color cannot adjust on their own - white students and students of color alike may have difficulty adjusting to an environment like Yale's. No one is discouraging diversity or worldliness, but for many undergraduates, Yale is already a vastly different environment, culture, and ethic make-up as compared to their hometowns. The intent of the EC program was to provide a alternative mentor in case certain freshmen relate more to a person of color, or simply feel more comfortable going to an upperclassman with a similar background. This may not have been needed in your case, but the resource needs to exist for those who do have need of it.

    And as for your third point, once it is generalized, the absurdity of the statement becomes apparent: if simply seeking out someone with similar experiences for advice on how to acclimate to and succeed at Yale is rebuffed as "clinging on to your [fill-in-the-blank] background," how is anyone going to begin to feel at ease and excel in the Yale community?

  • 09

    Exactly. Because the fairly common situation of an Asian-American with physician parents can inherently relate to a black student from Alabama. This program has too many mind-boggling inconsistencies to even argue against.

  • rc

    It's kind of selfish to think that because you don't need a resource, that nobody else does (especially if you regard those who do as inferior Yalies). I myself never really interacted with my EC (or my FroCo for that matter). Not so much because I was having a grand time and an easy adjustment, but because I could not relate to them anyway.

    I don't really think that being Asian and having a black EC is norm, but rather a rare exception. I think for the most part people get assigned to their self-proclaimed ethnicity (yes, that includes all the box-checkers who are 1/50th latino and get annoyed that they get ethnic e-mails).

    Even then, this does not guarantee anything. A black EC from Alabama is not the same as a black EC from New York. A gay, rich, white, [enter adjective] FroCo from Turkey is not the same as whatever. You get the point. That means that your counselor might not be like you at all, so it doesn't matter if they're your same race, religion, etc.

    In any case, it's nice that they are trying to reform the flawed system, but they should only do it with careful consideration and various input (as Robert suggested).


  • C

    09 and H: I think you both fail to understand that freshman are assigned to ethnic counselors not by college, but ethnicity (duh). An Asian EC in Dport, for example, will have Asian freshman counselees from Dport and 2 other colleges, and not the students of color from their colleges.

    Y09: Indeed, all students require adjustment to this new and bizarre college setting. It is the duty of a University, however, to ensure that students make that transition as positively as possible.

    The university does this by providing programs such as the EC program, etc. Asking "Why is Yale accepting people that can't make it through their freshman year in the first place?" is rather shortsighted. Tons of emotionally and unstable frosh show up to Old Campus every year (rich, poor, black, white) and the University provides services to make those students' transitions easier. (What do you think mental health is for?) So singling out the small minority of students of color who need help adjusting hardly seems fair.

  • Dysfunctional

    Y09: You are right. You probably never even once spoke to your froco for advice during your freshman year. Or your academic advisor. Or anyone else for that matter. Some people are just BORN adjusted.

  • Y02

    To Y09: If you were an American dropped into a foreign country where you don't speak the language or know the culture, I am sure you would appreciate a fellow American willing to show you the ropes. To your point, why the heck even have residential counselors, mental health counselors, or tutors? 17-18 year olds are obvious invincible and can figure everything else out themselves.

  • @ Y09, H.

    Reading this comment board has left a bad taste in my mouth. I cannot believe I go to school with some of these people. Yale really needs to have more conversations about race.

  • anon

    Just FYI: the Harvard clubs are "final" not "finals" clubs. It's because they used to be the "last" clubs after clubs for younger students.