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 chandler.gregoire@yale.edu .

  • http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/lists/the-10-worst-ways-to-die-in-a-hieronymous-bosch-painting-53872 Hieronymus Machine

    “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.”

    Nope: sailing rocks! Def. a +1 over ur earthbound roomie.

    “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.”

    Powerful stuff. Why not assume the best? Stick with the “deep love and respect” of your teammates. What is important? This: “My favorite part of Yale is the time I spend on the Long Island Sound…. Leaving aside my worries and joining this magical bubble in which there were no problems, this little place of extreme privilege.” Privilege in the *real* rather than political sense. Awesome.

    Embrace it and thank God for those moments. Back on campus, though, I bet your teammates will prove more thoughtful and reflective than perhaps you give them credit. Can you make room for — extend grace to — their shortcomings?

    Outside your team, please consider this: Most folks on campus are scared to speak up — just like you. The pre-meds scurrying to lab, folks with problem sets to do… They don’t want to get caught up, caught out or called out either, and much of the “discussion” on campus is not the sort that you may be able to find among your sailors’ cloister.

    Thank you for your article, and please forgive me for my limited perspective and insight. (Did I mention “sailing rocks?”)

  • Mon

    Sending you love and support Chandler! Don’t be too hard on yourself…it can be so intimidating to bring up these conversations. At the same time, also know that those who truly care for you will, in the long run, appreciate a challenging conversation or confrontation and should be able to leave those encounters having their relationship with you intact, if not stronger. You are brave and courageous for speaking up. Thank you.

  • Isabelle

    So proud of you, Cha.

  • CentralJerseyMom

    “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.”

    So..let’s see. You go to an Ivy League school. You participate in a sport that probably less than 0.1% of the people on earth can afford to be involved in. Your teammates act as if you are their friend (sneaky guilt-assuaging bastards). Yes, I can clearly see how you have been denied the benefits of a white skin and that you are shown daily how unwelcome you are.

    “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.”

    Definitely — one thing a person should always feel guilty about is not bitching enough. When you get married, remember, never go to bed without letting your spouse know exactly each and every way in which they have failed you that day. Your co-workers too I might add. You go to Yale to learn that the universe revolves around you and your feelings and you need to get a jump start on this right now.

    • dh414

      One can be privileged in some ways, and brutally oppressed in others. You, for example, might have the privilege of white skin. A white person can go into stores without getting followed, they can grow up not wondering if anyone will ever find them beautiful because of the color of their skin, and they don’t have to worry about not getting a job simply because they’re black. However, as a woman (which I assume you are, given your username), you likely face oppressions that males would not understand, like perpetually being under threat of sexual assault, being paid/recognized less than your male counterparts for doing the same work, and being told you aren’t beautiful because your waist size is too large. It is a privilege to have white skin, but that does not mean you shouldn’t fight against the oppression you face as a woman. Chandler has the privilege of going to Yale and being able to sail, but that does not mean she shouldn’t fight against the oppression of having dark skin. And when she fights against her oppression as a woman of color, know that she’s fighting for forces that work to oppress you, also.

      • John Locke

        More women go to college now than men, as they have every year since 1991.
        Women make up 47% of enrolled law students.
        Women make up 47% of enrolled medical students.
        Women make up 9% of imprisoned persons.
        Serious oppression. Fight Fight Fight.

      • CentralJerseyMom

        Horse&*^^ Seriously. You’ve memorized the party line to the point where you no longer even need to touch base with reality. There are plenty of poor kids (black and white) who are fighting almost insurmountable odds just to keep their heads above water, much less achieve even modest success. Virtually none of them (black/white/male/female) can be found sailing on Long Island sound. Affirmative action cherry picks the sons and daughters of the black bourgeoisie so that schools like Yale can claim to be “inclusive.” Fortune 500 companies like the one I work for will kill to hire some black kid from Yale. All of the benefits and none of the risks of hiring someone who actually clawed their way out of the ghetto. Fine, everybody works the system, you should too. But don’t stand around claiming to be “oppressed” while you’re doing it.

        • dh414

          Unclear about why we shouldn’t fight any kind of oppression we see at Yale?

          • CentralJerseyMom

            Because you need to lift your eyes up from your own navels, gain some tiny perspective on what the world is really like and your own place in it, and start concentrating on what you can do to alleviate the suffering of untold millions in your own country (not to mention the entire world) given all that you have been blessed with. How many of you volunteer to be a big brother/big sister to kids in the New Haven community? How many tutor kids for free after school? How many work in a bike exchange or a computer exchange fixing up bikes or computers so poor kids can afford a few of the things that middle class kids take for granted? Hell, how many of you even volunteer at an animal shelter or participate in local environmental cleanups? Take a tiny fraction of all the energy you expend fulminating about whether or not an email does or does not suggest that someone wearing dreadlocks for Halloween is oppressing you and use it to help a single other living thing on the planet besides yourself.

          • dh414

            Ah, please don’t make the mistake of assuming that you know our whole lives. Every morning Monday through Friday I spend at a soup kitchen, starting at 7 and going until 9. I am on the board of the homelessness action project, teach a criminal justice class at a local high school, started/run a program for veterans who have formerly experienced chronic homelessness, and do neuroscience research to help cure drug addictions. Believe me, I would love to spend my days looking down at my navel and complaining about red Starbucks cups. I would absolutely love to do that. But at the moment there are people at our school, students, faculty, and administrators alike, who do not understand the fundamental facts about racism and oppression in America, so we have to spend even more time teaching them about things they should already know so that when they leave this institution to go on and be powerful people in this country and world, they do not perpetuate the same garbage that we’ve dealt with our whole lives. That’s for the kids of color who don’t get to go to Yale. That’s for the parents who can’t get jobs because of the color of their skin. Now please stop complaining and do you work to help the people you say you’re supporting.

          • CentralJerseyMom

            I did not assume I knew anybody’s whole life. I asked how many of “you” (meaning students) do these things. Are you a student? If you are, you are precocious in the extreme what with teaching classes at a high school, running a program for veterans, and conducting neuroscience research. I can appreciate why a young person with such accomplishments might inadvertently develop the arrogance to believe that it was their role to enlighten “students, faculty, and administrators alike” as to the garbage they perpetuate. I can only assume that you are reciprocally open to learning about the garbage you perpetuate.

          • dh414

            I am a student. And it is not my role, it is the role of our nation to teach history properly dealing with the colonization of America and long-lasting effects of slavery in more than just a couple chapters of a textbook. However, since our country still refers to slaves shipped across the Middle Passage as “workers,” those who suffer the consequences of such a whitewashed American history (and thus who are most aware of it) must do the teaching. I am open to learning. I did not know about the realities of slavery until last year, and so I (a minority student) was very much complicit in perpetuating the systemic racism I’m fighting against now. I continue to perpetuate it in some forms unknowingly, but I try to get better every day because I am aware of the way I’ve been taught. That’s all we’re asking, for people to be open to learning and getting better every day. But many people aren’t open to learning, because they just call us complaining snobs and invalidate any issues we bring up.

  • germ_16

    The author says “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.”

    So you started it off with “at first”, what happened “secondly”? Did you explain why after he said “I just don’t understand why it’s so hard to be black on campus.” your mind somehow changed that to: “You must think racism is over.” Surely you can see how those are two completely different things? You misrepresented what he said so his question would be easier to attack, and then painted him as the ignorant, privileged white boy.

    What specific incidents remind you every day that Yale is “not yours”? Can these things be changed and are they actually institutional? Is it possible that he and many many others doesn’t see you as “the other” and accepts you quite easily for who you are? Wouldn’t a conversation like this with your peers over some coffee be much more productive than writing some vague article where you characterize yourself as a victim instead of a strong, respected person who attends a prestigious institution like Yale?

  • fairplay

    Chandler,

    I’m
    confused, you say you “love how people treated you”, that the team made you
    “feel important. People listened to me and cared what I had to say.” That
    sounds like racism to me. I’m sure there are a number of kids in Ferguson, inner-city Baltimore and your native Queens crying their eyes out for you and your oysters on the half shell.

    You speak of being “thrown onto predominantly white
    teams” Did a press gang grab you off old campus freshman year and force you to
    join the team? No, you joined the team by choice and were welcomed with open arms. You have been recognized for your contributions and earned more sailing
    time than many of your “elitist” teammates.

    If you think you’re the only person on the team that receives financial
    aid. You are also naïve. You speak of “old white men”. Who is marginalizing people based on race now?

    Did it occur to you that, your teammates, comment, “I just don’t understand why it’s so hard to be black on campus”, was an honest admission of his ignorance to your plight and an opening to have an honest conversation?

    You say that you, “followed a don’t ask don’t tell policy”. Whose policy
    is that, your own?

    It appears you suffer from an inferiority complex, not racism.

    You speak of “deep love and respect for your teammates” I’m guessing you
    have lost some of theirs.

    I am sure if you were honest with your teammates, they would be
    receptive, but you might have to remove the knife from their back first.

  • whome

    It strikes me that the author’s issue has more to do with class than race – in her words: an expensive sport, she can’t afford to go to Sushi on Chapel every week, she has to talk to wealthy, old white men, etc. And yet, despite being from a “poor neighborhood in Queens,” the author must have had enought access to sailing prior to coming to Yale in order to be on a national championship sailing team. Hmmm…..

    Sailing appeals to “a certain demographic.” Yes, it does – the demographic of living near water. There aren’t many sailors from North Dakota. And, you don’t need to belong to a yacht club to be a sailor – there are high school sailing teams, community sailing centers, and many other venues available to learn and practice sailing at low cost.

    Yale is a place of extremes, including extreme wealth. Many students, of all races, cannot afford to eat at Sushi on Chapel every week or belong to expensive clubs. But, that is just a fact of life for them, and they work around it and budget accordingly. They do not blame it on the color of their skin.

    The author says of the sailing team, “I loved how people treated me.” But yet she wondered if her teammates were her friend only because she satisfied their token minority friend quota. Unless your teammates are living under a rock, I guarantee you that they have several “minority” friends at Yale; the demographics of Yale are such that you are not their one and only friend of color.

    The author also wonders if the wealthy, old white men saw her as “slightly less human” than her blonde roommate. Less human? Really? Can you really believe that is what white people think? More likely, these men are falling into the trap of believing your blonde roommate is less smart than you are because of the color of her hair.

    The author seems to question every positive interaction with white people and examine it under a victim’s microscope. How does that happen? A child does not naturally think of themselves as a victim. That is a learned response. And I have a good idea where the author learned it. Her parents, both currently English professors, are quoted in a 1996 New York Times article on multiracial Americans. “Growing up, I always felt inferior,” says the author’s mother. Well, congratulations, you have passed that “feeling” on to your daughter.

    I suggest that the author step outside her self-imposed prison of an inferiority complex, and give herself the opportunity to experience her teammates with a “glass half full” mentality. Assume that they like you for who you are and that they are being honest with you. And, you be honest with them. I guarantee you aren’t the only one on the team who doesn’t have a Sushi on Chapel line item on their budget.

    • LLC

      Yes we should absolutely blame the parents, especially the mom because there is no way that Chandler could have felt “less than” due to media images about race and beauty that bombard us every second. These images have no affect on young girls and their sense of self or worth. And it is absurd that a person of color could ever feel “inferior” based on race, especially someone who grew up in the 70’s because racism wasn’t an issue then. I see what you are saying.

      The things that I have “passed” on to my daughter are to have a compassionate heart, strong voice, sense of fairness and social responsibility, and a love of learning. You’re right though, I obviously did something wrong because she is at Yale after all. I’ll try better with her sister because Chandler is clearly a lost cause.

      • whome

        No one is blaming the parents alone for the thoughts and attitudes of a twenty-something, but the messages that one hears at home every day and the world-view that is instilled in a child do, in large part, come from the parents.

        How wonderful it is that you have passed the things that you enumerate on to your daughter. If only she were able to evidence some of those qualities when dealing with her teammates rather than blindsiding them with an opinion piece. Where is her compassion for and sense of fairness towards the team that she said had embraced her and that she loved? Your daughter comes across as looking for a stage on which to throw her pity party, and her teammates happen to be convenient scapegoats. It will no doubt take a fair measure of compassion on the part of those teammates to repair the damage that has been done.

        • LLC

          You are misreading her piece if you think she is scapegoating her teammates. No where does she say her teammates are racist. The fact that you and others don’t “get” what she is saying speaks volumes for the validity of her words. Hopefully her teammates will be able to see how a person of color may feel uncomfortable in an environment that is predominantly white and realize that her feelings and words about her experience are not meant as an attack against them.

        • Reba

          What I find interesting is the way the media shapes a person’s world view, and then when a piece comes along contrasting with that vision, people attack ad hominem the messenger and others who may agree with them. Ms.
          Gregoire’s piece appears to be written from the perspective of a young person who has actually experienced the issues she is describing. The simple fact in all of this is that her perspective on the issue is authentically hers, based
          on and born out of her life experience to date. If we truly ever really want to rid ourselves of the scourge of racism, we owe it to ourselves to listen to and consider her
          perspective. It’s not like she’s churning out some cynical weekly column in order to make money and score points with the movers and shakers in one of our vaunted political parties which, by the look of some of these comments, I
          imagine many people are used to reading. This is a heartfelt, honest opinion piece by a young person who has experienced the pain she has decided to share
          with us. Regardless of your interpretation of how she’s supposed to feel, based on your own personal feelings about her being named in the New York Times as a
          baby, or her Queens neighborhood or her parents’ career, she’s entitled to her voice. This is the world through her eyes. There is no need to apologize for describing one’s experiences in one’s own voice. I thought it was a very honest article and I congratulate her on her bravery. As for her parents and what they’ve taught her, well, let’s just say this: Ms. Gregoire writes pretty well. Based on that, I think they probably reinforced a lot of other good qualities in her as well.

      • CentralJerseyMom

        Excuse me — the “media images” that bombard me every day include breathtakingly beautiful women of every race. . Women that almost nobody in real life looks like. Certainly not me. Is that it — is that the great injustice in Chandler’s life that has saddled her with this huge inferiority complex that she feels compelled to dump on her friends? A woman with college professors for parents who is mentioned by name at 17 months of age in the New York Times?

        • LLC

          Since when did expressing that you feel like you can’t be yourself become “dumping” on your friends? As far as the media images, I guess you don’t watch TV or go to the movies.

          • Kerryman

            Kill your television (I think I’ll make a bumper sticker out of that). But seriously, look at any magazine, billboard or tv show/ad and we see nothing but the beautiful people. When was the last time you saw an unattractive person in any of the aforementioned spots. We are all conditioned to think the pretty, handsome of all races are better than the average folk. You’ve seen the data. Tall people are treated better than short ones. A guy in a suit is treated better than one in a flannel shirt and jeans. A pretty woman (color is unimportant) has a lot better chance of getting the bartender’s attention. So, all this crap is ingrained in our minds and it hurts all of us. Unless, of course you are 6’2″, handsome/pretty or suited up. “The Tyranny of Good Looks” Good luck.

      • whome

        One more thing. While you are passing on things to your daughter, would you please pass on to her that her economic situation (which is really what her opinion piece seems to bemoan) is more likely a result of her parents’ choices than of her skin color, specifically their choice to have children while in graduate school, to become English professors, and to live in New York City. Absolutely nothing wrong with any of that, but there are foreseeable consequences in terms of life style and economic situation.

        • LLC

          Our choices “to have children while in graduate school, to become English professors, and to live in New York City” were by far the best choices we could have made. Unless of course you want to have Sushi on Chapel every week ;).

    • Guest

      You forgot this quote from the NY Times article: “[her parents] are determined to give their 17-month-old daughter, Chandler, a pride that will buoy her in a sometimes intolerant world.” Shame on her parents for “passing” along a sense of pride.

      • whome

        Bravo to her parents for passing on a sense of pride, that is surely something that every child needs in this world. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much in evidence in her opinion piece, but instead has been overtaken by a sense of self-pity and victimization. Without being able to give any examples of racism on the sailing team, she was more than ready to point the finger at her teammates for what appears to be her own sense of inferiority.

        • LLC

          If you think the point of her piece is about racism on the sailing team and that she’s trying to point a finger at them, then you missed it. It’s about how not being white can make one feel like an outsider, like they don’t belong, like they are “the other.”

          And please don’t take one opinion piece and assume you know anything about her home environment and how she was raised.

          Last thing, if you think Chandler has a “sense of inferiority,” then you obviously don’t know her.

  • yaleisscary

    So who is a racist now? She is separating herself out as a victim, not her team. She even admits they treated her well, yet she backstabs them as not understanding how she feels in a public dialog. The only person here making her feel less than she is is she herself. Get that chip off your shoulder! Does she not know that the majority of people at Yale have financial aid? And that they admit people of color over a white person who may be equally as talented and smart? She seems to be ashamed of where she is from so what does that say about her? Instead of feeling accomplishment and pride for studying hard enough or being bright enough to get into Yale, she feels shame. Maybe she feels she doesn’t belong there. And maybe she is right.

  • wal

    Chandler, you are right, Yale is not perfect, although 99% of the world would kill to get into it. Yes, there are apparently a few extremely racist idiots about, but everyone else deplores their views and they don’t seem to be making people physically “unsafe”. Many, many neighborhoods in this city, this country, and this world are actually “unsafe”. Drunken date rape aside, the Yale campus is generally very, very safe. Yes, some buildings are named for slaveowners. We had slavery in this country. It was bad. Its effects linger to this day. It’s America’s karma. Washington DC and Washington state and many many towns named Washington are named after a slaveowner. Maybe some things should be renamed. But outside the tiny group of idiots, everyone now at Yale deplores Yale’s history of slaveowning, history of racism, history of anti-Asianism, history of anti-Semitism, etc. Including every Yale administrator and every Yale faculty member. Whatever Yale was in the past, these days Yale is sincerely trying so, so hard to accommodate everyone. It’s bending over backwards. It doesn’t really know what to do with all this student anger. But it’s trying so hard to be nice, even if some people are angry and screaming. Is it asking too much to ask you to stop for a minute and appreciate how astoundingly lucky you are, how grateful you and your friends should be for everyone who fought for and supported civil rights of all kinds? The supporters include the very Yale administrators your friends have been yelling at. Try to enjoy your life and your good luck. It might not get any better than this. Even if Yale is not 100% perfect and you are not as lucky as some rich kids.

  • disqus_fvLIBK8ktD

    I really appreciate Ms. Gregoire’s tone. From a writing point of view I’d have liked her to develop the story she begins telling about her white male teammate while they were derigging (an aside: I’ve always found that some of the best conversations I have with people are while doing things like chores together). He trusted her enough to ask her a real question to her face (not on an anonymous board): “I just don’t understand why it’s so hard to be black on this campus.” This is a question many people throughout the country have been asking, often less politely and with less interest in understanding the answer. I’m curious too–not in a belligerently, but in an inquiring and sympathetic human spirit. For instance, I was often the only girl (and then woman) in classes. At one point in high school, I was sent to the book cupboard to translate more Caesar while the boys got to translate Ovid on love–the male teacher wanted to protect me from Latin raciness (he was the best teacher I had in high school). I went to a college that certainly at its founding had never imagined Catholic working-class women, for instance, attending. For whatever reason, I never felt that the “place was not ours.” In fact I respected the institution for changing. I frequently remember, gratefully, that women would not have the vote if male legislators had not voted for them to do so. I would be interested in another column from you, written with the love and respect you admire in your sailing teammates, to say how Yale reminds you “every day that this place is not ours, that we are different, that we are the other and that we are not welcome here.”

  • Kerryman

    I feel your pain, Chandler. Only 4 hours a day of sailing and then some guy has the unmitigated gall to ask what’s so tough about being black at Yale. You really have it tough. How can you stand it? I imagine it is tough to go to Yale and have to put on “fancy dresses and speak politely to wealthy, old white men…” Imagine how tough that’s gotta be! Why would your teammates see your words as an attack on their character! Those dolts! However, there is hope in sight. You will get out of the Yale captivity and enter “the real world.” Despite the warning from so many respondents herein, you will have ample opportunities to find such wrong doing anew. I’m guessing that you will look back longingly on those days of sailing on Long Island Sound and come to the conclusion that Yale wasn’t so bad after all. Good luck.