Around 80 students gathered Tuesday night in the Afro-American Cultural Center for the second annual “State of Black Yale” forum.
Staff members and students discussed the Black Yale community’s past accomplishments and ways in which the community can come together to enhance the campus’s understanding of race relations. While organizers said the event is a jumping-off point for future conversations about the subject, some attendees said the gathering could have benefited from a more diverse audience.
“I’ve been pleased with the level of civility with which the students have dealt with this type of topic,” said Rodney Cohen, assistant dean of Yale College and director of the Af-Am House, after the event.
The forum featured a panel comprising leaders from several student groups within the Black undergraduate community, including the Black Student Alliance at Yale and Students of Mixed Heritage and Culture. Panelists analyzed the causes that demanded students’ immediate attention and how their respective organizations were responding to these issues.
Some argued that Yalies needed to seek out stronger relationships with people from different backgrounds and venture out into the New Haven area to learn about and help solve problems facing the Black community outside campus. Still, others stressed the need to support events and initiatives within the Black Yale community that would first enhance cooperation between student organizations.
“As far as immediate causes of concern go, I think first we need to start and work internally before we try to adjust these outside issues,” said Ashley Edwards ’12, president of the Yale Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “Yalies in general do a fabulous job in pursuing international causes and community service, but we can do better in serving each other in an individual level.”
After the panel, attendees split off into smaller discussion sessions to debate strategies for addressing issues of racial awareness and “colorblindness” presented by the panel. Once finished, participants reconvened to share their findings. The majority of audience members agreed upon the importance of engaging with people that do not normally consider race issues, as well as increasing communication with other cultural houses. The classroom experience came under discussion when several students expressed support for a “diversity distributional requirement” that would compel Yalies to study other cultures.
Later events will build upon the ideas considered in Tuesday’s meeting, said Anthony Phillips GRD ’12, a graduate assistant for the Af-Am House who emceed the forum. A.T. McWilliams ’12, president of the Black Student Alliance at Yale, said that his group will establish an action committee and use discussed strategies to strengthen relations between different community groups. He added that a future forum will address issues raised by the Alliance’s “Yale Blackness” blog created this month to collect student reflections regarding “Blackness” on campus.
Eight attendees interviewed said the “State of Black Yale” event was helpful in that it brought students together to talk about common concerns. But five added that students of varying ethnic backgrounds and racial perspectives should have attended the forum.
“There’s still a culture of silence [at Yale],” said Kate McDermott ’11. “There’s a cultural barrier that prevents people who don’t understand the event from coming and those are the people who most needed to come.”
The event was co-sponsored by the Af-Am House, Black Student Alliance at Yale, Dominican Student Association, Prism, Students of Mixed Heritage and Culture, Yale African Students Association, Yale Black Men’s Union and the Yale Chapter of the NAACP.