At last night’s diversity forum, a white student asked how she can better engage with cultural groups on campus.

Panelist and ethnic counselor Sharmeen Premjee ’02 answered that students often can choose to attend a fraternity party or a cultural house party on the weekend.

“They’re going to play the same music,” Premjee said. “If you really care about diversity, come and kick it with us.”

The dialogue about parties made up only a part of the discussion, which was sponsored by the Yale College Council and multiple cultural organizations and attracted a diverse crowd of about 60 students to Linsly-Chittenden Hall. Five panelists spoke about a wide range of issues, with the ethnic counselor program and the question of self-segregation provoking the most discussion.

“I thought it was effective in the sense that it brought a lot of issues to the table. I don’t think that it did much more than that,” Jordan Davis ’05 said. “I guess it was what I expected: there would be a lot of issues addressed and people would see different sides of them.”

But Davis said she would attend subsequent forums on diversity that coordinators Ted Wittenstein ’04 and Naved Sheikh ’03 say they plan to hold.

The ethnic counselor program was one of the main topics of discussion.

“I feel strongly that there shouldn’t be a division between freshman counselors and ethnic counselors,” said panelist Janey Lewis ’02, a freshman counselor in Calhoun College.

She later said she did not intend to say that the ethnic counselor program should be abolished, but said some students have come to her asking why they were given an ethnic counselor at all.

Premjee defended the role of the ethnic counselor.

“[I think ethnic counselors are] important to make some students feel comfortable,” Premjee said. “I wouldn’t want to see [the program] eliminated.”

She said ethnic counselors are part of the freshman counselor program.

“I, for example, have 53 counselees,” Premjee said. “I think that if I didn’t have those relationships with those students, some of them wouldn’t be here or would be rethinking their choice.”

Premjee said concerns these students might have could possibly be eliminated by instituting pre-freshman orientation programs specifically aimed at students of color, like Brown University’s “Third World Weekend.” She added that Yale is looking into expanding Bulldog Days to include programs for students of color.

On the topic of freshman orientation, several audience members agreed that having FOOT, Freshperson Conference, Orientation for International Students and Cultural Connections all at the same time has a tendency to create self-segregation.

Panelist Howard Han ’02, who is the YCC’s issues coordinator, said the Pre-Registration Orientation Program, the predecessor of Cultural Connections, took place before Freshperson Conference.

“I thought this was good because you could go to PROP and then drop into FPC,” Han said.

Premjee said she thinks Cultural Connections is important because it allows the ethnic counselors to meet their counselees, since not all of them live in the college of their ethnic counselors, and also to meet other students of color.

Audience member Julianna Bentes ’04, the political action chair of the Black Student Alliance at Yale, said the Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trip is working to coordinate scheduling with other orientation programs. This coordination could, for example, allow a student to participate in both FOOT and Cultural Connections.

FOOT also is working to raise money for financial aid to allow students who would otherwise be unable to attend FOOT to go on trips, Bentes said.

The question of whether minorities participate in self-segregation arose when panelist Shayna Strom ’02 discussed the lack of interaction among students.

“One thing that occurred to me is that there isn’t much diversity, but there’s also not much interaction,” Strom said.

Najah Farley ’03, a co-president of the Black Pride Union, said nonminority students also need to make an effort to promote more diverse communication.

“[White students] choose not to go to cultural houses or participate in cultural events on campus,” Farley said.

Strom said all activities on campus should provide a comfortable atmosphere for all students.

Wittenstein said he thought the diversity forum provided an opportunity to address a vital subject.

“Diversity on campus is not just an issue that affects people of color; it’s an issue that affects everyone on campus,” Wittenstein said.

Panelist Sara Abiola ’03, a co-president of the Black Pride Union, praised the composition of the audience.

“I’m glad to see a diverse crowd here,” Abiola said. “It’s not the typical experience you get every day in the classroom.”

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”20168″ ]