Recently, there has been much discussion of the cultural environment on campus, specifically related to diversity and inclusion. This discussion is necessary for us to grow and improve ourselves as a community. A rigorous self-appraisal must include an analysis of what we need to change and what we need to stop. But it also requires us to identify what is good, what we need to continue and what we need to nurture. Today, I would like to highlight an example of the good that I see on campus.
I have been at Yale for almost eight years, first as a doctoral student and now as a postdoctoral research associate. I spend most of my time in the lab and have only had limited interactions with undergraduates, so my personal experience is sure to differ from others on campus. However, when I do leave my research bubble, I see a joyful, vibrant and diverse community here at Yale.
On March 5, I participated in the seventh annual Slavs, Klez and Friends Concert, featuring the Yale Slavic Women’s Chorus, the Yale Klezmer Band and Orkestar BAM (in my opinion, Yale’s coolest Balkan band), as well as guest performers from the Yale and New Haven communities. Almost all of the audience also participated in the event — either by dancing or singing along. The evening showcased folk music from all over Eastern Europe, but the performers and audience came from all over the world and all walks of life: There were representatives from six continents, with ages ranging from as young as two to as old as 90. There were undergrads, grad students, postdocs, faculty, staff and members of the greater New Haven community.
We came together to celebrate the traditional folk music of Eastern European cultures. The repertoire included music from Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Yiddish, Romani, Serbian, Albanian, Macedonian and Bulgarian cultures, as well as several others. Perhaps there was also an implied allegorical aspect to the concert: Historically (and very recently), there has been much tension and violence between these peoples. Numerous wars, genocides, pogrom and race riots have plagued this part of the world for centuries, if not millennia. But that night we also heard how much these cultures have in common and how lovely their cooperative harmony can be.
Eastern Europe has been a global crossroads, the interface between East and West, between major religions, alphabets and cultural identities. This wealth of diversity has been a mixed blessing, at once bringing musical and culinary richness, as well as intercultural strife. Yale too is a global crossroads, boasting representatives of more cultures and ethnicities than those that call the Baltic and Balkan regions home. We have greater potential to reap the benefits of our greater diversity, but we also share the risks associated with the colocalization of people without a common background, without a shared worldview and without a sense of greater community. Instead of isolating ourselves as small communities and succumbing to “Balkanization,” let us learn from this powerful lesson and focus on that which will bring us together and that which we can accomplish together.
To bring this theme to the forefront each year, the “Slavs, Klez and Friends” concerts have culminated in the final song, “Ale Brider,” or “All Brothers,” which includes the following lyrics that translate (from the original Yiddish) roughly to:
“And we are all brothers,
And we sing joyful songs.
And we are all sisters,
And we dance with joy.”
Each year, we have all sung together, danced together and laughed together, sharing our appreciation for this beautiful music. We are truly all brothers and sisters united in joyful song and dance.
This is what I see of the community here at Yale, and it is what I will remember when I look back fondly at the time I spent here. So please, brothers and sisters, continue this tradition after I have gone, and let this sense of shared joy and greater community permeate into the rest of campus life.
Aaron Bloomfield is a postdoctoral research assistant in the Chemistry department. He received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Yale in 2014. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .