LEE: The cultural center conundrum

A sense of unity in a community is a key to its survival and success — and, over time, it has become easier and easier to unify ourselves. Cavemen didn’t really get out much, as they were too busy merely trying to survive. Biblical times were defined by many parasangs of dirty sandals just to talk to someone outside of one’s hometown. Then, communication got easier, and friendships began and ended much more quickly. Trust required less effort to attain, and our communities got bigger.

Our world is now much more unified than we could have ever imagined. With the idea of six degrees of separation, every person is only six relationships away from any other person, regardless of his location, language or social circle. In other words, you are only six or fewer relationships away from Jake Gyllenhaal, Kim Jong Un, Emma Watson or any other person in the world that tickles your fancy.

Obviously, unity plays a huge role in today’s Yale community. Yale makes its strongest contributions to the world when a collective group of people works as one. That is why each group at Yale — from small a cappella and improv comedy groups to large organizations like Community Health Educators — can succeed. Within each group lies a sense of community and unity, and each member propels the group to greater heights.

Because Yale realizes the power of unity, the University actively tries to unify the student body. However, are administrators and leaders really doing a satisfactory job, or are they in fact supporting programs that divide the Yale community further?

Residential colleges, although designed to instill a sense of community across the campus as a whole, actually divide the student body into 12 random buildings. I still have not met a single person from Branford College in my months here, an event that is quite bizarre and would have never happened if the student body was categorized as one collective group. The fact that residential colleges host their own Master’s Teas, have unique facilities like Silliflicks and offer selective events emphasizes the blatant divisions that colleges artificially create. Although the residential college system fosters a small community with close relationships within one’s own college, it also draws a solid line between you and the other eleven-twelfths of students attending Yale.

However, the institutions at Yale that really alienate members of the student body are the cultural centers. There is some latent sense of irony hidden in this concept, as the cultural center is supposed to embody unity, bringing people of similar cultures together. However, from a holistic point of view, the cultural center sacrifices the whole for the benefit of a minority.

Events hosted by cultural centers either celebrate the positive or gravely address the negative, hosting programs that address people, countries and issues associated with a particular culture. A good majority of the emails notifying students of these events might as well have some cheeky “If you’re not part of our culture, you won’t enjoy this” notice trailing after the time and place.

The events hosted by cultural centers are extremely exclusive and inapplicable to the majority of students here at Yale. Though many events at Yale are esoteric, when the University supports the exclusive and specialized programs at cultural centers, it also supports the divisive effects that come from these events. Namely, cultural centers promote self-segregation in the student body.

Groups succeed when their members can think in different ways, combining individual thought processes to come up with new approaches and innovative solutions to today’s projects and problems. When spending time in a cultural center, students are spending time with people who think in a similar fashion as they do instead of exchanging ideas with people of different cultural backgrounds. In a campus where there’s so much to do in not enough time, every hour is crucial, and we want to be spending our time in the right places.

Now, I definitely don’t want to state that cultural centers are wastes of our time. Learning about our heritage and current events in our communities is an essential part of learning about ourselves as human beings. However, there is an undeniable sense of irony when we realize that an institution meant to give a sense of community to the Yale student body actually divides it.

James Lee is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact him at james.h.lee@yale.edu .


  • yellowasp

    Great article. And timing, too, seeing how every minority/lgbt/cultural fief is now being divided into smaller groups. Good luck dealing with all the crap you’ll get for writing this.

    • desch

      …. no.

      • River_Tam

        what a fascinating response.

    • luludatis

      The cultural houses and minorities are not “being divided into smaller groups.” Cultural houses are actually made up of many different cultures that are coming together as one. La Casa hosts 36 student groups because we are different, because Chicanos, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Colombians (to name a few), etc., are (surprise surprise) actually different cultures. Places like La Casa actually foster unity.

      • nomegustas

        Exactly. In the case of De Colores, LGBTQ Latin@s are coming together to form a group- they’re not being divided from anywhere else. These people are still members of other La Casa groups and Co-op groups.

  • ycollege14


  • alexg1321

    > I still have not met a single person from Branford College in my months here

    Your argument is invalid.

    • inycepoo

      “Months.” As in two. SO MUCH TIME.

    • River_Tam

      I don’t really get this line either – I would count it as a blessing.

  • desch

    this suggests you havent spent much/any time in a cultural house. La Casa is extremely diverse, as you can see if you read through the 36 different student groups we house there. The events are open to all who want to attend, never once have we turned people away based on identity. I am latina but frequently attend events in the AfAm house and slifka etc. never once feeling unwelcome. It’s up to YOU to reach out to other people and engage them. Your own isolation is not the fault of any one of these institutions.

  • oxfordcomma

    Wait — minority students here at Yale feel the need to form cultural centers? It’s almost as if the author’s naive fetishization of “the power of unity” only works to make certain students feel included: viz., straight, white, cis-gendered males. Well, I’m glad we’ve figured out our priorities.

    • yellowasp

      Why don’t we have a European-American cultural house? That group deserves no space?

      • oxfordcomma

        A European-American cultural house?

        Oh, you mean Yale University!

        • yellowasp

          We built this.

      • Dobetter

        Have you ever been to the Whitney Humanities Center, a YPU debate, a Master’s Tea, the frats, or the sororities?

      • luludatis

        If you truly feel like the school needs an European-American cultural house, then you should ask for it. None of the cultural houses were simply given to us. They were not formed out of thin air. We get to enjoy them today because of generations of students that fought so that the school would allow such a space.
        If you want a space, you cannot just wait for it to be given to you.

        • nomegustas

          Dem protests and sit-ins and meetings with the administration in the 60s and 70s.

    • coolaid99

      do you know that Lee’s priorities are to promote straight, white, cis-gendered males? Or that he thinks that they are the school’s priorities?

      • joematcha

        The commenter didn’t say either of those two things, but actually said that ‘the fetishization of the “power of unity”‘ inherently promotes the values of straight, white, cis-gendered males over all others. I’m assuming they believe that the kind of unity Lee asks for essentially asks for people to assimilate to majority culture.

  • Jess

    No. Nope. Absolutely not. I award you no points. May God have mercy on your soul.

    • BlindlyAgreesWithAboveComment

      Jess, I find myself always smitten by your brilliance. You’re spot on once more; if anything, we should deduct points from Mr. Lee!

  • Heisenberg

    Chances are that you know less than 11 people from other colleges…

  • rm13

    > When spending time in a cultural center, students are spending time with people who think in a similar fashion as they do instead of exchanging ideas with people of different cultural backgrounds

    If you want to exchange ideas with and learn from people who aren’t like you, going to events hosted by the different cultural centers seems like a good place to start…

  • inycepoo

    Freshman who’s been here for barely three months criticizes what he’s “experienced” for a couple of weeks thus far and generalizes. We should definitely listen to him!

  • nomegustas


    But also, the idea that the cultural centers are monolithic places where everyone thinks and acts the same is bullshit. You haven’t even spent a whole semester at Yale yet. It sounds like you’ve never spent much time at a cultural house or with a cultural group. Having been involved with La Casa and the Co-op while I was at Yale (in lay and leadership positions), I can firmly say that **everyone** was welcome at those events. It’s not exclusive if you’re literally inviting everyone to come share in a group or event.

    • Goldie08

      wow you took this quite personally

      • nomegustas


        There goes the ANTM reference right over your head!

        • xfxjuice

          When your head is so far up your ass like most comment-section regulars, you tend to miss cultural references such as these.

          • Goldie08

            True – this is quite cultural

      • Dobetter

        • nomegustas


        • inycepoo

          Wow, this was from the days of UPN! Great network.

  • footpanda13

    Also, I like the underlying assumption here that students who frequent the cultural centers “think in a similar fashion” and are just one large, monolithic group that self-segregates for the sake of incubating their ideals. Way to ignore the fact that these are, you know, *actual people* who happen to share similar heritage but who might possibly still have something interesting and different to offer. Maybe next time try actually going to these cultural centers before lumping “minority” individuals together into a single homogeneous category with your rhetoric.

  • Ocean_Tam

    I feel like we’re focusing on the wrong issues. Can we look at the bigger picture and AGGRESSIVELY OBJECT TO JAMES LEE’S FLAGRANT MISAPPRAISAL OF THE CAVEMAN! As a biological anthropologist I am SEIZED with frustration at his suggestion that cavemen didn’t get out much….Please, girl, they were the life of the party.

    • ShaveTheWhales

      Ocean_Tam? lawl.

      I like your name.

    • Goldie08

      you’re stealing from geico

    • River_Tam

      I’m always flattered when this happens.

    • BlindlyAgreesWithAboveComment

      Absolutely correct. My BFF is a caveman, and lemme tell you, the guy’s always the center of attention.

  • ama86

    Hello James,
    I would like to begin by thanking you for writing this article. Although I disagree with almost everything you’ve written, I commend your willingness to approach the topic and represent a perspective that may be deemed controversial.
    With that said, your claims regarding the Houses are false for many reasons. First, you assume that simply because a certain group of people attend the cultural house events, that we all share the same views. You claim that because we are at the Houses we’re choosing to spend time with people who share our viewpoints, but I have a newsflash for you: **Not all black/Asian/Native/Latino/Jewish people have the same experiences, nor do we all share the same perspectives.** If you would attend a House event you would see that we engage in debates just as rich, thoughtful, and diverse in perspective as any other forum at Yale. I have a question: **do you find issue with organizations such as the Party of the Left?** This represents an organization where students ACTIVELY choose to associate with people who share their viewpoint. I’m sensing a bit of hypocrisy here.
    Secondly, you claim that many of the House events are exclusive and inapplicable to most students at Yale? I have another question: **what events do NOT fall under that criteria, from your perspective? Should we only have events that the entire student body will be interested in?** None of the cultural houses at Yale bar access based on race, ethnicity or religion. Just because you may not care about issues affecting the Black/Latino/Native/Asian/Jewish community, doesn’t make it **exclusive**- you just don’t want to attend!
    Additionally, **I would love for you to present EXAMPLES of notices sent by the cultural houses that “might as well” include “cheeky remarks” which state that you will not be welcome if you are not a part of the culture.** I cannot even believe the YDN published that statement. Is this straight guesswork, rich interpretation, cynicism- because it sure as hell isn’t journalism. Even editorials should be based in *some* fact.
    The reality is that you naturally feel as if you cannot come because you’re not interested in the topics, or feel they don’t relate to you. If it makes you feel better, that’s the same way I feel when I get emails from the Pre-Med Society and DKE. However, **I know that I can attend if I so please, and no one can bar me access. You should feel the same way.**
    James, if you’d taken the time to speak with members of the Houses you’d learn that we would love more participation from the general Yale community. Ultimately, your article is well intentioned but completely misguided. Good try tho!

    **Arziki Adamu**
    Silliman 2013
    President of the Yale Undergraduate Chapter of the NAACP (a House organization)

    • nomegustas

      Bless this comment.

    • inycepoo

      Sorry, can’t help but nitpick:

      The Opinion Page isn’t meant to be journalism; it’s for people’s **opinions,** even if they’re misguided.

      An op-ed is not an editorial. An editorial would represent the YDN’s view (i.e., the column would’ve begun with “NEWS’ VIEW:”

      • jessieTD15

        TRANSLATION: The Yale Daily News is in no way affiliated with the statements of James Lee. We categorically deny any claim that this represents the YDN’s view.

    • homburgerc

      Since when has the YDN been journalistic?

    • CrazyBus

      Well said.

    • coolaid99

      1. Mr. Lee did not state whether or not he had attended any of the cultural houses. Perhaps he has. Perhaps he has talked with people who have attended other Houses and formed his opinions based on this.
      2. Party of the Left does not have it’s own Yale building or location which can serve as a physical structure for the inclusion or exclusion of physical bodies.

      • mlangat

        How about frats and societies. They have buildings (some being Yale-owned space) and are *actually* exclusionary.

  • omgsquirrels

    I don’t see the point in criticizing the author for being a “freshman” and launching personal attacks. This is not YouTube. But for the sake of an open discussion about this issue, my two cents:

    After going to ONE BSAY event at least three members within the next few days recognized me walking around campus and asked if I was going to go to more things. Probably the most inclusive experience I’ve ever had with an undergraduate group on campus. I was not really planning on it when I first went, but now I think I just might. Cultural groups are not going to go around campus trying to recruit membership; that is contrary to the point of a cultural group. But from at least this one experience I can see that the cultural groups are eager and excited to welcome in other students WHEN THEY SHOW INTEREST.

    Speaking as a middle-class, white, American male I appreciate the enthusiasm of these groups in sharing their cultures and communities, because let’s be real, it’s not like I have any actual culture. Gotta get it somewhere! These groups are one of the many wonderful ways this campus exposes its students to the world. I think the problem lies in students not seeking these groups out, not in the groups themselves.

    • inycepoo

      The criticisms of the author’s being a freshman is of value here as it has a lot to do with why he harbors these views. We’re not saying that he doesn’t have a right to speak about this issue, but that he has not experienced enough of Yale to be able to view this “cultural conundrum” in a more sophisticated fashion.

  • themanmulcahey

    You clearly need to get out more- maybe then you’ll meet someone from Branford. Maybe you’ll even meet a Hispanic person- outside a cultural house!

    It would be nice if you posed some sort of alternative. What sort of community fostering does not, by its very nature, exclude? To bring some people close together means to weaken the relative bonds between those people and others. Maybe we shouldn’t even have classes, and everyone should learn the same thing at the same time. Seems pretty terrible that science people need to be segregated with other science people throughout the course of the day, doesn’t it?

    Bottom line- the opportunities for joining micro communities are there if you want them- only if you want them. If you really think you’re not coming in contact with ideas that oppose your own, you really need to get out more. Perhaps a Saturday Toads, or sunbathing on the New Haven green, will put you in contact with people unlike yourself, and will do you some good. The Tory Party’s always an option too, I guess, but that might be a little too much…

    • BlindlyAgreesWithAboveComment

      Agreed. Branfordians are the Mews of Yale. Incredibly rare, so freshmen need to get out there and start searching!

  • Madas

    Built-in preferences and structural concessions for ethnic groups based on their disadvantage at a particular moment in time will always be stupid. Sadly this is a perennial issue at Yale that many have grappled with.This past attempt is still my favorite: http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2009/feb/23/scrudato-to-avoid-discrimination/

  • jorge_julio

    talk about poisonous institutions which destroy community. look at your own damned a cappella niche, mr. lee.

    a cappella groups try their hardest to attract AS MUCH interest and envy as possible. why are a bagillion rush meals offered to hopeless candidates who will never make the group? why do groups announce their presence by screaming and hollering on Old Campus before tapping people? THIS institution, and not cultural houses, is cruel divisive, and built on the principle of exclusion.

    AND they encourage a segment of the Yale population to operate under the impression that people like to hear others signing on the street. AT NO UNIVERSITY OTHER THAN YALE is it acceptable or appropriate to go around singing loudly to yourself.

    • whyumad777

      Are you seriously saying that a cappella is a CRUEL, POISONOUS, and DIVISIVE institution just because the groups end up choosing people who can sing?!? I tried out for soccer team. But I didn’t get picked. That’s not because the soccer team was cruel or poisonous or divisive. It’s because I couldn’t kick a DAMN BALL. So attack the basketball team, the band, TEETH, YSO, RHYTHMIC BLUE, attack the STARS program while you’re at it. HELL EVEN ATTACK YALE because they chose students with certain skills that fit their student body, of (NEED I REMIND YOU) which you are part.

      No offense, but you just sound like a hater. You know that you can’t just go around hating on people who have a skill you don’t have. YOU have a skill that somebody else doesn’t have and wishes they did. You are a member of a University that chose you for that skill (whether it was your writing prowess in your essays or some activity you did which you were passionate about). There’s a difference between exclusive (which isn’t always negative if it puts people with similar skills and goals together) and divisive or cruel.

      Now I respectfully disagree with James’s point. Unlike any of the groups and communities listed above most of the cultural houses aren’t exclusive. Anyone not of the culture can attend meetings and events and are in fact encouraged to try something new at times.

      I simply take offense to your taking this opportunity to make a personal dig at a certain community you may have had history with.

      • yalengineer

        Nah, I’m with Jorge. Those students just simply don’t stop singing.

      • mlangat

        Wow, how long has your sarcasm detector been broken?

        • jorge_julio

          I absolutely mean everything I wrote.

    • whyumad777

      P.S. I personally love hearing people sing loudly to themselves whether they are good at it or not. It takes courage and I appreciate that. One of the things most of my friends and I love about Yale is its appreciation for music and the arts. And to be fair most people don’t get pissed when athletes through footballs or kick soccer balls around, or violinists and dancers showing off their skills. And while Tap night is huge other groups have their own loud and exciting initiations as well. AND HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO JUST GO UP TO WHOEVER IS ANNOYING YOU AND ASK THEM POLITELY TO PLEASE STOP SINGING?!? They may be nicer than you think. Just saying! ☺

  • captainoats

  • yalengineer

    Someone didn’t get invited to **Pho Night** which incidentally was held at the Af-Am House.

  • smashbro8

    caltrul cntres plis

  • Kal

    Your article is bad and you should feel bad.

  • michs02

    A Capella groups bring together people with a common interest in singing. Improv groups bring together people with a common interest in improvisational comedy. The Party of the Left brings together people with similar political views.

    These groups *all* bring together people who have something in common, just like the different Cultural Houses. And I can assure you that the people in these groups are still able to learn a lot from each other, just like the people involved in the cultural houses. And just like people with common interests do not all think in a similar fashion, people of the same culture do not think in a similar fashion either and they can learn a lot from each other.

    To summarize, I don’t see how Cultural Houses are different than other organizations on campus that are funded by Yale. (At least not in the sense that you’re trying to point out). If anything, cultural houses make an even greater contribution to students by allowing them to learn about their roots, find people who share their heritage and most importantly, find their own identities.

  • twothousandandeleven

    **A good majority of the emails notifying students of these events might as well have some cheeky “If you’re not part of our culture, you won’t enjoy this” notice trailing after the time and place.**

    first of all, this is poorly written. second of all, WHAT?!?!?!?!?

  • JE14

    So I didn’t really agree with anything written in this column, but seeing the reaction on the comment boards I’m starting to think that Mr. Lee might have a point..

    • yalengineer

      Why? Because you didn’t get invited to Pho Night either?

    • joematcha

      Because terrible arguments getting shot down with the most basic understanding of reality somehow makes those arguments sound?

  • pensi

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

  • ethanjrt

    I completely disagree with your piece – I think it was naive and poorly considered. But if you’re reading the online comments, feel free to take a break from cringing and just be proud for a second that you have what the majority of these commenters lack: the courage to append your name to your views, and the decency to make an earnest point without resorting to belligerence, hysterics or ad hominem.

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