When I first heard calls for fellow students to explicitly state they do not condone racism and misogyny, I was unsure what would be gained from simply posting on Facebook and sharing tweets. I have heard the very people whose racism and sexism have hurt me most say “I am not racist and I am not misogynistic,” as if words, alone, could absolve their past actions. If there is anything we have learned as a community this past week, good intent can still lead to harmful outcomes. This being said, there is a power in identifying yourself in solidarity with women and students of color on this campus.
As many know, last Thursday, when students gathered to chalk in support of women of color, a confrontation with Dean Jonathan Holloway occurred, without previous planning or organization. Students of color were calling for the administration to send out an email affirming the University’s support of women and people of color, not necessarily calling out specific instances, just affirming support. This does not require an investigation; it should not require any more conversation.
I want to ask the question: what holds Yale back from taking the steps required to make this campus safe for students of color? What keeps Yale from complying immediately with the demands made by the Black Student Alliance at Yale? Yale has the resources to hire black psychologists at Yale Health. Yale has the ability to implement cultural competency training for faculty and staff. It has the power to punish students who participate in banned organizations with long histories of racism, misogyny, classism and homophobia. Empathetic administrators, faculty and staff are not the reason for inaction. It is not because students of color have been silent about their needs. So what is it then?
Yale is being held hostage by ignorance. The ignorant are among our administrators, staff, faculty, students, parents and donors. I am not accusing these people of malicious intent; ignorance can be incidental just as it can be willful. When administrators answer student calls for an email addressing racist incidents at Yale by noting bureaucratic limits, that is protecting the ignorant. As a community, we have to ask at whose expense we are willing to continue on with business as usual.
If Yale is afraid to act because of donors, I don’t want their support. Students of color are not going to sacrifice their health, their educations and their dignity in order for Yale to receive donations that do not benefit them. The current climate of campus is preventing students of color from having the educational experience they were promised along with their admission to the University. Of course, there are donations that work to improve our cultural houses and to support faculty diversity initiatives, but the expenditures made in these departments are only pennies compared the resources Yale could put forward if it wanted to. Students are coming here and being hurt and a Founder’s Day picnic will not remedy that pain.
If Yale is afraid of upsetting ignorant students and faculty, Yale is failing at its mission. The Yale College mission statement states that the goal of a Yale education is to cultivate members of our community “with a rich awareness of our heritage to lead and serve in every sphere of human activity.” The ignorant do not have a rich awareness of our heritage. They speak without hearing voices dying to share their stories. If people at Yale are uncomfortable with supporting women of color, they are going against the stated mission of this college. Everyone has a role to play in helping the University do what it must to support Yale students. It is important for allies to tell Yale that if it does better by students of color, “I will not be offended.” There are many ways to do this.
Members of fraternities or other organizations on campus with racist histories should quit these groups. Students on this campus are smart and creative; we can create new communities that possess all the positive components of a fraternity, without defending the legacy of these bigoted institutions. If you are an alumni, particularly a member of SAE, you should email administrators, write articles and rally your community to change. Let Yale know that you do not support the protection of groups or protection of individuals on campus that continue to hurt students. If you are a donor, make it clear your support of Yale is contingent on the support of students of color. If you are a student, support the faculty, administrators and students who speak out. Defend them.
It is the responsibility of our students and our alumni to make it clear that no one benefits from the subjugation of students of color on this campus. Stand in support. Hold yourself accountable. As students chanted at the Black Student Alliance at Yale, and on Monday afternoon in the March of Resilience: “We out here. We been here. We ain’t leaving. We are loved.”
Rianna Johnson-Levy is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .