The arrival of Beverly Tatum, a nationally recognized expert on race and author of “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” to give the freshman address this past Sunday, and the conversations that took place following her talk, signal the start of what we feel to be a long-overdue discussion of racism and bigotry on Yale’s campus. We are heartened by this move on Yale’s part — one taken after much student pressure and lobbying by members of the Coalition for Campus Unity.
CCU is a collective of member groups and concerned students working together to build a socially conscious and responsible community at Yale. We believe that campus unity does not come from homogeneity, marginalization or silence, but instead must be built and sustained through respectful dialogue and collective action.
CCU felt that a discussion like this was necessary based on our experiences of many conversations that took place last year. These conversations made it clear that many Yale students just were not used to talking critically about issues of race, gender, class and sexual identity. We believe it is important for freshmen to develop the tools to talk about race early and often, so that they continue to deepen their understanding of the issues — and the real people these issues affect — throughout their college careers and the rest of their lives.
By featuring Tatum and requiring freshmen to read parts of her book, Yale has acknowledged this need for frank dialogue on issues of racial identity. Moreover, it sends the message that the damage done to our community by the hateful speech and targeted bigotry of previous years can be repaired only through major institutional action coupled with student advocacy.
While this is a big step, it is important to recognize that this is only the first step toward creating a truly respectful and safe campus climate. Conversations about bigotry must continue, and they must not be limited to issues of race alone. Yale’s administration needs to continue to create safe spaces for freshmen to follow up on these conversations, whether with other freshmen or in groups with freshman counselors, ethnic counselors, masters, deans or upperclassmen.
Furthermore, Yale needs to work to develop and implement more initiatives to foster a more just university by consulting with all members of the Yale community: students, faculty and staff. There are many places Yale can start to do this. Yale should create more classes that deal with issues of race, gender, class and sexuality and put more money into the departments in which they’re housed as opposed to treating them as second-tier programs. Yale must continue to strengthen its commitment to a diverse and representative faculty that reflects an increasingly diverse student body. It should also increase funding for financial aid to make Yale more accessible to low-income and underrepresented students.
Meanwhile, students also must take steps to expand the notion of community at Yale. Students should actively inform themselves and seek out dialogues in cultural centers to which they may not necessarily belong, as well as reach out to Yale workers and beyond the Yale bubble, becoming active members of the New Haven community.
Fortunately, many students and groups are working to continue the conversation, not only through words but also through action. The Coalition for Campus Unity represents over 20 organizations and has become an exciting space for cross-cultural dialogue and collective efforts to speak out against and prevent bigotry. We invite all freshmen and other students who care about these issues to join us and other groups in these efforts, which are critical to the future of our community.
Benjamin Gonzalez is the Political Action Chair of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA). Hugh Baran is a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee. Both are members of the Coalition for Campus Unity.