When students first heard of the now-ongoing review of the cultural centers, rumors began circulating that the University was considering consolidating Yale’s four existing cultural centers. Let’s put the rumors to rest. A number of key administrators — including the president, the provost and the reviewers themselves — have repeatedly guaranteed student leaders of the cultural centers that any termination or consolidation of the cultural centers is not on the table. But even if such a misguided proposal were on the table, the students of Yale would simply never let this happen.
These centers are not Woodbridge Hall’s to take away; they are a standing testament to decades of student activism and perseverance. When this review was announced, cultural groups from all four houses joined together with the determination of preserving and strengthening this proud legacy.
We understood why a review was needed. The cultural centers are at a crucial crossroads. With the sudden departures of two deans, crippling budget cuts to the centers and a general lack of administrative transparency, we wished not only to rectify these problems but also to work with administrators to renew Yale’s commitment to supporting all students on campus.
But from the outset, the review process was poorly rolled out. Students from the Afro-American Cultural Center were not notified of the Nov. 4 meeting that kicked off the review process until only a week before. The late notice and miscommunication triggered anxiety that administrators did not sincerely value student voices. Confusion grew as the format of the initial meeting changed several times. On Nov. 1, three days before the meeting, the review board finally informed students that all four cultural centers would be lumped together in one large discussion for the first hour and then would break into four separate dinner tables for the second hour.
The free-for-all format of the first hour could have proved disastrous. But several groups, including the Asian American Students Alliance, the Black Student Alliance at Yale, MEChA and the Association of Native Americans at Yale, met in advance to ensure all students attending this meeting would be informed, productive and on the same page. By speaking with one voice and spending hours coordinating our messages, we are providing a partner for the University to work with during this crucial process. When administrators try to improve our centers in a top-down approach, it only engenders distrust and often leads to stagnation. But if the University accepts us with good faith, together we can work both to further institutional priorities and, more importantly, to create the centers that we all deserve.
Review board members, who were very receptive to the overwhelming demand for more resources, said it was their directive not to recommend more funding, but it is impossible to revamp the cultural centers without at least restoring their budgets to where they were two years ago. At the Native American Cultural Center, catered dinners have given way to potlucks, we are paying our own way to festivals, ceremonies and conferences. Student groups have low operating budgets and have had to turn to other, more limited sources of funding to maintain our programming. La Casa events I have attended have run out of food at least twice this semester and Latino student groups have seen a drop in funds available to support them. The work our interim deans have been able to pull off on the gutted budgets has been inspiring, but the belt has been tightened too far. Even if the University works with our coalition during the review process, we cannot accomplish our joint objectives without restoring or expanding prior levels of funding.
These issues do not just affect students of each cultural group but Yale at large. Students of all backgrounds attend and benefit from cultural events and activities on campus. In order to succeed in the 21st century, students need to be exposed to diverse cultures. Many Yale students did not enjoy such a privilege before entering college.
Furthermore, the centers themselves are incredibly diverse; the NACC, for example, is responsible for supporting students from dozens of distinct nations, each with its own traditions, language and history. The misconception that the centers only serve one particular group is a barrier to this process and allows administrators to underestimate the need for more resources. All students who have experiences with the centers should have the opportunity to share their thoughts on the cultural centers.
We demand to be included in this process as partners, rather than as subjects of administrative experimentation. When the external review board submits the report to the provost’s office on Dec. 1, it is essential that students play a considerable role in its compilation. If we’re going to get anywhere, increased funding has to be on the table.
Sebastian Medina-Tayac is a junior in Davenport College and a staff reporter on the city desk. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.