Last Sunday, the Yale College Council unanimously approved a resolution calling on the administration to make one very important change to Yale’s ethnic counselor program. Specifically, the YCC stressed that it is high time the Native American peer adviser be granted full ethnic counselor status.
The recommendation is an affirmation of dignity. While there are currently African-American, Latin American, and Asian-American ethnic counselors, all of whom are fully remunerated by the Dean’s Office, the Native American peer adviser is treated like a poor stepchild. His $5,200 salary — this year the position is held by Wizipan Garriott ’03 — is furnished in equal parts by the Native American Cultural Center, which does not have much money to begin with, and by a grant from a federal government work-study program. The latter is subject to annual review.
Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead has told members of the Association of Native Americans at Yale that he is not in principle opposed to the idea of converting the peer adviser into an ethnic counselor. However, Dean Brodhead insists the number of ethnic counselors be frozen at 12. As a result, creating a Native American ethnic counselorship would involve replacing one of the other counselors, who are already spread extremely thin. Currently, the average Latin American ethnic counselor is responsible for 25-30 freshmen; the average African-American and Asian-American counselors handle 30 and 40-50 students, respectively. The Native American peer adviser has 15-20 freshmen.
As Julia Gonzales ’05 pointed out in a guest column last year (“Why We Need Our Ethnic Counselors,” 11/14), this incredibly high freshman-to-counselor ratio makes it difficult for counselors to perform all of their duties. The problem is compounded by the fact that, unlike freshmen counselors, ethnic counselors are responsible for students in multiple residential colleges.
It is a shame that our ethnic counselors face so many roadblocks since they perform noble and necessary work. By providing a home away from home for minority students who might feel plunged into a strange and different environment, they enhance a sense of community and offer their counselees a network of friendly support that makes the transition from high school to college easier.
Bear in mind that many Native American students are educated in the least-funded public schools in the country on reservations facing incredible economic challenges. They do not enjoy the privilege of attending expensive boarding or private day schools, or even adequate public schools. They arrive at universities like Yale where the playing field is not level, where some students have benefited from much better preparation than others.
This preparation gap accounts for lower rates of retention among Native American students at Yale. It is also mirrored in the experiences of other minorities on campus. That is why Dean Brodhead’s present stance is imprudent. In the process of creating a Native American counselor, we should not be forced to sacrifice one of the other badly needed ethnic counselorships.
The status quo is unacceptable. The U.S. government should not be forced to pay for services that the University is completely able to provide. Native American students are asking why they should have to seek funding for the peer adviser when other ethnic counselors are fully funded by the Dean’s Office. As members of the YCC, we are shocked at the double standard. That is why we voted 27-0 for reform.
I do not mean to suggest that the administration holds a negative view towards Native American students; we must avoid a divisive and alienating debate. Nevertheless, the peer adviser issue is important, and it should be addressed promptly.
Matthew Nickson is a senior in Berkeley College. He is a former editorials editor of the Yale Daily News.