Univ. revamps frosh counseling program

Freshman counselors for the class of 2013 will absorb the duties of ethnic counselors — a position which will cease to exist beginning fall 2009 — Yale College Dean Mary Miller announced at a meeting of residential college deans Tuesday morning.

The move is the capstone of a sweeping agenda of reform aimed at improving the University’s diversity counseling network. The Dean’s Office also plans to create “peer liaison” positions — non-freshmen who will advise first-year students on issues of diversity and direct them to campus resources, such as the cultural houses. The shifts have drawn fire from students and alumni concerned about the elimination of the ethnic counselor program, but administrators maintain that the new system will ease overstretch and offer a net gain of counseling resources compared to the current system.

“It’s the most important thing we’re working on right now,” said Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry.

Administrators said in the past that the old system of ethnic counseling strained counselors — who often had to advise dozens of students across as many as three residential colleges — and left them with an at-times ambiguous role in the counseling network. Under the new proposal, an additional 12 freshman counselors will be hired to make up for the loss in personnel, Gentry said.

Since the University began review of the program last year, the topic has raised concerns from campus groups and alumni.

Robert Sanchez ’08, a former ethnic counselor, published letters on the Web site for Yale Latino Alumni in the Tri-State Area and on the Facebook pages of eight student groups at Yale. The message urged alumni to participate in a letter-writing campaign criticizing the reforms, which Sanchez dubbed “a net loss of resources for students of color at Yale.” The new program will strain the cultural houses’ resources, Sanchez argued in his letter, and will jeopardize the diversity of the counselor pool by limiting cultural house input in the counselor selection process.

In an interview, Sanchez said the University received 30 e-mails because of the campaign. Sanchez said that Miller personally responded to his e-mail thanking him for his concerns; he said he is confident the administration would take them into consideration.

“Now that we’ve reached out to some of [the critics] and now that they understand it a little better, they say ‘OK, now we get it,’ ” Gentry said.

In response to concerns that the reforms constituted the elimination of the ethnic counselor program, Gentry said training for all freshman counselors would be thorough and hands-on.

Since the campaign began, the Dean’s Office has shifted its original plan for a non-advisory “Links” program — opposed by some ethnic counselors — to the peer liaison system.

“The Links were more of a public relations kind of a job — a public face for the cultural centers they served,” said head ethnic counselor Sam Ng ’09, who was among ethnic counselors consulted on the reforms. “The peer liaison system is more. It’s that and also a counseling component.”

Because the reforms include an expansion of funding to the freshman counseling program, the Yale Corporation must vote to approve the changes at its meeting this week. To add 12 new counselors, the University would have to increase the amount it spends on providing room and partial board, a perk provided to freshman counselors.

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