Over the past two weeks, some of Yale’s student tour guides have found themselves in a difficult position: negotiating the line between communicating honestly with prospective students and preserving the University’s image in the face of ongoing unrest over racial tensions on campus. As widespread media coverage of demonstrations against racial discrimination continues, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has begun reevaluating the ways in which it relays information to prospective students about diversity at Yale.
For all of November, Yale’s campus has been engaged in an emotionally charged dialogue about confronting racism within Yale’s gates, with students, faculty, administrators and alumni taking part in a movement for an improved racial climate. One significant complaint that students of color have repeatedly raised is that the Yale experience advertised to them during the admissions process has not proved true to reality. Though the University markets itself as a home for all students, some argue that this message is overshadowed by pervasive racial discrimination on campus.
In response to these conversations, the Admissions Office held two meetings last week for its tour guides, including one that was also open to recruitment coordinators, senior presenters and senior interviewers. At the meetings, students discussed ways in which tour guides convey information about diversity on campus, as well as how the tour guide program can improve to promote diversity within itself.
“As with all content on campus tours, the Admissions Office does not provide a script or specific required talking points around any issue,” Director of Outreach and Recruitment Mark Dunn ’07 said. “The Admissions Office’s message to guides was simple and consistent with our existing policy: Continue to share your authentic experience with our visitors, and trust that the Admissions Office values your thoughts and feelings on these issues, even if they are not universally positive about Yale.”
Tour guides interviewed said if students asked them about the racial climate at Yale, they would acknowledge that discrimination exists on campus but emphasize that students will face similar problems at any college. The Admissions Office has encouraged students to remain authentic in their interactions with prospective students, they said. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said it is far too early to tell if application numbers will be affected by recent campus events.
Tobias Holden ’17, a tour guide and recruitment coordinator, said many tour guides have said they feel uncomfortable lying about parts of their experiences in order to spare the reputation of the University. But he noted that there is no such expectation from the Admissions Office. He said the office has agreed to make changes to the tour guide training program to focus on sharing honest stories, rather than on crafting narratives favorable to Yale’s image.
“The leaders of the tour guide program and other admissions officers have made it clear that we should never feel like we’re being asked to be inauthentic, and that clearly something is wrong with the way guides are being trained if we feel that way,” Holden said.
Holden said the Admissions Office is putting time and thought into how it markets Yale to prospective students, ensuring that the information it conveys is as true to students’ experiences as possible. For example, the Admissions Office could be more effective at communicating about issues of race on campus by focusing more attention on the cultural centers, Holden said. He added that some tour guides have suggested sending out promotional materials about the cultural centers and adding a stop about them on the campus tour, which currently does not include any information about them.
Admissions staff have already set up follow-up meetings to discuss items introduced last week by the student admissions workers, Quinlan said.
Hannah Gonzales ’16, one of two head tour guides, said a fundamental part of being a tour guide is being able to share honest, insightful responses with prospective students. Even if tour guides have not personally utilized resources like the cultural centers or Office of LGBTQ Resources, she said, they should be equipped to discuss them in detail on a campus tour.
“Even though it’s not perfect, I love Yale,” Gonzales said. “I hope [prospective students] can look aside from that and see that Yale is working on it and still consider coming to Yale.”
Early Action applications to Yale were due on Nov. 1. The deadline for students applying Regular Decision is Jan. 1.