This week, Yale President Richard Levin named the members of the newly reinstated Minority Advisory Committee. In response to student pressure, Levin announced the recreation of the committee this fall after a number of incidents that directly targeted minority groups or had a distinctly racist character occurred on campus last spring.
Although the committee has yet to determine what its new role on campus will be, we believe it should take on concrete tasks. With the potential to accomplish so much, the MAC should be a permanent standing committee, not one to be dissolved and recreated at will.
First created in 1980, the MAC was disbanded in 1995 when it seemed that the young ethnic counselor program and the expanding role of cultural house deans made the committees work obsolete. But during the war in Iraq last spring, tensions between various racial and ethnic groups on campus intensified, and student concern over several disturbing incidents led to the MAC’s resurrection. Members of the new committee have said its role will not be to act as a grievance board, but to examine racial and ethnic issues on campus, provide a forum for discussion, and advise Levin on policy.
We are glad the committee will not serve as a grievance board. There are already procedures in place for students to file grievances or report harassment, and wed like to think that all grievants will be treated fairly, regardless of race or ethnicity. Yet, the MAC will need to define its role more clearly. Will it address concerns of ethnic and racial minorities only, or will it include religious and sexual minorities?
Whatever communities it serves, the MAC needs to have concrete responsibilities. For example, last year the ethnic counseling program was reviewed by a committee, and perhaps the MAC could perform a similar review of Cultural Connections or other programs. Nationally, minority-only scholarships and programs have come under attack; the MAC could rally support for these programs or develop alternatives. It could also oversee or review minority recruitment efforts, faculty appointments, and the tenure process in an effort to increase minority representation among students and faculty alike.
And in doing some or all of the above things, we hope the members of the committee, especially the students, seek to be actively engaged in the Yale community and responsive to its needs, including reporting when tensions related to minority issues are escalating. Of course, we must acknowledge that it is impossible for any committee to represent every voice on campus, and with only three undergraduate members, the MAC cannot possibly include representatives from every minority group. But we hope students recognize that members of the committee are there to represent diverse points of view and to serve the community as a whole — not merely to serve the interests of one particular minority group over another.
With its recreation, the MAC has the opportunity to redefine its role. It would be a shame for the MAC to remain a temporary committee, disbanded and reinstated as events dictate. There is certainly room for the MAC to be a permanent presence on campus and a powerful force for change.