Directed Studies is diverse

An article in the News (“Diversity in academic programs nebulous,” April 9) offered the misleading impression that the student body in Directed Studies is all or mostly white. The statistics that the Admissions Office has provided for the 2014-15 DS cohort are as follows: Nine percent of DS students self-identify as Hispanic/Latino, while 10 percent of the entire Yale College Class of 2018 identifies themselves that way. Sixteen percent of DS students self-identify as Asian, and 16 percent of the whole class identifies that way. Five percent of the DS cohort self-identifies as black or African-American, while nine percent of the whole class identifies themselves that way. And 50 percent of DS students self-identify as white, while 45 percent of the whole class identifies themselves that way. International students are 16 percent of the DS cohort and 11 percent of the whole class. In addition, 47 percent of DS students come from public high schools, and 53 percent from private or religious high schools.

Earlier this year, the DUS of Directed Studies and I began a new concerted effort to ensure that first-generation college students feel welcome to join DS. We are deeply committed to a diverse student body in DS classrooms.

Next week, DS students will read W.E.B. Du Bois’ classic, “The Souls of Black Folk,” in which Du Bois wrote about why an education modeled on the New England college experience was valuable for a new population of students: “In actual formal content their curriculum was doubtless old-fashioned, but in educational power it was supreme, for it was the contact of living souls.” Du Bois went on to write what could be a motto for DS: “I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension.” Interested students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds will find that they can summon the authors we study in Directed Studies in just this way, and that those authors will still come, just as graciously.

Bryan Garsten

April 10

The writer is a professor of political science and humanities. He is chair of the Humanities Department, which oversees Directed Studies.

Beyond cultural veganism

In light of recent trends in mainstream media leading people to question the problematic nature of animal consumption, it is understandable that one might seek a way to embrace a vegan diet in principle but not in practice, as Austin Bryniarski ’16 advises us to do in a recent piece (“For cultural veganism,” April 10). But Bryniarski’s recipe for “cultural veganism” misses the mark in several ways.

From a position of privilege, it is very easy to ponder morality and not act on it. While comforting, Bryniarski’s view that “It’s okay not to radically change my diet, so long as I think reflexively and critically about what I do eat” is akin to telling someone in famine-stricken Kenya, “I have played a role in your starvation, but it is okay that I continue to do so as long as I think about it,” or telling a terrified chicken destined for slaughter that it is okay to mutilate, torture, murder her and feast on her corpse so long as you ponder the philosophy of it. The “anxieties” cited by Bryniarski that come with the shift to veganism seem hardly like insurmountable obstacles considering the price paid by animals, the planet and humans alike.

Bryniarski argues that our eating vegan will have no measurable effect. First, if every individual abstains from taking action for the reason that only widespread adoption is meaningful, there can simply be no change. Second, if this is truly an urgent collective problem, then it is the definitive choice to leave animals’ bodies off our plates that sends a clear message that pushes for collective action, not their continued exploitation, regardless of our intellectual stance. Third, to the victims of our forks and knives — the individual chickens, pigs, cows, salmon, turkeys — our choices make an immeasurable difference.

Cultural veganism, while a poetic notion, can only be, as Bryniarski writes, a “starting point,” as are initiatives such as “Meatless Mondays” and “Vegan Before 6” — milestones, rather than the endpoint of our efforts. But ultimately, beyond “observing” veganism, we must speak up, take action and disrupt the social norms that permit such violence. There are now rapidly expanding grassroots networks, such as Direct Action Everywhere, united in the belief, not unlike Bryniarski’s, that this atrocious system must come to an end. I urge Bryniarski and like-minded people to contribute to this movement. To be the change we want to see in the world, we must agitate.

Hanh Nguyen

April 13

The writer is a sophomore in Morse College.