In addition to learning about distributional requirements and setting up their common rooms, this year’s freshmen spent a lot of time discussing diversity.
On top of the annual student-led performance “Kaleidoscope,” which addresses issues of tolerance and identity, the Dean’s Office commissioned a new film, “Mistaken Identity,” to be shown at this year’s freshman orientation. The 30-minute student-made movie also explores the question of how Yale students from diverse backgrounds, races and sexual orientations can resolve conflicts. Freshmen and their counselors gave “Mistaken Identity” mixed reviews, with some students praising it for raising important issues while other saying those issues were left unresolved.
This is the second year the Dean’s Office has commissioned a student-made film for freshman orientation; “Relationships: Untitled,” which addresses issues of sexual harassment, premiered last fall.
Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry said a third student-made film about alcohol and drugs is currently being produced, though at this point in time, Gentry said, the Dean’s Office is still deciding whether to use it.
“Video is a powerful medium for connecting people who come from different experiences,” Gentry said.
The film — directed, produced and written by Reid Wittman ’09 — depicts the fallout over a race-related incident that occurs between Yale students on Old Campus. Following a long night of drinking and partying, one student, Alex, suspects he is being trailed by two young African-American men. Slamming the Elm Street gate to Old Campus in their faces, Alex is shocked to learn that his apparent pursuers are in fact Yale students themselves, when one of them, Jared, uses his ID card to open the gate. The situation takes a turn for the worse once Jared writes a bitter opinion piece in the News using Alex’s actions and name as an example of the continuing presence of racism on campus. Throughout the video, Jared also makes insensitive comments to his friends about Alex’s homosexuality.
After viewing the film, freshmen met in small groups with freshman counselors to discuss the issues raised. Gentry said the Dean’s Office intended the film to spark conversation among incoming freshmen and lead to greater awareness about the problems they might face at Yale.
“We wanted to show a film that focused on the implications of how we interact with other people,” he said. “It’s important that our students be equipped with the skills necessary for life in and outside of Yale, as members or citizens of a larger community.”
Students interviewed had varying opinions on the effectiveness of the film and the discussions that followed.
Michael Barton ’14 said “Mistaken Identity” was an interesting and entertaining way to introduce serious issues to the newest members of the Yale community. Zachary Bell ’14 said the film was well-produced and acted, but he was less convinced of its lasting impact.
“I appreciated how the purpose of the film was to open dialogue about important issues,” he said. “But I just don’t think that its message is going to stick. This one film is not going to affect people’s consciousness deeply.”
Nicholas Aubin ’14 said the film’s plot conflicted with other programs during freshman orientation that emphasized not opening gates for strangers because of security concerns.
“The administration needs to get their policy on letting people through gates straight,” he said. “They can’t be promoting security and delivering unclear messages about not offending everybody at the same time.”
Francesca Yi ’11, a freshman counselor, said she recognized that one film might not radically change students’ outlooks, but that it accomplished its goal of creating dialogue.