Yale’s cultural centers are not the most prominent organizations on campus, but they are certainly some of the most helpful for minority students as they transition to Yale. In particular, the freshman Peer Liaison program, which pairs incoming freshmen with upper classmen affiliated with a house, is a fantastic resource; it offers freshmen an outlet for social activities, personal advice and most importantly, free froyo. The houses themselves have dedicated study spaces and areas just to relax. They serve as homes away from home.
We talk about race a lot here at Yale, and we are usually quite civil about it. We do not dare yell at each other with the intensity and insensitivity of two strangers in the comments section of a YouTube video. Certainly, there is nobody on campus who would profess to intentionally racist views. But then you hear statements like these: “Isn’t it racist to have La Casa and the Af-Am House but not a Caucasian Cultural Center? At least this way we have all groups represented!”
To which I reply that Yale is the “Caucasian Cultural Center.” Residential colleges, the center of social and living spaces around campus, bear the names of prominent slave owners. Our humanities and literature courses study the literature of dead white men. If a class addresses black authors in any depth, it is labeled as such in the course description and cross-listed as an African American Studies class. Granted, much of this is not the fault of the professors; oftentimes, the course material to address the experience and work of minorities simply has not been recorded or studied. Other times, there may not be an accompanying textbook that sufficiently covers the lives of minority populations.
I think it is important to note here that isolating a particular group for additional attention is not racist but certainly discriminatory. However, “discrimination” as a word does not necessarily imply negative bias; it merely means recognition of differences. Is it discrimination to say that certain groups of people, say African-Americans, are more likely to drop out of college and could thus benefit from extra resources? Absolutely!
The cultural centers are clearly doing their jobs. Still, the ideologues among us may still think that any form of discrimination is bad. This provokes the question: Do we need to look at the centers?
Apparently so. In an email sent to affiliates of Yale’s four cultural centers, Dean Jonathan Holloway announced a review of the centers to “reflect on the centers’ vision and role on campus.” According to Holloway, the members of this committee will come from Yale’s peer institutions and will “consider the work of the centers in light of students’ changing needs.”
While there are virtues to an external review, they are only necessary in cases where there is already an apparent problem. And reviews cost money. When the review was launched, the University’s finances still seemed in a bleak condition, at least to the public; it was before yesterday’s news of a surplus. At the same time, Yale is dedicating an increasing amount of money toward undergraduate financial aid. With the second-largest endowment in the country, Yale should be leading in this category. But we are falling behind. The University of Chicago recently announced changes to its successful Odyssey Scholars program, which already eliminated loans for low-income students. Now Odyssey is going even further, guaranteeing paid summer work after freshman year and eliminating the requirement for term-time work. By contrast, Yale requires freshmen to work for $2,850 during term and contribute $1,625 from summer job income. These financial aid requirements disproportionately affect minority students on campus. Rather than spend money reviewing the cultural centers, which provide such support to minority students, Yale should invest in ending the work-study requirement.
What if you want to travel? Or take a volunteer job in an industry you are strongly considering in the future? Yale’s answer is as simple as it is unhelpful: Just take out a loan.
I am sure that Dean Holloway and the committee meant no harm when they decided to review the houses. Nor do I believe that there is any intent to close the houses or open an entirely unnecessary Caucasian Cultural Center. But any review of the centers must be triggered by an immediate and pressing need — some dysfunction that threatens the operations of the houses as we know them. In the absence of such dysfunction, we should focus our limited resources on matters of actual importance.
Yale, in order to be as just as possible, must reconsider the issues that minority students find important. I would not be surprised if a review of the cultural centers were pretty low on our list.
Adrian Abel-Bey is a freshman in Saybrook College. Contact him at email@example.com.