In a job interview during my first year, I was asked how I might extend the professional development opportunities that the organization offered to students of color. The interviewer posed the question because the opportunity networks that white students take advantage of are often insular, extending only to other white students and the few students of color on the periphery. The only answer I could come up with to my interviewer’s question was “Put fliers in the cultural centers.” Frankly, my response has haunted me ever since.

The rhetoric around diversity, both nationally and at Yale, seems to be focused on a brand of assimilationist politics — the deeply misguided notion that students of color want to be wealthy, that we want to possess the social legitimacy and cultural capital of our white counterparts on terms dictated by white stakeholders. This rhetoric cultivates a sense that students of color need to be reached, and we should focus on efficient conduits for doing so. Under the social and political logics of assimilation, whiteness will always be centered — color is constantly peripheral. Assimilation provides some half-hearted gesture at progress while evading a liberation politics that would decenter whiteness and abolish the notions of center and periphery (a venerable postcolonial vision that has been articulated by such theorists as Édouard Glissant). Assimilation, as an order-making project, asserts a hierarchy, at least of values, but also of race, of cultural values or of languages — in short, of all the components of identity that differentiate the experiences of students of color from those of our white peers. At Yale, however, the focus remains on “reaching” people of color, primarily through the cultural centers.

Diversity programming tends to make numerous false assumptions; most programs focus on placing fliers in the cultural centers and accepting token students of color into historically white groups. In doing so, they falsely conjecture that students of color are universally welcomed by the cultural centers, even when large swaths of students, such as Middle Eastern or North African students, find themselves completely excluded from the cultural center framework. Even when students aren’t explicitly excluded, many others still don’t find value in the cultural center setup. Second, attempting to capitalize on the cultural centers assumes that students’ engagement with the cultural centers serves as a suitable alternative to the hubs of white sociocultural power on campus (this includes most student organizations housed outside of the cultural centers). In reality, the cultural centers, to varying degrees, serve as places of refuge and power building for the students of color that they serve. Finally, diversity rhetoric relies on tokens — it relies on the notion that students of color wish to serve the white peers that we engage with, by providing our perspectives to the discourse and our faces to the glossy brochures. Rather than treating equity as a moral imperative, it takes an exploitative stance, centered on providing opportunities to students of color.

I may be in the minority, but I don’t want opportunity: I want power. Students of color, even when we find ourselves in white dominated spaces, find ourselves on the peripheries. We find ourselves undermined by peers, faculty and administrators, typically white, who tell us we can’t complain because we have “a seat at the table,” a euphemistic shorthand for the illusion of being a stakeholder and power broker. That is not enough — we deserve to be seated at the head of the table not only because we have a surfeit of the skills to lead, but also because we must dictate our own terms of engagement with white power structures, not from within white power structures. The top-down model of white power-holders “providing opportunities” to students of color adopts a trickle-down approach that has never worked. Instead, equity demands a horizontal integration that allows students of color agency and the rights to both engagement and refusal.

White students: Take a few steps back. You already know: when we enter white-dominated spaces, we take on the implicit roles of leadership, expending invaluable emotional and intellectual labor. It is time we were given the titles and power we deserve.

Sohum Pal is a sophomore in Branford College. Contact him at sohum.pal@yale.edu .

  • Nancy Morris

    “White students: Take a few steps back.“

    It’s refreshing that this author exposes his utterly racist beliefs so blatantly. And the author’s ignorant affectation of purporting to represent and understand the needs, interests and experiences of “non-white” students generally adds an element of true knee-slapping unknowing inconsistency. Bravo! Who needs loudmouth lunatics barring schoolhouse doors when one has YDN op-eds.

    The megalomaniacal undertones of the last sentence are particularly entertaining: “It is time we were given the titles and power we deserve.” Ah, yes. I’m not so sure about the titles and power turnover, but anyone who would write and publish such a clarion call definitely deserves having somebody keeping an eye on them.

  • Man with Axe

    You know you are a racist, right? No white person could have written this about colored people and lived to tell about it.

    Honestly, you are fighting a losing battle. You should go to a college in a country where you will be in the majority, because you clearly feel that your race is the salient feature of your being.

    Failing that, try thinking of yourself as a person instead of as a non-white person. You might be surprised at how far that takes you.

    As you get older, and you realize no one is going to step back on your say-so, I hope you figure out that your race means nothing, and your character means everything. Your claim to want power and your request that people of different races should get out of your way shows that your character could use some work. Assuming that this whole article is not a parody. If it is, well done, sir.

    • Heath

      “Diversity” means chasing down the last White person.

  • Zoe

    People who accuse the columnist of being racist – look up the definition of racism because you clearly don’t know what the word means. This article makes a valid point (hardly new or bold but worth re-emphasizing). Frankly the fact that it’s in the YDN in 2017 makes me sad that things haven’t changed much in the past 20 years since I was at Yale.

    • Man with Axe

      “…you clearly don’t know what the word [racist] means…” What does it mean, then? How is this article not racist?

      • Zoe

        Racism is about power; to be racist you have to be in the position of power. The whole point of this article is about the lack of power that minority students have even when they are given a seat at the table. This is not difficult to understand. Just take race out of it and imagine any situation where one group dominates and an outsider is trying to get a voice at the table.

        • asdf

          What rights or privileges are granted to white people at Yale but withheld from other races? Last I checked, any black student at Yale could join any organization, run for any leadership position, and take any class. Has that changed since I graduated?

    • (((NunuyaBizinizz)))

  • ldffly

    Would somebody please have a little talk with admissions?

  • aaleli

    Can’t complain? Seems to me that’s all I hear.

    • yaleyeah

      Kid gets a shot at one of the most prestigious universities in the world and does nothing but whine about it. The US will not survive this generation of entitled and self-absorbed that place racial identity above character and values. What’s disgusting is Yale administration is fully on board with this.

  • 100wattlightbulb

    This is gross.

  • yaleyeah

    The racist, ghetto intellect of the modern SJW on full display. This oped is disgusting, even by YDN standards.

  • Garland

    This obnoxious entitled prick may seem like a “racist’ to you, but this is the inevitable direction that racial politics is going. So you’d better be ready for it, white people, and you’re going to need to do better than just say “you’re a racist, what if a white had said that etc.” You’re going to have to unapologetically stand up for yourselves.

  • stevesailer

    It’s okay to be white.

  • Nigel McPhearson

    You are the inevitable end of identity politics. The thing is. You people could have had the nice multi ethnic America you claimed you wanted. But it was a lie all along. You really just want power.

  • Lollerskatez

    “I may be in the minority, but I don’t want opportunity: I want power.”

    Quite frankly, I don’t think wanting power puts you in the minority at all.

  • Juan Diaz

    Very myopic view of the world when you see everything in such racial terms. I grant you that there are those in power and those out of power, but to equate power with race and race with power is ludicrous. I have dealt with people in authority many times, and you better get on their good side if you want to prevail, but if you truly believe that only someone of your own race is going to stand by you, you are sadly mistaken, and worse than that, you are a racist.