On the first Friday of September, I stood outside of Bingham Hall, surrounded by a few dozen other freshmen. While I recognized about half of the faces from previous orientation activities, the other half were entirely unfamiliar. We had congregated to partake in Mosaic, an orientation event intended both to celebrate and to discuss the varying types of diversity that characterize the class of 2019. I came into Mosaic skeptical that a program developed by the University could highlight diversity while retaining authenticity; I left feeling more comfortable about being a minority at Yale and living with people from all walks of life.
A two-hour exercise that began as the sun retreated, Mosaic was an interactive two-part exercise. First, our freshman counselors read aloud various statements such as “I grew up with over 50 books in my home,” and we would respond by moving in any direction if we felt the statement applied in a meaningful way to our lives. Initially, people scuffled around liberally, but the atmosphere grew more somber as the questions became more pointed. Statements began centering on race, socioeconomic class and sexual orientation. I found myself thinking more deeply with each round of statements.
“I have had my opinions discounted because of my gender.” A large number of the group, myself included, moved. “I was called names because of my race or ethnicity.” People scattered, and I moved as well. “I went to a school where the language of instruction was not the language I spoke at home.” I stepped forward, bumping into a person who moved backward. “I receive financial aid from Yale.” A sense of solidarity overwhelmed me.
Various segments of the activity were broken up with lighthearted instructions from our FroCos. “Give yourself a cheer,” “High five the person nearest to you” and “Switch places with the person next to you.” Each break seems silly to me now on paper, but as I cheered and high-fived the person next to me, I felt accepted by the larger community. To me, these small moments of enthusiasm served as a powerful symbol of how a storied institution such as Yale can evolve to better represent a changing student body.
Just scanning the headlines of the News’ past articles about the newest class of admitted students reveals the great importance we place on diversity in college admissions. It seems diversity ticks upward every year. For the class of 2016: “Yale sees increase in freshman class diversity.” “Class of 2017 boasts socioeconomic, racial diversity,” read the following year’s headline. Then there was the headline, “Yale welcomes diverse freshman class.” My class was welcomed with, “Yield drops, diversity increases for class of 2019.” It’s wonderful that we seem to prioritize vibrancy over our aggregate SAT scores or GPAs.
As the incoming freshman classes have become increasingly heterogeneous, the Camp Yale initiatives used to commemorate this diversity have improved as well. In the past, an original theatrical production called Kaleidoscope was held, showcasing student experiences with diversity. However, several freshmen skipped the event, and an email series regarding diversity replaced Kaleidoscope in 2014. These initiatives seem to have been passive attempts at starting a conversation. In contrast, Mosaic engaged everyone, making it very distinctly about our own experiences.
I’m also glad Mosaic was mandatory. Knowing the entire class of 2019 was hearing and reacting to the same ideas at the same time made the end of Mosaic more meaningful to me. The group moved as a collective to cliched but nevertheless impactful closing statements: “I am at Yale. I am Yale. We are Yale.”
Later, Mosaic forced me to reflect: Should I not have moved to the statement “I had a job in high school” because, while technically true, working did not pose a significant challenge for me? Should I have moved at the true statements that clearly represented significant personal challenges but that I did not want everyone to immediately know about me?
I considered these questions long after the activity ended. But in the moment, I merely stood outside Bingham Hall, stepping impulsively in random directions. Sounds of my peers also stepping accompanied every one of my movements. In a practically silent activity, I felt both like I was spoken to by my classmates and as though I was heard.
Nitya Rayapati is a freshman in Trumbull College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .