The new cultural component of this year’s freshman orientation aimed to turn heads, but instead left some freshmen simply scratching them.
Administrators in the Yale College Dean’s Office introduced Kaleidoscope this year, a theatrical production of monologues that introduced incoming students to questions of race and diversity that they might face during their years in New Haven. The pieces were inspired by about 30 admissions essays written by the class of 2012 and by upperclassmen’s cultural experiences at Yale.
“Yale’s a wonderful place, but it’s not immune to issues of insensitivity,” said Rorie Fitzsimons, a senior technical adviser with the Office of Undergraduate Productions, who produced the show. “It is a real community with real issues, and we need to accept our responsibility for making it a better place.”
Dean of Freshman Affairs George Levesque said the change in cultural programming was not directly in response to insensitive language that shocked campus last year but that he hoped Kaleidescope would spark further dialogue that might help prevent these incidents in the future.
Kaleidoscope featured 18 vignettes written and performed by upperclassmen for an audience of the entire freshman class in Woolsey Hall.
The Yale College Dean’s Office exercised a light hand when editing the students’ pieces, said Dean of Freshman Affairs George Levesque, and allowed students’ sometimes gritty language to depict the sensitive moments.
“We didn’t want to sugarcoat these issues,” Levesque said of the performance, which cast racial and ethnic tensions in a stark light. “We didn’t want it to be, ‘Here’s your diversity talk.’ ”
Monologues touched on sensitive subjects. One piece described a student’s attempt to tell his mother he was gay. Another showed a student of mixed race watching his white father be accosted by a crowd of blacks.
“This was so immediate because these were direct experiences from students sitting there in the room,” Fitzsimons said. “The point was that all these characters you’re listening to — all these issues — are people right next to you.”
University officials said the decision to perform Kaleidoscope was not an indication that last year’s talk by author and Spelman College President Beverly Tatum had failed to spark dialogue. Levesque said one of the benefits of Kaleidoscope was to expand the range of topics covered.
Freshmen had mixed reviews of the performance. Some said the depiction of real-life events was dead on. Others said the monologues lacked nuance.
“The accuracy of the stereotypes was astounding,” Siddhant Jhunjhunwala ’12 said. “I learned that just because you’re different from others at Yale doesn’t mean you don’t fit in.”
Both Jhunjhunwala and Annie Shi ’12 praised the small discussions freshman counselors led following the show. But Shi said she had reservations about the performance itself. By bringing divisive issues to the fore, Shi said she worries the performance could create diversity problems in a class that may not have them.
“I worry that it presented some of the issues prematurely,” Shi said.
Levesque said the performance was not a direct response to events of last year, when hate speech appeared on campus several times.
In early November 2007, the words “Nigger School” were found graffitied to the side of Pierson College. Homophobic graffiti was found a day later, and the spring term brought a swastika on Old Campus along with a misogynistic initiation ritual from the Zeta Psi fraternity.