Ten years ago, Elaine Rene ’07 participated in festivities for the African-American Cultural House’s 35th Anniversary as a student. This past weekend, she returned to the house as an alumna and guest for the next decennial celebration.
Rene was among the hundreds of alumni who flocked to campus starting on Friday for the 45th Anniversary celebration, entitled “Inspiring Global 21th Century.” The three-day celebration included a discussion forum with the founders of the Af-Am House, a series of panels featuring notable alumni and a lecture from Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway.
Micah Jones ’16, president of the Black Student Alliance, said that the anniversary celebration was an avenue for students and alumni to discuss the potential for impact that African-American students have, both on campus and beyond.
“[The event] is an opportunity to come back and reflect, not just on what Yale can be doing to prepare us for the future, but also what we can do together once we graduate,” she said.
Holloway said the changing demographic of students that identify as African-American necessitates ongoing discussions on identity and integration within the cultural house.
These discussions should also be going on across campus, and should reflect the importance of fostering a culturally aware environment, Holloway added.
“The world is not homogenous, the world is everything, and if we aren’t prepared to understand that world by having that world here, we’re not fulfilling our educational mission,” he said.
Over the past 45 years, several groups have been formed under the umbrella of the African-American community, including the Black Men’s Union, the Black Student Alliance and Yale’s Black Women Coalition.
Rene said ongoing conversations at the house have focused on topics such as the benefits and drawbacks of having a cultural center, access to financial aid and divisions within the black diaspora. Although discussion is positive, Rene said, she said the fact that the focal issues have not changed also means they have not been resolved.
“It’s good to see how that conversation is evolving, but you could also be concerned that those concerning themes continue to be there,” she said
Three of the six students and alumni interviewed said they have noticed a growth in the number of leadership positions for women within the African-American community, particularly among organizations like the Black Student Alliance and Yale African Students Association. The Yale Black Women’s Coalition also greatly contributed to this development, they added.
But three students said they were dissatisfied with the scarce number of black females occupying leadership roles in the Yale administration.
“It’s not like there aren’t black women that are qualified to be in those positions,” Alexis Halyard ’16 said.
Cora Daniels ’97, one of the alumni who served on panels throughout the weekend, said black females occupy a distinct space in society with its own challenges.
“I am not just a Yale alum, I’m not just a Yale black alum — I am a Yale black female alum. That is a very specific experience and is something that should never be overlooked,” she said.
Dara Huggins ’17 said she hopes that the African-American Cultural House will able to greater influence the larger Yale community over the next 45 years. She said she hoped for more discussion about the “black experience.”
The first African-American student graduated from Yale in 1857.