In my time at Yale, I have been very involved in the ethnic communities here, serving on the boards of the Black Student Alliance at Yale, the Association of Native Americans at Yale (ANAAY), Realizing Race and many other groups. On this occasion, though, I am writing not as the current moderator of ANAAY, a person of Native American ancestry or even a minority on Yale’s campus. I am writing as a member of Yale’s undergraduate student body who is concerned with the lack of awareness and response exhibited by the Yale community to events that threaten the very ideals of freedom of thought and diversity of opinion that many see as two of Yale’s greatest strengths.
Unfortunately, one of the things I have learned during my time at Yale is that though some people are very intelligent and erudite, they can still hold unfounded prejudices and even be intolerant of ideas, cultures and lifestyles different from their own. When I came to Yale, I never imagined that bigots — “people obstinately or intolerantly devoted to their own opinions and prejudices,” as defined by Webster’s — would inhabit Yale’s atmosphere. This past week has brought the realization that bigots do exist on Yale’s campus.
On Oct. 11, I celebrated Indigenous People’s Day with other members of ANAAY. Given that the arrival of European explorers led to the brutal and tragic destruction of many of our ancestors’ civilizations, ANAAY members have chosen not to celebrate Columbus Day. Many people across the United States have chosen not to celebrate Columbus Day either, as the actions of European explorers would be considered genocide and human-rights violations at the very least in today’s society. Some people have chosen to embark on anti-Columbus Day celebrations, vehemently denouncing the actions of European explorers and the Western culture they imposed on the indigenous peoples of the Americas. ANAAY members have chosen to instead remember our indigenous ancestors and the contributions they have made to modern culture and to remind people that indigenous cultures across the Americas endure and are thriving today. We also ask that people reevaluate their reasons for celebrating Columbus Day, the product of a Eurocentric discourse that claims a land already inhabited by people was somehow “discovered.” This “discovery” also led the native inhabitants to suffer from the disease and warfare that European immigrants brought.
ANAAY’s celebration consisted of a display on Cross Campus, a dinner with Native American food at the Slifka Center and a talk on Native American spirituality. More than anything, ANAAY’s goal was to celebrate our heritage and provide Yale students the opportunity to learn more about a culture to which many students are not normally exposed. In response to our celebration, some misguided individuals chose to make racist displays around Cross Campus. These displays were not only cowardly, as the perpetrators have not come forth to take responsibility for their actions, but they were a blatant display of racism and intolerance on Yale’s campus. Alluding to members of ANAAY as savages, squaws and braves is racist and inexcusable.
As a student, it alarms me that some people on this campus would resort to hateful acts of racism in response to a group of students simply presenting a different viewpoint. I hope that all Yale students agree that acts of racism, or any discrimination against any person because of his or her beliefs, culture or race will not be tolerated. I also hope that Yale’s administration will take a stand to protect the principles of diversity and tolerance the University espouses. Ultimately, though, I think every Yale student needs to take a stand and cultivate and protect the pluralistic environment that they wish Yale to be. In this case, silence is consent. Be aware to what you are consenting.
Shani Harmon is a junior in Silliman College.