There have been many conversations on campus this week. At one that I attended, there was one point raised that particularly struck me. One of my fellow students explained how long-term solutions are too often the white, liberal justification for complacency, bureaucracy and the status quo in the midst of a crisis like the one we currently face.
With this in mind, I’d like to start this column by reiterating the demands that Black Student Alliance at Yale have raised. Whether improving administrative response to instances of racism, instituting mandatory sensitivity training and other programs or prioritizing the recruitment and retention of faculty of color, these proposals are new ways Yale can become as inclusive as its brochures make it out to be.
But more than pointing out what Yale lacks, I’ve been wondering about what already exists on campus that could be fundamentally changed for the better. Students must take a critical look at the structures at the foundation of life at Yale and how they may perpetuate the problems the above demands aim to address.
Let’s start with residential colleges. The residential college system more or less mandates diversity, as students are randomly sorted into one of 12 colleges after their acceptance into Yale. Students live, eat and study with people they might not otherwise interact with, if left to their own devices. For our first two years at Yale, we’re nudged by our mutual habitats to interact.
This fizzles out, though. More than ever in recent memory, students are moving off campus to live in apartments, relishing in the opportunity to feel less stifled than they would in an on-campus abode. The annexing of students to Old Campus or Swing Space further exacerbates this off-campus exodus.
Even where we choose to socialize has shifted away from the residential college model. It seems that every event hosted by a college is now being held at an off-campus location — we hardly knew ye, Harvest — rather than in the good old-fashioned dining halls. Amid crackdowns on suite parties, the landmarks of the campus party scene have become fraternity houses, institutions founded on exclusion.
Maybe our alcohol policy factors into this. One element of Yale’s past that we actually can draw from is the more liberal attitudes towards drinking. This prohibitive tenor pushes people away.
Senior societies are often explained as being so important to Yale for their ability to bring Yale students who wouldn’t otherwise cross paths together weekly, in the same room, for hours on end. Why can’t the residential college system underscore this phenomenon even earlier? How useful is diversity training if people are only going to be living and spending time with others that look like them?
To be sure, it’s also important to invest in and upkeep the cultural houses, where groups of students can discuss their experiences among themselves. Questioning how campus in general can be more inclusive should occur alongside ensuring that these spaces are well-supported to meet the needs of people of color.
The University is at a turning point in its institutional history. On one hand, two brand new residential colleges are slated to open in 2017. On the other hand, the very idea that the newly ordained Schwarzman Center will serve as a campus “center” has the potential to undermine the role of the 12 existing ones,and debates over how Calhoun’s name and the use of the title “Master” hinder inclusivity still loom over campus. With this tension comes the opportunity to reevaluate the role of the residential college system.
At a time when we’re talking a lot about how the Yale experience falls short, it is hard to overlook the role something as foundational as the resident college system plays. Only after the administration meets the immediate demands of students of color can these “long-term” solutions can come to the fore.
Austin Bryniarski is a senior in Calhoun College. His column runs on Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .