Letter: Ethnic counseling not to be eliminated

We write to respond to the editorial printed in the Feb. 2 edition of the News, entitled, “Ethnic Counseling a flawed but worthy program.”

For the past decade, the Yale College student population has seen great changes demographically. One of the goals of a student affairs office is to address the evolving needs of a changing population. While we recognize the positive attributes of the current ethnic counselor program, we also have a duty and responsibility to address the broader definition and perception of diversity. Over the course of several years, there have been extensive actions taken by the College to enhance the support we provide to freshmen. As Yale’s student population becomes more diverse with each passing year, it is important for us to assess our current programs and see how we may best enhance services that support our first-year students.

The editorial’s claim that the ethnic counselor program will be eliminated is not accurate. When the ethnic counselor program began in 1972, the number of students of color was small enough that individual ethnic counselors could be assigned to manageably sized groups. This is no longer the case. The job of the ethnic counselor has grown tremendously, and they have been asked to take on more than is effectively possible. The ethnic counselor program is a vehicle through which we have delivered a valuable service. This coming year, the delivery method is changing and the service will be strengthened as a result.

The skills that current ethnic counselors possess are essential to serving all freshmen. In addition to maintaining the essence of the ethnic counselor program, our aim is to impart these skills to all freshman counselors, and to include an awareness of the multiple identities and life experiences that we all possess (for example: country of origin, athleticism, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, etc.) As our perception of diversity has evolved to include more than racial diversity, our goal is to train all freshman counselors to assist a wide range of individuals, from a variety of backgrounds, and to broaden the scope of their influence to include other variations of diversity aforementioned.

The News also failed to mention that we also are implementing a peer liaison program, which will in fact increase the number of students providing support to students affiliated with not only the four cultural centers, but also with the chaplain’s office, the office of international students and scholars, and the office of LGBTQ resources.

The News questions how the current plan may influence the selection process. We respond by stating that we are confident that our masters and residential college deans will assess each freshman counselor candidate based on her or his qualifications, and more specifically her or his ability to connect with the uniqueness of each first-year student. When we roll out this plan, we will assess its effectiveness, and we anticipate that it will evolve with the changing needs of our students.

W. Marichal Gentry

Feb. 4

The writer is the dean of student affairs and associate dean of Yale College. The cultural center directors and the dean of freshman affairs contributed to this letter.

Comments

  • Yale 08

    The original "News View" article was very clear in stating, as Dean Gentry reiterated, that while individual ethnic counselors would no longer be trained, all freshmen counselors would assume the tasks of the ethnic counselor program; thus it's unclear why the Dean referred to the YDN's claim as "not accurate." Separately, given Dean Gentry's list of diversities (country of origin, athleticism, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion), all but two (i.e., athleticism and sexual orientation) have a moderate to high degree of correlation with different ethnic groups meaning that Yale's emphasis on primarily addressing ethnic diversity, an initiative that was pioneered decades ago, is still very relevant to Yale's objectives today.

  • the YDN had it right

    For once, the YDN was actually right. The EC program IS being eliminated. While a new peer mentoring/counseling program will be introduced, that does not change the fact that there will be no Ethnic Counselors next year and thus the program has been eliminated.
    Second, it's a significant problem that people don't even fully know what the new program is (I question if the deans know themselves). Have there been information sessions? Have emails been circulated to encourage people to apply? Will this be a paid or volunteer position? How many peer mentors will there be? Who are eligible to be peer mentors? Will peer mentors be trained? When/how robust will the training be? Will they work with freshmen counselors, deans, and masters or independently from them? Who will be assigned peer mentors? Will peer mentors even be assigned – or will freshmen be given the option to sign up for peer mentors? People are so skeptical of the peer mentor program because the deans have failed to answer most, if not all, of these questions or at least with a significant degree of clarity. How can you get rid of the EC program without having a solid plan, ready (the key word is ready) to be enacted? Furthermore, the main problem with the EC program was that there were far too few ECs for the number of freshmen they were assigned. So why not increase the number of ECs and then create peer mentors for the other forms of diversity mentioned? It was unnecessary to just do away with the program.
    And while it may be great that Dean Gentry has confidence that masters and deans will be able to choose a diverse and qualified freshmen counselor team in the absence of the EC position, many people are not as confident as he is. Some of the students who are most active in the cultural centers are not very active in their colleges (there’s only so much time in the day). Are the deans and masters fully aware of their activities and qualifications? If not, will they be willing to turn to the cultural center directors for some insight? Being a person of color didn’t make someone a great EC – being a person of color invested in the conversations and diverse experiences of people of color made someone a great EC. I also wonder how many people who would want to be ECs would want to be general frocos. While there is an overlap of the duties and responsibilities, there is also enough of a difference in the two positions that a person attracted to the EC position may not be attracted to the froco position.
    Also, you cannot simply teach the skills the ECs have to frocos. These skills are acquired during a lifetime of experience and a growing willingness to have these tough conversations – not simply through a couple panels and workshops during froco training and a MLK day discussion. And awareness is not enough.
    Lastly, whatever happened to the intercultural coordinators, or whatever they were called, that were supposed to be hired to work within the residential colleges? Wasn’t that a big part of the plan too? When are they going to be hired?

  • Hiero II

    To summarize Dean Gentry:

    "we're not eliminating ECs, there just won't be any ECs next year."

    and good riddance.