GUZMÁN: A racialized rejection

Last Thursday, I facilitated a panel on the presence of Latinos in higher education as part of a weeklong series of events. The Global Dominican Academic Exchange Program, in which 10 wonderful college students from the Dominican Republic spend five nights at Yale, is hosted by Dominican-American students. I thought this panel would appeal to a lot of people. As I looked around the room, I saw some non-Latino faces, but I expected more Yalies to attend. I must admit — I was disappointed by the turnout.

When we had first decided to have a panel as part of the exchange program, we sought UOC Event Grant funding. Given that the same people frequently attend La Casa events, we felt that this funding would help us attract a broader audience. When we received our application with a rejection, we saw these words highlighted in yellow: “We need more information explaining how this event will interest and involve the greater Yale community, not just Dominicans and Latino/as.”

This statement may seem innocuous, but it is not. It is offensive. In the email I sent in response, I described how their attitude enforces the nefarious belief that our community self-segregates. This event was designed to educate our Dominican exchange students, as well as the greater Yale community, on what it is like to be a Latino here. Race and higher education are themes that have historically appealed to Yalies and they have ramifications that affect all of us. And there it was, in that UOC rejection: These struggles do not matter to people outside each of our ethnic communities.

After my email, I spoke on the phone with the student organizations director of the YCC, who seemed flustered and apologized profusely about the wording of the rejection — even while telling me that it didn’t “seem like the most offensive thing in the world.” I swallowed my pride, resubmitted our application and got approved.

Then, I received an email from the UOC member who read and rejected the application. In his email, he said, “Please understand that in reviewing grant applications, neither I nor the committee consider race, religion or ethnicity in our decisions … the event must interest and have the potential to involve a significant portion of Yale undergraduates. Cultural events, by nature, can be targeted to specific communities within Yale, and therefore do not always fulfill this criterion.”

But I think race was clearly a consideration, given how racialized the rejection was. This panel was not a cultural event. Cultural events are something more akin to the Día de los Muertos Dinner held every November at La Casa, or the Sabrosura show every semester. We never discussed culture in this event, because defining Latino culture is difficult, given how many ethnic and racial groups exist within that monolith. I recognize that our poster and email advertisements weren’t perfect, but was I just incredibly naïve to think that this event would appeal to at least a decent number of non-Latinos?

I love the community that we have built at La Casa Cultural. I have spent much of my time at Yale in its halls studying for exams, bonding over Cena a las Seis with my peers and rummaging in its library for books. I genuinely want to share this community with others on campus who may not have that same sense of belonging; La Casa Es Su Casa, as our campaign to increase La Casa’s profile last year declared. It takes a lot for us to invite people into our home — and we’re frustrated that our invitations have been repeatedly rejected.

While offensive, the UOC’s concerns were somewhat correct: The event, in the end, didn’t attract a large non-Latino audience. We actively try to engage the broader Yale community. And yet, we are continuously met with silence and absence. Maybe I’m just disappointed because this event could have taught everyone what it is like to be a QuisqueYalie. It’s not about pitying ourselves for being victims of racism and discrimination; it’s about understanding other people’s stories, knowing that many of us beat the odds to get here, like everyone else.

Last Thursday, for the Yale community, was a missed opportunity.

Heidi Guzmán is a senior in Saybrook College. Contact her at heidi.guzman@yale.edu.

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