Column missed crucial distinction between racial groups and others

To the Editor:

Though Niko Bowie (“‘Self-segregation’ myth affects all groups,” 2/12) is correct to note that most cultural houses and organizations are extremely open to participation by all, and thus should not be accused of “self-segregation” in its strictest sense, he errs deeply in his assumptions about what constitutes similar behavior in other campus organizations. Though members of nearly all groups are united by specific interests perhaps not held as strongly by people outside of the group, these interests rarely stem from entirely intrinsic, immutable differences among people. It is naive to pretend that participation in a cultural organization is merely a sign of interest in a specific culture that might be equally distributed among the student body, irrespective of race, if only outsiders would take part. The Afro-American Cultural Center, for example, lists “maximiz[ing] the academic achievement, personal development and leadership skills of Black students” as one of the primary points of its mission statement. Though this mission need not deter all non-black students from taking part in the organization, it is bound to create rifts that do not exist in organizations that are unconcerned with race.

There is clearly an asymmetry between the attitudes that cause minority students to become isolated from the rest of Yale and the attitudes that cause all other students to allow it to happen. For “segregation” to be avoided, it is not the responsibility of the members of the community at large to join groups whose interests lie overwhelmingly with a small racial subset of that community. Rather, it is only natural that those subsets be expected to take part in the larger community, where race is rarely relevant. Yale groups geared toward a specific interest or goal unite students based on each member’s status as an actor, athlete, debater, planner or activist. The color of one’s skin hardly makes one an outsider. The same cannot be said for groups whose existence is predicated on racial differences. This may not be a bad thing, but it is the truth, and it should not be obscured.

Dan Bleiberg ’09

Feb. 12

Thinking of activities as commodities may give some perspective in debate

To the Editor:

I write in response to Friday’s News’ View (“Self-segregation thwarts campus unity”). From what I heard at the Independent Party debate and what I’ve read recently about this issue at Yale, I think one important notion hasn’t really been considered. The concepts of race and culture seem to be conflated in the discussion, when these two ideas must be viewed in different ways. I may share the same race or ethnicity as a Chinese-American student, but because I grew up in Hong Kong as opposed to say, Chicago, our cultural milieus would be unalike.

Yale students are generally very busy. Our time spent in class, doing homework and with friends must be organized and allocated. I’d suggest that instead of viewing cultural activities as students separating themselves along racial lines, it may help to see these expressions of culture as a sort of commodity. I may not take part in many of the activities sponsored by the Asian American Cultural Center, but that’s because I’d like to use the limited time of my Yale experience to focus on my passion for music. This passion is expressed in my participation in music groups, where naturally I will make friends, people to spend time with. Music activities are a commodity on offer at Yale that meets with what I want.

To say that people’s participation in organized cultural groups or cultural orientation programs is a form of self-segregation, and therefore bad for Yale’s social environment, would mean that sports teams’ parties and debate group dinners are similarly unhealthy. Maybe they are; maybe every varsity hockey player should be forced to have Monday dinners with a News editor. But you cannot dictate how students engage with the Yale experience. If a student’s interests lie in culture, and many other students participating in the same group happen to be of the same race, that’s just how things turn out.

Students shouldn’t feel obligated to attend cultural house activities or guilty about not attending if they’re not particularly interested. I think everyone should come to as many band concerts as possible, and I’m sure athletes think the same about their home games. But time is limited, and cultural activities, like theater performances or YPU debates, are not everyone’s cup of tea. La Casa and the Af-Am House aren’t hurting Yale; they’re just giving people something to do.

Karsten Ch’ien ’09

Feb. 9