When asked to write about life at Yale for a student of color, I was at first hesitant for the simple fact that the experience differs sharply from student to student. And these differences have to do with much more than your race or ethnicity; they have to do with your high school, your neighborhood, your family background, and all the other things that make the Yale student population so diverse. For instance, I experience Yale from the viewpoint of a lifelong resident of Detroit (the most segregated city in America), where my activities at church, school, neighborhood and every other social gathering was always very close to 100 percent black. This makes my view of Yale very different from that of an Asian or Latino student, let alone another black student who lives overseas or in New Haven. But I will do my best to break down minority student life at Yale.
Studying: Being black hasn’t affected my academic endeavors, and the only comments I’ve heard from friends on this issue is that being the only person of color in a class can make one feel like the sole representative of his people. Every now and then a classmate’s view will be based on stereotypes, but it is more ignorance than racist nature. It took a little getting used to and has more to do with self-confidence in general.
Dating: Now, dating really depends on you. It also depends heavily on your gender or sexual orientation, so I can only give the heterosexual male perspective. The dating scene in college is altogether very different from high school; for instance, students live in such proximity that long telephone conversations are not really common (at least not on my phone) because you can just walk downstairs or across the street to his/her room. The close quarters also mean that in smaller social circles, such as among students of color, personal business is harder to guard. But people do date — trust me — just don’t expect people to fall into your lap once you get to college.
Ethnic counselors: In addition to your assigned freshman counselor, 12 ethnic counselors are available for students of color. They are a very diverse group of seniors who are there to help you in your adjustment process. Freshmen are assigned counselors based on their ethnicity, but all the counselors are available to everyone. My counselor lived with me in Silliman and we had a very strong relationship and still keep in touch. But your relationship with your counselor depends on many factors. The counselors have an average of 40 students, so a certain level of personal initiative is expected.
Cultural centers: The cultural centers really made Yale stand out in my selection process. There are four — the Afro-American Cultural Center, La Casa Cultural, the Asian American Cultural Center, and the Native American Cultural House — and each is responsible for housing all student organizations as well as sponsoring its own activities. Here’s an example: the Af-Am House is home to the Black Student Alliance at Yale (BSAY), as well as singing groups, a step team, several mentoring programs, and a student-run church. In addition, the dean and staff organize speaking engagements, workshops, and weekly study breaks — with food.
All of the above depend on you. If you’re used to being in the minority, coming to Yale may not be that big of a deal. If you’re like me and had to make a big transition, there is a very strong support system in place. Either way, the greater student body is very welcoming to everyone and there is a low level of negativity. College is an eye-opening experience for everyone, so be prepared to teach and learn!
Nathan Hood is a junior is Silliman College.