For many first years, Camp Yale centers around building one identity that takes on many words — Yalie, Eli, Bulldog.
But increasingly, orientation events also focus on other aspects of student identities, from racial and ethnic groups to the LGBTQ community to religious life. In addition to the residential college-held mandatory “Community Values” program — an hour-and-a-half workshop that touches upon different facets of diversity and identity — other campus organizations such as cultural centers, the Women’s Center and the Office of LGBTQ Resources also opened their doors and facilitated dialogue on those topics.
First-year students and First-year Counselors interviewed said these programs, though different in formats and topics, all provided a chance for first years to reflect upon their background and help them find their place at Yale.
Fittingly, the colleges’ interpretations of the “Community Values” program were themselves diverse. Sarah Naco ’18, a FroCo in Jonathan Edwards College, described JE’s version as a more free-form conversation.
“A lot of things that came up there were feelings that you have the agency and ability to explore new communities that you weren’t a part of before,” Naco said. “A lot of people talked about branching out and meeting people who would challenge their world views and push them to think about the world in alternative ways.”
Meanwhile, first years in Morse played a game akin to musical chairs, where students removed their shoes and ran to find someone else’s shoes if they identified with a specific claim, with prompts ranging from “I’m in entryway D” to “I am a feminist” to “I’m a first-generation college student.” At Benjamin Franklin College, its inaugural first-year students used the time to propose ideas for new traditions and customs.
Upperclassmen recalling their Camp Yale experience, like Lydia Horan ’20, said it was hard to pinpoint what orientation events have an explicit diversity focus. A past attendee of the Connections preorientation program, Horan said Camp Yale revolved less around questions of identity than other topics. Still, she remembered a Silliman College event geared towards recognizing privileges, which helped her see the variety of socioeconomic backgrounds her classmates came from.
She also noticed that diversity efforts during orientation seemed to shift from year to year.
“I’m under the impression that each year it changes quite drastically,” Horan said. “There’s not been one activity that they do coherently and do each year because there’s no tradition surrounding it. It wasn’t something they had to consider really until very recently.”
Horan added that many of the formalized diversity-focused events now are provided by Yale’s four Cultural Centers.
Andrew Bilodeau ’21, who participated in La Casa Cultural’s events, said that coming to Yale was a significant adjustment for him, since he attended a high school in suburban Los Angeles that was 91 percent Hispanic. Being with people in La Casa who share his identity — and his concerns about it fitting into Yale — has actually made him more aware of his heritage than he was in high school, he said.
“I want to be able to dive deeper into my culture because that’s one of my deepest regrets,” he said. “As a kid, I wasn’t as curious as I am now about my Latinidad. Thinking about it and how it relates to me, it had a much bigger impact on my life than I thought it did as a kid, so to be able to be in a community where I can appreciate it more … and having it geared towards Latino culture, that was really helpful.”
But for others, adjusting to the diversity of Yale’s student body took place not in Community Values or Cultural Centers but in the everyday realities of campus life. For example, CJ Fowler ’21, a first year from Little Rock, Arkansas, said there’s “not as much sensitivity” to cultural differences in his hometown, and that Yale introduced him to many new norms.
“For example, here, in almost all student activities I’ve done, people introduce themselves with their pronouns,” Fowler said. “It’s a little bit of a change, but I’m loving it.”
Jack Kelly | email@example.com