I make a lot of race jokes. I think joking about difficult things is a way to come to terms with them. On one of my favorite television shows, 30 Rock, Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon makes a lot of quips about herself and her own whiteness. She comes from a town called White Haven, and she eats a lot of Hot Pockets. The show also makes fun of Princeton graduate Jack Donaghy (played by the effervescent Alec Baldwin) and his elitism. Jack complains that Liz is too much of a hippie-dippie, idealistic liberal.
As a biracial writer, I’m fascinated by this very direct approach to discussing race. As someone who’s often the only person of color in the room, it’s something I think about a lot.
It seems like Yale has a hard time engaging with race. I joke with other writers and artists about how a lot of writing on campus is written by white people for, well, white people.
Publications such as The Yale Literary Magazine often draw criticism for only publishing work by members of their own masthead, the majority of whom are white. While there is a lack of people submitting to the magazine who aren’t already involved, I think it’d be great to see a more concerted effort to incorporate more diverse voices. A great deal of smaller publications have popped up recently: the Women’s Center is releasing a zine with writing exclusively by women of color, and students affiliated with the Afro-American Cultural Center recently founded the publication DOWN. But these magazines have targeted audiences. I think it’d be constructive for more established, mainstream publications such as The Lit, the News and the Herald to also showcase more diverse voices.
In the Women’s Center during a study break this evening, I brought up that I was writing this column. One international student told me that she felt intimidated by mainstream student publications when she arrived at Yale because English wasn’t her first language, and she knows other international students who felt similarly.
Someone else mentioned that they never thought about approaching publications such as the News because she had the impression that it takes itself too seriously, and that she wouldn’t feel comfortable in such an environment. This bothered me — some of my best friends in college have worked with this paper. I’m sad to hear that campus culture makes people feel like they aren’t good enough to share their thoughts with publications that have large readerships.
On 30 Rock, Lemon is the head writer for a fictional SNL-style comedy show produced by NBC called “The Girlie Show,” which is targeted specifically at women. The narrowness of this audience limits the influence that Lemon’s writers can wield in American culture. It’s one thing when the influence of fictional writers is restricted. But when real-world female writers, writers of color and foreign writers feel less inclined to get involved with writing for mainstream publications, this is a problem.
Yale administrators and faculty read campus publications. They take the thoughts expressed in these pages seriously. As much as I take issue with Yale as an institution, I have also been amazed by the wealth of support and concern that the faculty take in our well-being. Professors read our words. Deans and masters want to know about our lives. I think we need to do our best to make our publications welcoming to everyone, regardless of how they identify, how much their parents make or the prestige of their high school.
I’d love to say that at Yale, we’re all smart, so we’re on all the same playing field. On paper, we all have similar access to campus activities. But when the majority of campus publication mastheads consist of white and non-underrepresented minorities, these publications are failing to adequately serve this campus. We need more writers. We need different kinds of writers from different sorts of backgrounds.
I’m glad to see publications such as Kalliope, which publishes a huge volume of submissions in each issue, and posts whatever remains unpublished on their blog. Providing Yale students with an open platform lowers the sense of intimidation. I think the News, the Herald, The Lit and others could benefit from trying to branch out. They could send out newsletters to the cultural centers, or maybe host events in neutral locations instead of their offices.
I’m just really sick of reading essays about white people in cabins.
Adriana Miele is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at email@example.com .