Campus conversations last fall surrounding racial solidarity reverberated not only from Hillhouse Avenue to Chapel Street, but into Yale’s libraries as well.
Last November, Yale drew national scrutiny as students engaged in debates, protests and conversations about racial justice on campus. In the midst of these events, Katherine Wyatt ’17 approached Director of Undergraduate Research Education and Outreach Emily Horning with the idea for a library display showcasing literature, recommended by students and faculty, that promotes understanding of different cultural and racial experiences. Titled “Reading Resilience,” the project is led by Wyatt and Kimberly Mejia-Cuellar ’16 and is set to go up before the end of the semester.
“I believe students still have a lot to learn about each other’s cultures, and the project really sets up a platform for students to self-educate and continue the conversation on race,” Mejia-Cuellar said. “The project title ‘Reading Resilience’ is meant to reflect the resiliency of the authors and communities we highlight and how we can all find liberation through better cultural understanding and education.”
Horning said the exhibition currently has roughly 60 books that have been submitted and recommended by students and faculty. She said the books will be rotated 10 at a time, adding that there is no current end date in mind. The books will be placed on shelves to the left of the Bass circulation desk, and they are all from Yale’s collections.
For the project, Mejia-Cuellar recommended the anthology “This Bridge Called My Back,” edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, which she said has been seminal to intersectional feminism and queer studies. Within the anthology, authors from a range of backgrounds including queer or heterosexual, impoverished or wealthy, African-American or Asian, grapple with the roles they come into contact with in their everyday lives, Mejia-Cuellar said. The anthology is great for complicating a person’s understanding of what it means to be Latina or a woman, she added, because it allows readers to study the experiences and identities of women of color that are completely different than their own.
“The idea behind the project is that for conversations like last semester’s, we don’t want them to end,” said Peter Huang ’18, who joined the project after receiving an email soliciting interest that was sent out to undergraduate cultural groups. Huang was recently elected Yale College Council president on a platform that included his involvement with the Asian American Studies Task Force. “We do not want protests, but we want everyone to remain cognizant, and one way these things can stay constant is through the library … Books can remind you, that as a reader, you can learn more about the subject.”
There is a value to understanding the histories of different marginalized groups, empathizing with those communities and drawing similarities between one’s own experience and theirs, Mejia-Cuellar said.
In preparation for the project, Horning reached out to her librarian counterparts at the University of Missouri, another campus which experienced its own racial movements last fall. She said the school had set up web pages with recommended lists of readings — which Yale has also done — as well as given student protesters time off to participate in protests and teach-ins.
“Our hope is that with a heartfelt recommendation from a fellow student or faculty member, that might be more of an incentive for a student who is interested in learning about people of color to pick a book off the shelf and read about them,” Horning said. “From the library’s point of view, it is good because we are using our collection to promote dialogue.”
Horning said she hopes the exhibition will help continue campus conversations from the fall, adding that she plans for the library to also bring together books on other important topics as well. These books could be on anything from Supreme Court justices to college admissions, she said, and will be set up on the library’s website for recommended reading.
Bass Library currently holds about 150,000 books.