It’s no secret that the sailing team is almost entirely white. Sailing, one of the most expensive sports, appeals to a certain demographic, and yacht clubs have a long history of being exclusionary organizations. But I love sailing! My favorite part of Yale is the time I spend on the Long Island Sound, getting away from classes and campus for four hours each day. Leaving aside my worries and joining this magical bubble in which there were no problems, this little place of extreme privilege, in my otherwise restricted life. It was new and exciting and I loved how people treated me. All of a sudden I was important. People listened to me and cared what I had to say. Plus the oysters were delicious.
But I still found myself avoiding any topic that might cause problems with my team. I didn’t address financial aid — or why I couldn’t afford to go to Sushi on Chapel every week. I didn’t address the poor neighborhood in Queens in which I grew up, simply saying “Oh, I’m from the city.” I didn’t address my race, and how it shapes my existence at Yale, and how different I feel from my team because of it. I love this sport, and so I had to choose: remain silent so I could enjoy my time on the water or speak up and risk losing my favorite part of Yale. I followed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, too scared to hear what they actually had to say regarding my race, class and condition. But I secretly wondered if they liked hanging out with me because I was the token minority friend that somehow exculpated them from any racism.
This past week has been unbelievably challenging, as I could no longer avoid conversations regarding race with my teammates. On Wednesday, when we sailed in from a beautiful fall day on the Long Island Sound and one teammate asked me what I was doing that night, I answered honestly: “attending the open dialogue forum hosted at the Afro-American Cultural Center.” While we derigged the boat, he admitted with curiosity: “I just don’t understand why it’s so hard to be black on campus.” At first, I was upset, angry and troubled by the fact that someone I was so close to could not understand how difficult it is to live in my skin. I began to explain that while he may think racism is over, others, who do not share the benefits of his white skin, are reminded every day that this place is not ours, that we are different, that we are the other and that we are not welcome here.
Reflecting on the events throughout this week, I cannot help but feel guilty. I feel guilty that I never spoke up when my teammates’ words and actions hurt me. I feel guilty that I chose easy conversations over important ones. I feel guilty that I loved my new position, my place of importance, regardless of the emotional strain of pretending to be someone I’m not has caused me. I would put on fancy dresses and speak politely to wealthy, old white men, but always wondered if they thought of me as slightly less human than my blonde roommate. But this week I couldn’t do that anymore, not with everything happening on campus. Not with their comments about my race and my community. Not with their hurtful responses to my pleading for understanding and acceptance, which served only to shut down conversation and invalidate my feelings and my concerns.
While we continue to have these conversations on campus I cannot help but notice the missing voice: the non-white athlete. We cannot speak up. And even now, I worry how this column will be received by my team. I’m scared they will see it as an attack on their character. But this is about so much more than any individual comment or person. It is about the collective environment of my team, but more importantly of Yale athletics. We are thrown onto predominantly white teams and expected to look away when we are offended because we have no other option. We are left isolated, torn in one direction by the deep love and respect we have for our teammates, but in another by being the other on a team that is blissfully ignorant of the racism that remains ingrained in our diverse University.
Chandler Gregoire is a junior in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .