These weeks should be a moment of unity for Yale. Nobody on campus supports institutionalized racism and nobody on campus wants his or her peers to feel physically threatened. Instead of bringing us all together, however, these recent events have divided us, revealing small cracks on the surface of our community to be gaping fissures.
This disunity exists because many of the proposed solutions for combating racism on campus would require all community members to agree to some fairly subjective opinions. Students like myself — who agree with the spirit of Erika Christakis’s email, believe SAE should be investigated before it is indicted and find any comparison to last year’s Old Campus swastika vandalism appalling — cannot speak up without fear of being labeled as bigots. If this fear persists, then the students who have brought the conversation about race to the administration will be unable to recruit the necessary support to create lasting changes. There is a silent majority of students who want to help, but do not know how they can, given their views on recent events. Without us, our community risks failure to produce lasting change.
The first step is to realize that the powers of the University administration are fairly limited in addressing these issues. The University may be able to implement some of the recommendations they recently received, like “sensitivity training” and a “formal space and procedure to voice concerns related to incidents and events of discrimination and hate speech at Yale,” but it will probably not impose new distributional requirements or encourage every student organization to fundraise for black women at Yale and in New Haven. The administration is ultimately obliged to declarations like the Woodward report from 1974, which insists Yale’s primary commitment to free speech must always supersede Yale’s secondary commitment to “friendship, solidarity, harmony, civility or mutual respect.” Forcing students to adopt certain ideas is just as bad as forcing them to adopt certain kinds of speech, and the University should not consider any course of action in that vein.
At the end of the day, it is we students who are the ones charged with creating and maintaining a respectful, compassionate culture at Yale. An “Us versus Ourselves” mentality breeds discord. A “Yale versus Racism” mentality promotes unity. This is an issue for which everyone — whether they are white or black, male or female, liberal or conservative — can be a part of the solution.
All students and all racial concerns need to be actively embraced by a movement that currently contains a fraction of the Yale community. The racial concerns of black women should be joined by the concerns of Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and others. To some extent, this effort has already begun. Unfortunately, it has generated overly combative responses, like stigmatizing all fraternities instead of collaborating to use their social capital for the greater good. No one has made explicitly clear how every kind of student can use each day to ensure everyone feels comfortable calling Yale home. I avoid racially charged remarks and try to check my biases, but what else can I do? More than anything, we need leaders to emerge who can show our confused community what Yale can look like at its best and how we can get there in spite of our variety of backgrounds and often conflicting ideologies.
The Washington Post, The Daily Beast and my Facebook feed all make it look like Yale is a horrible place for minorities to study and live, worse than any of our peer institutions. All institutions have many of the same problems as Yale. The difference is we are actually talking about them. I believe we can be a model. The momentum on campus right now is unlike anything we’ve seen in recent years. Let’s show ourselves, and everyone else, the quality and character that can come out of even the most harrowing of these bright college years.
Joshua Faber is a senior in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .