Each time I pass a tour group on Old Campus, I get a little rush of adrenaline. I’m on stage: In the event that even a single visitor looks my way, I become a part of the Old Campus presence, the University branding image, the backdrop to an entire experience. I do a little pro bono work for the recruitment officers, making sure to look extra intellectual and radiant with my love of all things Eli.
I understand that being part of the Yale brand can be unnerving at times: my roommate recently divulged that she was alarmed to catch one visiting family snapping pictures of her in the library. For the most part though, Yalies are proud of our reputation, proud to live on a campus that draws visitors from around the world.
But why is it that we receive some visitors with a sort of veiled hostility? We smile with empathetic nostalgia at the high school students who tour with dreams of early acceptance, but the campus attitude towards other groups — namely, large tour buses of visitors from Asia — seems altogether different.
Granted, there already exists a disturbing prejudice against the stereotyped “Asian tourist” in America. A quick Google search reveals blog posts like “How can I dress as an Asian tourist for Halloween?” and a set of Urban Dictionary definitions that caricature the stereotype in ugly terms. Discrimination against Asian travelers appears to be a worldwide phenomenon, with one Economist article noting that Chinese tourists are the primary target for theft and xenophobic violence in Paris.
But I would expect a different mindset to prevail at Yale, a diverse community in which I’d like to imagine that xenophobia and prejudice are at a minimum, at least relative to much of this country. The cold attitude towards Asian tour groups seems uncharacteristic of Yale students, and we ought to be embarrassed by it.
It’s first necessary to examine what sort of prejudice exists against these tour groups. Students are quick to label foreign visitors loud, obvious or intrusive — but these labels are shaped by a set of cognitive biases more than any real behavior. It’s not that these tourists are really too noisy or intrusive, but rather the language barrier and large size of the tours lend a sense of otherness and conspicuousness to the groups as compared to the small, English-speaking parties of prospective students that pass by every few hours. In our treatment of tourists, we ought to remember the privilege we have as residents here at Yale. Sure, it can be uncomfortable to feature in a stranger’s vacation photo album. But these visitors don’t have the opportunity to admire Beineke or Branford courtyard daily as we do, and a few photos won’t hurt anyone.
It’s not at all surprising, when you think about it, that Yale is an attraction for large groups of foreign visitors. It is convenient and inexpensive for international travelers to visit the cities of the Northeast on bus tours, and the fact that Yale is a popular feature on their itineraries should be a point of pride. In fact. bus tours that cater to Asian travelers in the United States, like the Chinese-language service Marisan Travel, offer itineraries specializing in “elite school” visits. We make this list because Yale is regarded globally as a historical center of intellect and research, and its stunning gothic architecture provides an additional draw.
Walking across campus, I often ogle at the beautiful sight of Sterling Library or Harkness Tower. The fact that international citizens come to tour campus should remind us of how lucky we are to be here. We ought to respect anyone and everyone who takes a few hours to share the sights and experiences we are privileged to have each day.
Identifying our community’s shortcomings — like xenophobic or prejudiced attitudes — can be difficult. But it is certainly necessary. By dispelling any remnants of an exclusive or entitled attitude in our cultural legacy, we can ensure that every culture and ethnicity feels welcome inside the Ivy Gates.
Caroline Posner is a junior in Berkeley College. Her columns run on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.