Intercultural Affairs Council augments campus dialogue

Five years after its creation, the Intercultural Affairs Council has been staying true to its purpose of creating open and inclusive campus dialogue.

Created in 2008, the IAC strives to promote respect and understanding amongst undergraduates by challenging social biases and promoting a more open-minded campus culture. This year’s new student board members — who were selected on Nov. 1 and will meet for the first time on Nov. 11 — will work closely with campus offices such as the Chaplain’s Office and the various cultural houses to promote dialogue and fund programs that bring various student groups together. Though the mission of the organization has not changed since its inception, council members said that in recent years, they have seen fewer issues on campus that they need to address.

“We’re focused on creating a notion of community of allies,” said Maria Trumpler, director of LGBTQ resources, who sits on the IAC board as a staff member. “Instead of being responsible for own community, it’s really important that you stand up for other communities that you don’t personally belong to, particularly when groups face hostility or are targeted.”

One of the IAC’s foremost subcommittees, the Community Response Committee, was formed five years ago in response to a series of discriminatory incidents on campus, including one particular incident in 2008 involving a fraternity that took sexist photographs outside of the Women’s Center. Trumpler said that the subcommittee — which is tasked with responding to incidents that target specific groups or individuals — has seen fewer cases requiring its attention in recent years.

In its earlier years, students and groups approached the subcommittee with issues several times a month. But now the team is only needed several times a year, Trumpler said, attributing the decline to the expansion of other ways in which the University engages students who report campus issues — including greater involvement from Dean’s and Master’s Offices — and also to the general improvement of Yale’s social climate.

When graffiti that threatened the Slifka Center with arson was discovered in Sterling Chemistry Lab last semester, said Rabbi Megan Doherty, a senior Jewish fellow at the Slifka Center, the Community Response Committee was a visible presence in public conversations about the threat and it offered both emotional and logistical support.

Over the last five years, Trumpler said, she has noticed a dramatic increase in open-mindedness about personal identity and diverse collaboration — at least in the students that she works with.

“I think that’s just part of Yale culture, that negative comments are not tolerated in this community,” said Kiki Ochieng ’15, a Community and Consent Educator and returning IAC member. “And the IAC is responsible for fostering a community standard of what’s acceptable and what’s not, and the community respects that.”

In responding to incidents, Trumpler said, the subcommittee on incident response strives to provide a broad community of support and outreach for groups or individuals that may have been targeted. According to Ochieng, IAC student involvement with the response team may become more formalized this year.

Through its programs, the IAC also tries to prevent incidents from happening in the first place, said Senior Associate Director of Compliance and Varsity Administration Amy Backus. IAC student and staff members discuss potential points of contention during meetings, in order to facilitate dialogue on campus before tensions escalate.

“It goes back to providing students with an opportunity to get to know one another,” Backus said. “It might seem artificially manufactured, but we think it’s an important opportunity to get discussions to occur.”

The IAC funds and coordinates programs that promote collaboration across different groups. Past events include organizing bus trips to Washington, D.C. for Obama’s inauguration, inviting football player Mark Sanchez to discuss faith on campus, hosting a series of forums on socioeconomic class and funding “Kwanzika,” a joint celebration between the Afro-American Cultural House and Slifka Center.

Twenty-two staff members and students comprise the IAC.

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