Next week, Yale’s four cultural centers will enter a process of review by the faculty and administration. Although administrators say they will discuss implementing substantial changes, they have assured students that these shifts will not threaten the existence or basic structure of the centers.
The first discussion to launch this review process will be held on Tuesday, and will involve students in the discussion of the vision and role of the cultural centers. Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry and University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews will host of the discussion series that will continue throughout the year.
“For many of you, the centers are homes away from home,” Holloway said in an email addressed to students associated with the four cultural centers. “We also understand the importance of the centers in our community; our goal is to preserve this importance just as we ask how the centers can carry out the larger mission of the University.”
Holloway said he invites students to join in a University-wide reflection on the vision and role of the centers. He also offered a way for students to anonymously submit opinions to add to the discussion. This reflection and consultation will continue throughout the academic year, resulting in a day-and-a-half long conference in the spring to be coordinated by University Provost Benjamin Polak.
Gentry said discussions like this within the administration are not new, and that they have served as a positive outlet for discussion and change in the past.
“It’s a way to look at what we’re doing and find ways to improve,” he said. “We have two new colleges coming — we want to know how that looks, and how we’re going be able to support more students in all of our areas, not just the cultural centers.”
Gentry added that part of the reason for these discussions is the need to hire two new cultural center directors. The Native American Cultural Center and La Casa Cultural Center currently have interim directors that will soon need to be replaced. Assistant Dean of Yale College and Interim Director of La Casa Amanda Hernandez said it was important for the University to know what to look for in hiring and projecting these visions with the new deans.
Hernandez said students should not worry about the centers drastically changing or disappearing.
“Yale fundamentally understands and appreciates the role of the cultural centers on campus,” she said.
The consultation process will involve collaboration between Yale administration and cultural center directors, Gentry added.
Head coordinators of the Asian American Cultural Center Hiral Doshi ’17 and Jessica Liang ’17 said they are excited to break down preconceptions about the cultural centers through these discussions, particularly the view that the centers only cater to students who identify with their respective cultures.
“With over 40 years of history, the houses are no longer a minority haven, but a wonderful venue for anyone and everyone who’d like to steep themselves in the worlds we have available to us on campus.” Liang said.
The review of the cultural centers comes in light of two major reunions in the Afro-American Cultural Center and the Asian American Cultural Center, large events which drew numerous alumni of these centers to campus. Hernandez said that alumni are very involved in these discussions because of the strong sense of community that these centers evoke and allow.
Alejandro Rojas ’18 said the community created by the cultural centers can help alleviate stress, helping students connect to others with similar backgrounds through events that focus on cultural heritage. He said he hopes that these conversations allow for the cultural houses to integrate more inter-cultural activities that will help generate awareness and dialogue among students of different backgrounds.
Dalton Carr ’15, a staff member at the Native American Cultural Center, said that while he hopes the discussions will inspire positive conversation on campus, he feels there are still concerns that need to be addressed.
“The cultural houses act not only as a crutch and a second home for students, but as a conduit for sharing valuable aspects of our respective cultures. The administration can better support our goals through appropriate funding and continued backing of cultural initiatives,” he said.
The Native American Cultural Center, the newest of the four centers, was established in 1993 and established its own house on campus last year.