Later this week, juniors in all 12 colleges will apply to be freshman counselors. The position they seek to fill is one of the oldest elements of Yale’s residential college systems, as well as one of Yale’s first advisory positions, and it is undergoing a change next year that we do not support.
Next year’s class of freshmen will be the first in decades to enter Yale without ethnic counselors. Instead, freshman counselors will receive the training once given to ethnic counselors, and will be expected to perform the same duties. This change has come after years of griping about the program. Though we do not argue ethnic counselors should have been retained in their current form, we also do not believe this change will ultimately help freshmen.
The freshman counselor program was started in 1938, before Yale had opened all ten original residential colleges. In 1972, Yale introduced ethnic counselors in an attempt to improve the retention rate of minority students. Since then, ethnic counselors have worked within the residential college counseling system to help freshmen of racial and ethnic minorities resolve issues surrounding race and ethnicity in what remains a majority-white environment.
Those involved in the ethnic counselor program have complained of its problems for years. Many freshmen have felt disconnected from their ethnic counselors, who have been assigned largely at random, and who, despite common race or ethnicity, may not have come to Yale with experiences comparable to those of the freshmen to whom they are assigned and advise. Ethnic counselors, too, have complained about the system, which forces them to bear the responsibilities of freshman counselors, while keeping them from working with freshman as frequently or as informally as freshman counselors do.
Yale has changed a great deal since the ethnic counseling program began. It is more diverse and further from its all-white, all-male past. It has more cultural houses and a more extensive system of support and advising for minority students outside the residential colleges. But many students still appreciate the help of their ethnic counselors, so the answer to the program’s problems was not to eliminate it.
We object to the notion that freshman counselors will, with some additional training, be able to perform all the functions ethnic counselors have traditionally performed. A freshman disappointed by her distance from her ethnic counselor will not likely find a freshman counselor with ethnic counselor training to be a more helpful source of guidance.
And we object to the affirmative action that some of our masters and deans have acknowledged will be necessary next year. To make up for the missing ethnic counselors, each college’s freshman counseling team will now have to be as racially diverse as possible. An applicant’s race will now have to be considered alongside his experience as an adviser or mentor, or his demonstrated ability to guide younger students.
Next year’s freshman counselors must work within the new counseling program Yale has established. But we hope those in charge of the freshman counselor system are already working to devise a better permanent solution to the problems of the ethnic counselor program.