Under the lights of Yale Divinity School’s Marquand Chapel Friday evening, race scholar Eduardo Bonilla-Silva drove home one point: Systemic racism still exists in historically white colleges and universities.
Bonilla-Silva, a professor of sociology at Duke University who has written extensively about racial inequality, opened his speech by pointing to cases of racism on college campus. Those incidents — including a 2012 sorority party at Pennsylvania State University that featured sorority sisters dressed in Mexican-themed clothing and holding derogatory signs, as well as a 2013 fraternity party at Duke where attendees dressed in Asian clothing and imitated Asian accents — are not isolated, Bonilla-Silva argued, but are “expected cases” at institutions whose climate, symbols and traditions serve to “reproduce whiteness.” His 40-minute address was part of Friday night’s event that kicked off this year’s Latinx Heritage Month hosted by La Casa Cultural.
“Our complaints today are not that different from the complaints we had 30 years ago. Why are we still having diversity problems years after?” Bonilla-Silva said to a packed room of administrators, students and community activists.
Changing numbers, such as the percentage of minority students, is only the first step towards diversity, Bonilla-Silva said, adding that historically white institutions including Yale should create more visible signs — statutes, portraits buildings — which reflect its multicultural community.
Bonilla-Silva also urged his audience to abandon “color-blind nonsense” and treat affirmative action as an issue not of diversity, but of social justice.
“I found [Bonilla-Silva’s] advocacy for ‘anti-reformist reform’ illuminating, which calls for less placing responsibility to single entities — committees or individuals — to fix campus issues and more addressing the importance of having as many people possible involved, ” Jose Lopez ’18 told the News.
Bonilla-Silva’s speech was preceded by an address from Jim Hackney DIV ’79, Divinity School senior director of development. Hackney announced that the school hired two new faculty specializing in Latinx Christianity, and later this fall, the school will unveil two portraits of minority alumni.
The two portraits will feature Justo Gonzalez DIV ’58, one of the few first-generation Latino theologians to come from a Protestant background, as well as Ana Ines Braulio DIV ’53, who served as the first female executive of the Presbyterian Church. The additional portraits came after some divinity school students voiced concerns about the lack of visual representations of minority alumni.
“We would like to have images on our campus so that current students, faculty and staff can see themselves reflected in what is on our walls,” Hackney told the News. “We have a lot of portraits of dead white men because of the history. We also have a tremendous legacy of inviting and including others to join in. We want that legacy to be reflected in the pictures on our walls.”
In addition, Hackney pointed to the newly initiated Felix Varela Scholarship and Internship as a part of the school’s diversity effort. The scholarship, made possible by a $1.74 million gift by an anonymous donor, will support at least two Latinx students each year at the divinity school by covering their tuition and providing a stipend.
About 10 Latinx student clubs — from dance groups such as Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Yale to La Casa’s spoken word group ¡Oye! — performed at Friday’s event, bringing laughter and energy the Marquand Chapel.
Carlos V. Cohen II ’19, who volunteered as emcee for the event, commended the student groups for using their dancing, singing and speaking skills to convey important truths and emotions of the Latinx experience, both at Yale and in society at large.
Upcoming Latinx Heritage Month events include a talk on race, medicine and immigration by history professor John McKieman Gonzalez from Texas State University, and a folklórico — or folkloric dance — documentary screening
“Latinx Heritage Month is an opportunity to say as a Latinx students that we are important and we have so much beauty and wisdom in our culture and our personal experiences,” Lopez said. “No one Latinx student here has the same story as the other — and that makes us all the more beautiful.”