In the midst of heightened conversations about racism and discrimination on campus last semester, Silliman College drew particular scrutiny over an email from Associate Head Erika Christakis that questioned oversensitivity to cultural appropriation and subsequent clashes with Silliman College Head Nicholas Christakis. This spring, a number of students both within and beyond the college have criticized Silliman’s freshman counselor selection for its failure to take racial and ethnic diversity into serious consideration.
Multiple Silliman juniors interviewed said the 12 FroCos who were chosen from a pool of 25 include no Asian, Latinx or Native American students. Many called the situation a “glaring” problem, especially given the diversity of those who applied — at least one Hispanic student and at least four Asian students applied, they said. Moreover, given tension still brewing from Silliman’s role in the racial controversies last fall, students said they had hoped special attention would be paid to the racial and ethnic makeup of the incoming team.
“I think [members of the incoming FroCo group] are good people, but you have to think about the impression that you give to the freshmen,” said Mahir Rahman ’17, who is Asian-American and applied to become a FroCo in Silliman but was not offered a position. “The group does not reflect the larger population at Yale, and given what Silliman went through last semester, I believe this selection will be very problematic once people are aware of who the [FroCo] group is.”
Rahman added that diversity extends beyond just the group’s ethnic makeup. Academic interests, extracurriculars, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientation and gender and religious diversity are also important aspects to consider when choosing the next FroCo class, he said. Individuals in this year’s applicant pool came from all walks of life and various corners of Yale, Rahman said, and it was “strange” to see how little of this diversity was reflected in the final team.
Silliman College Dean Jessie Hill declined to comment on the specific ethnic and racial breakdown of the incoming FroCo team, but the News independently confirmed the names of the 12 juniors, most of whom are white. Incoming FroCos from five other residential colleges who responded to requests for comment said they felt their teams were racially and ethnically diverse. A incoming FroCo from Branford said while the college’s team next year is not racially and ethnically diverse, administrators did not have a large pool of students of color to choose from in the first place.
A junior in Silliman who asked to remain anonymous said there is a widespread sentiment among members of the junior class that the incoming FroCos would have benefited from more racial and ethnic diversity. Because so many members of the junior class applied, the result made it “even more glaring” that a more diverse group had not been selected, the student said.
Of the 12 incoming Silliman FroCos contacted by the News, 11 did not return multiple requests for comment, and one declined to comment due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Asked about this dissatisfaction with the composition of next year’s FroCo team, Hill affirmed her confidence in the group’s ability to work well with incoming freshmen.
“I define diversity in the broadest terms, spanning the richness of student experience including personal narrative, geography, politics, race, sexual orientation and socioeconomic background,” Hill said. “I am pleased with the new group and confident that they will engage well with the work of helping our new freshmen acclimate to Silliman and to Yale.”
Nicholas Christakis did not return multiple requests for comment. According to an anonymous Silliman junior who applied but did not receive the position, the interview process included five interviews — three with current frocos, one with Hill and another with Christakis.
Hill added that she has also been meeting with next year’s peer liaisons to find ways to “bolster the partnership” between them and the Silliman FroCos.
Still, another junior FroCo applicant in Silliman who did not receive the position and who requested anonymity said peer liaisons can be easily overwhelmed given the size of Silliman’s student body. There is only one peer liaison covering Silliman for the Asian-American Cultural Center, she said, and that is not enough.
“From my experiences as a freshman, not having as many freshman counselors of color on the team made it difficult for me to find my community,” the junior said. “It’s really disheartening that the incoming freshmen will not see themselves represented in these student leadership positions. Given the fact that the applicant pool was so diverse, I thought Silliman had a unique opportunity to do something great. I thought diversity and communities of color would be at the forefront in Silliman given what happened last semester.”
Of 12 random Silliman students interviewed, two of whom are juniors, eight said they did not know who the incoming FroCos are and have not heard of any concerns about the group’s makeup, racial or otherwise. Four said they are aware of dissatisfaction with the team.
“I am extremely concerned about the lack of someone who can directly reach the Asian and Asian-American population,” said Sukriti Mohan ’17, a junior in Silliman who works at the Asian American Cultural Center and who did not apply to be a FroCo. “If you have issues that stem from being Asian, it will be difficult to gain access to someone who can guide you through the process from personal experience.”
Mohan said she believes the individuals in the incoming group will make “wonderful FroCos.” However, given that there is only one peer liaison from the AACC assigned to Silliman, Mohan added that the diversity of the freshman counselor group is a “valid concern” since freshman counselors often act as the first source of support for freshmen.
Jamie Ko ’17, a current peer liaison for the AACC who applied for but did not receive the position of FroCo, said peer liaisons act as an extra layer of support for the FroCo team, but the presence of a diverse FroCo team is “not redundant.”
“Simply looping in peer liaisons when necessary dismisses the value of diversity,” Ko said.
Interviews with incoming FroCos in six other colleges suggest that diversity is generally not a concern in their respective communities.
Stephanie Siow ’17, an incoming FroCo in Pierson, said her college’s team of eight FroCos includes two African-Americans, one half-Middle Eastern and one Asian. Siow herself is an international student from Singapore, and she said she is “very happy” about how diverse the incoming FroCo group is.
“Our Pierson head and dean were concerned about getting a team of FroCos who can work together and also made sure that diversity is part of the picture,” Siow said. She added that it is important for freshmen to see seniors who “look like them,” come from similar backgrounds and can speak to race-related issues.
During FroCo training, Siow noted that the lack of diversity on the Silliman team was “very obvious.” She said she knew Asians in Silliman who have had relevant experiences but were not selected as FroCos, which she found shocking.
An incoming FroCo in Branford who asked to remain anonymous said the college does not have a particularly diverse team. Of the team of eight FroCos, there is one South Asian and one Latino, the student said. But unlike Silliman, Branford did not have a racially and ethnically diverse applicant pool, the student said. In terms of socioeconomic background, religion and sexual experiences, the student said the Branford team “holds up better.”
Incoming FroCos in Timothy Dwight, Trumbull, Berkeley and Davenport all said they were satisfied with the racial and ethnic diversity of the team.
Nick Friedlander ’17, an incoming Davenport FroCo, said administrators in his college chose a well-rounded team in many respects, adding that he is “fairly certain” they took events of last semester into account during the interview and selection processes. Helen Zhao ’17, an incoming FroCo in Berkeley, said administrators in her college also focused on diversity in selecting individuals for next year’s team. She added that there are FroCos who identify as Asian, Latinx, Native American and African-American on the Berkeley team.
“During the application process, Dean [Mia] Genoni and [Head of College Marvin] Chun emphasized the importance of building a FroCo team with diverse backgrounds so that no matter what challenges we face next year, there could hopefully be at least one person who could speak to the issue, or know someone who could help,” Zhao said. “To a certain extent, it’s not really a consideration of whether a certain individual will be a good FroCo, but rather how [the person’s] experiences will contribute to the group as a whole.”