A solemn atmosphere pervaded LC 102 this past Sunday night. On the raised platform sat three of Yale’s top administrators: Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, Dean of the Graduate School Lynn Cooley and University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews. Scattered throughout the front few rows, a small but passionate assembly of Yalies attended the town hall meeting, one of two scheduled for this week to address an external review of the cultural centers commissioned by the administration.
I came to this meeting excited to hear what my peers had to say about the external review. Yet in the ensuing days, I felt increasingly disillusioned; I’m not sure if the heartfelt thoughts communicated within LC 102 had any impact beyond the walls of the room. After all, how many students even know about the external review? How many students have actually set foot in the Asian American Cultural Center? Even Holloway admitted that he has never been to the AACC.
Of course, coming from a Chinese background, I am mainly focusing my attention on the AACC.
Still, I think that we share a lot of the same experiences with other cultural groups here. With that in mind, let’s rewind back to the first time I visited the AACC during Bulldog Days.
Amidst the insane overlapping of Bulldog Days events, I decided to take a break and visit the AACC. So along with a few companions, I pinned down the location of the AACC on the bottom-left corner of our campus map and ventured toward Crown Street, expecting the journey to be short and sweet. Sadly, experience proved us wrong. The AACC — along with the Native American Cultural Center and La Casa — were a trek from central campus.
The first thing I noticed, upon entering the AACC, was the weird structure of the building. A solid wall separated the space into two, and the various student groups assembled were finding it difficult to accommodate all the eager prefrosh in a single area. While we were all still in the same house, we were not sharing the same space and communicating with one another. Immediately, Lincoln’s famous “a house divided against itself cannot stand” speech came to mind, and the words have stuck with me till this day whenever I think about the architecture of the center.
Indeed, the AACC is marginalized, fairly decrepit inside and lacking in large gathering spaces. And these physical aspects only exacerbate a deeper psychological problem. The truth is, it’s tough for students to navigate their cultural identity. Even if an individual is of Asian heritage, she may not identify with the AACC. During the town hall meeting, someone mentioned that international students from Asia have negligent ties to the center. I wonder whether the AACC could make the divide between international and domestic students less explicit.
Unfortunately, many of us choose to opt out of our heritage, perhaps hoping to be released from our minority status. Identity becomes something we are no longer proud of, something that is chaining us down instead of powering us forward. We identify in many different ways: our class year, our residential college, the extracurricular activities we participate in and even where we are from geographically. But culture and heritage are often missing from the picture. Maybe the model minority myth has really kept us quiet and soft-spoken, depriving us of an opportunity to voice our concerns like our counterparts in the Ferguson protests. But I think it’s time to speak up.
With the help of the administration and the student body, we might actually be able to address some of the difficulties at hand. Attention and financial support from Yale can improve at least the physical appearance and accessibility of the AACC and other centers. At Sunday’s meeting, one student suggested setting up shuttle stops along Crown Street so that students would not be deterred by the long distance from visiting the cultural houses. In the long run, the administration should consider building new houses situated in better locations to accommodate the centers — anyone who visits the AACC can sense that the building is not exactly in the best state. Student participation is another crucial factor. Everyone should visit the cultural centers at least once in their four years here. We come to college to learn new ideas and be exposed to new experiences. Finally, I ask that we all think twice before shirking our cultural identities, for that is denying a substantial part of ourselves.
Still, it’s encouraging that the administration is doing something — at least there were town hall meetings to give students a chance to express their opinions. It’s definitely not a lost cause, and I hope that sooner rather than later, the views and beliefs of the people gathered in LC 102 will be able to break through the confining walls.
Monica Wang is a freshman in Trumbull College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.