The other day, while I was making a comment in class about Aristotle’s “Metaphysics,” I heard my voice trembling. I looked down at my book and saw that it, too, was shaking in the palm of my hand. I wondered why I was shaking; it was the ninth week of school. This wasn’t supposed to be happening. Why did I lack the self-confidence that some of my classmates appeared to have right from the start?
Academically, Directed Studies is a wonderful program. However, it is important to note that students of marginalized identities comprise a very small proportion of students in the program. The program focuses on the texts of the Western canon, primarily written by white male authors, who do not reflect the reality of Yale student body.
Sometimes, when I’m reading, it dawns on me that, as a woman of color, I have little to nothing in common with Aristotle. Trying to understand his perspective at times feels a bit like squeezing myself into a dress that’s not meant to fit.
While the themes of these works are supposed to be universal, text can never be fully divorced from context — a context that historically dismissed and disregarded the perspectives of a racial and gendered other.
This is one reason why, I suppose, my voice shakes when I comment in class, while other students — often white males — can speak with an authority that I don’t know I’ll ever acquire. Even though I’ve completed all the reading for section, I still feel hesitant. I still have to rehearse my comments in my mind. When I speak, I have a gnawing feeling that everything I’m saying is somehow wrong. This feeling stems from the knowledge that my experience does not correlate with the lives of Plato or Aristotle, for they did not write for people like me.
Some of my friends of color in the program say that they have trouble just speaking in class because they feel inadequate. Not infrequently, I hear them preface their comments with phrases like “this is probably wrong but …” I wonder why they believe that their comments are any less valuable than anyone else’s.
Perhaps this fear of being wrong — of not knowing — also speaks to the internal anxiety that many students of color seem to have: that Directed Studies — and more broadly, Yale — was not meant for them.
Of course, today’s Yale is a far cry from the Yale of the past. It has grown leaps and bounds in diversity and strides have been made towards incorporating marginalized voices. Still, though, there are remnants of its culturally encoded past at every turn. It manifests itself in the shortage of female students or students of color in Directed Studies, and in the way my voice quivers when I try to contribute in class. It becomes clear when I realize the stark disconnect between my life and the lives of the authors I’m reading. I am aware of it when I feel myself inserting my voice in a discussion, for fear that if I don’t, I won’t have one at all.
It is also written on the walls of Calhoun College, a legacy that can never be erased, even with the removal of the name. This past lingers at Yale, and no matter how much the University has progressed, it’s hard to forget.
It is sometimes difficult to reconcile the narrative of Yale’s past — and the remnants of that past — with the knowledge that I belong here, just as every student from a marginalized group has earned their place here. Sometimes it feels impossible to make myself fit in.
But perhaps I don’t need to make myself fit in. Perhaps, because of my identity, I will never have the confidence in speaking about these texts that some of my classmates do. Perhaps I should let my voice shake and keep speaking anyway. Perhaps I cannot write myself into the pages of Aristotle or Plato. Perhaps, at its foundation, Yale wasn’t made for me, and Directed Studies wasn’t either. But I am here.
Meghana Mysore is a freshman in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .