Following University President Peter Salovey’s Tuesday announcement of an expanded role for Yale’s four cultural centers and a doubling of their budgets, students and administrators are discussing the ways in which specific changes can be made to improve the centers’ mental health resources, physical facilities and staffing levels.
According to Salovey’s campuswide email, titled “Toward a Better Yale,” the University’s four cultural centers — the Afro-American Cultural Center, the Asian American Cultural Center, La Casa Cultural and the Native American Cultural Center — will each see their program budgets double to help them better support undergraduates and extend their resources to graduate and professional students. Addressing calls for better mental health resources catered to the experiences of minority students, Salovey also announced that mental health counselors from Yale Health’s Mental Health and Counseling department will schedule specified hours at each cultural center. Additionally, MH&C staff members will receive multicultural training, and the administration will also work to diversify the group of clinicians. There are currently 26.5 full-time equivalent clinicians at MH&C, and 20 percent are clinicians of color, according to Deputy University Press Secretary Karen Peart.
The changes, which responded to demands from Next Yale — a coalition of students working to improve the racial climate on campus — come on the heels of heated discussion last spring about the state of Yale’s cultural centers. An external review in December 2014 found that several of the centers were neglected by the administration and in physical disrepair, and administrators promised in April to increase the centers’ budgets and oversight.
Korean-American Students at Yale President Ho Kyeong Jang ’17 said counseling hours at each center will make mental health services more accessible to students of color and help reduce the stigma attached to mental health issues, especially for the Asian-American community, which he said is known for stereotyping mental health problems. Because of the location of Yale Health, Jang added, some students are deterred from seeking help due to the extra time investment they must make.
But NACC Peer Liaison Katie McCleary ’18 stressed the importance of having more mental health professionals of color at MH&C in the first place.
“We need professionals who can understand our experiences. We need professionals who will not judge us based on our ethnicity or stereotype us,” McCleary said. “It will not help students of color unless more mental health professionals of color are hired.”
Jang noted that he would like to see a mental health professional designated at each center — one demand Next Yale made of Salovey when the group gathered outside his house at midnight last Thursday.
Good mental health resources, La Casa Head Peer Liaison Cristal Suarez ’16 said, would “affirm the experiences of students of color” and make sure that they are heard and believed. Suarez said she finds it encouraging that the administration has renewed its commitment to improving mental health services.
In addition to the support MH&C clinicians will now provide at the cultural centers, AACC Director Saveena Dhall said the centers may also employ private practitioners to offer extra care for students of color.
“Yale Mental Health is working with the cultural centers to figure out a plan to create mental health liaisons with the houses. We’re also in conversation — though details haven’t been worked out — to have mental health presence in the house, [which may include] local counselors who are in private practice and have expertise in dealing with Asian and Asian-American issues and Asian and Asian-American college-age students,” she told the News.
Beyond investing in more mental health resources, the centers will also be able to use their increased budgets to improve their physical conditions and administrative staffing — two measures Dhall called especially important.
In fact, Dhall explained, staffing and facilities go hand in hand with each other. Expanded facilities could mean offices for new staff members within the centers as well as spaces for mental health counselors to hold private and group sessions. With the increased funding, Dhall said, there are many possibilities to reimagine the space that already exists.
“Twelve graduate and professional student groups work with the AACC this year, and we already have 45-plus undergraduate groups … so we want to make sure that if we have a community of nearly 4,000 Asians and Asian Americans [at Yale], our facilities are able to accommodate all activities,” she said.
Suarez expressed similar sentiments, noting that though La Casa underwent essential renovations over the summer — including repairing loose electrical wiring in the basement — additional maintenance is still needed to render the center a “fully functional and safe space” for all students.
At the NACC, McCleary said, the funding could be used to fund math, science and writing tutors and to bring in a Native spiritual advisor available to students practicing the ways of the Native American Church.
Jang said the increased AACC budget could go towards a regular Asian American Studies conference like the one held this spring, a new publication or even grants to draw more ethnic studies students and researchers to the University.
Still, several students interviewed emphasized that increased funding for the cultural centers is only the first step.
“While this is a significant step forward for the cultural centers, I am cautiously optimistic about the form that these changes will take,” AACC program series co-coordinator Hiral Doshi ’17 said, noting that she is unsure what effect doubling the budget will have in terms of specific changes. “I hope the administration will continue to work with us to make sure the changes can be implemented as effectively as possible.”
McCleary added that discussions should take place within each cultural center to identify the best ways to use the additional funding. These discussions can then help each community formulate center-specific priorities, she added.
Both Doshi and Dhall said they recognize that determining and implementing specific changes will take time.
“Our president has said that these [changes in the cultural centers] are our priorities, and we are going to take time and work towards figuring out the details. I don’t have as many details, but I have commitment,” Dhall said. “Now we have to work together, with the input of my community, my students, my own expertise having been the dean of the AACC for so long, as well as the alumni in town, as we think about the next phase.”