Two hundred students gathered in Commons Tuesday, anxious about the future of Yale’s four cultural centers.
While the event was designed to introduce students to members of an external committee charged with examining the University’s cultural centers, many attendees feared that the dinner would reveal alternate plans. In the days and hours before the dinner, members of the cultural groups feared that the Native American Cultural Center, the Afro-American Cultural Center, La Casa and the Asian American Cultural Center would be consolidated into one space. However, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said the rumor was “flat out wrong.”
“This review is not about trying to find ways to cut funding at the centers, if that’s what the anxiety is,” he said. “It’s not that at all. It’s all about trying to enhance the services we provide to Yale students.”
While Holloway dismissed the rumors, some students remained cautious of the intentions of the external committee — which includes four individuals with experience in multicultural student life, Holloway said.
Sterling Johnson ’15 said he remains skeptical because none of the administrators making the final decisions about the cultural houses were present on Tuesday evening.
“As we’ve seen with other committees at Yale, the administration can feel free to accept and ignore [the committee’s] suggestions as they see fit,” he said.
Still, other students said they felt more confident in the continued growth of the cultural centers after Tuesday’s event.
Stephanie Siow ’17, president of the Malaysian and Singaporean Association, said that the forum provided an opportunity for the four cultural centers to collaborate in a new way.
“The most important thing is to make sure we’re all on the same page,” she said. “This is not a zero-sum game. We aren’t trying to say the Asian American Cultural Center is better than the other houses — we are there to help all the houses improve.”
Holloway said the external committee will thoroughly examine of all the houses. The committee will suggest improvements to multicultural life at Yale that can be implemented in the short, medium and long term.
However, students were concerned that Holloway’s announcement did not include much specific information.
“It’s hard to say what to expect because we weren’t given much information,” Siow said. “That’s kind of worrying. We don’t know what [the external committee is] looking for.”
Adriana Embus ’17, a Peer Liasion for La Casa, agreed, saying that the announcement was vague.
Members of multicultural groups interviewed after the event said they would like the administration to provide more funding for the cultural houses.
“This is the first time that an external review like this has been done,” Siow said. “I would like more focus on the cultural houses from Yale administration, and I think providing [the cultural houses] with better funding and resources are one way to go about that.”
Embus said La Casa needed funds to renovate its space. The house’s basement had recently been declared a safety hazard, she said.
While renovations to cultural houses will be expensive, they will benefit the community in the long-term, Embus said.
“Our cultural houses make us stand out,” she said. “We’re the only school in the Ivies that really has these communities.””
University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews added that it is important that the external review is happening now, when the administration is preparing for the appointment of two new cultural center directors and the creation of two new residential colleges.
The Native American Cultural Center, along with La Casa, currently have interim deans.
Dinee Dorame ’15 said there should be transparency between students and the administration when the new deans are hired.
“As a senior, I want to know what is happening when they are hiring a new dean, so that I can feel comfortable with how the cultural center is going to move forward,” she said. “The center’s growth has skyrocketed since I was a freshman. When I arrived there was one undergraduate organization affiliated with the center, and now there are five.”
Even though most students interviewed said they left Commons feeling more confident in the administration’s handling of the review, they expressed the need for conversations to continue beyond the external review.
“It’s important to highlight that these houses are not just a minority haven,” Neema Githere ’18 said. “It’s important that we strengthen the houses, and not just for students of color. These are communities that all of Yale can relate to.”