On Oct. 29, the News published a piece entitled “News’ View: Our Diversity Problem,” highlighting student organizations’ failure to create spaces that incorporate a diversity of voices and lived experiences. Our organization, the Yale International Relations Association, or YIRA, was one of the organizations named in the article. As the executive board, we both agree and affirm our need for concrete change.
YIRA includes more than a dozen programs under its umbrella. These programs include opportunities to organize domestic and international conferences, a competitive Model United Nations team, a public service teaching initiative, an academic international relations journal and a range of other opportunities.
We are always looking to create a more representative and diverse community. As such, the News’ article resonates with our internal conversations, prompting further discussion on our shortcomings. Conversations like these are important to have on a public platform. We are speaking out in order to start dialogue with the Yale community, to be held accountable for our statements and to call for concrete action.
In the summer of 2018, we conducted a census collecting data from our membership. The questions included geographic location, academic major, religious affiliation, gender, race and ethnicity. Although we have more than 250 members, we received only 90 responses to our census. We are continuing to solicit information from newly recruited members, and we hope to gather a more representative sample in the coming months. This tool will be useful to assess our diversity but also reveals inherent difficulties in conducting an anonymous census. We want to volunteer this information to other groups who may be interested in conducting a similar survey. However, collecting membership data is the bare minimum. This merely lays the foundation as we pursue making YIRA a space where people from all backgrounds feel comfortable. How do we best use this data to make change? What are the institutional barriers to entry that we must confront and overcome?
It is important to note that our census did not collect socioeconomic information from members. We felt that we lacked the tools or understanding at the time to ask the right questions. Having heard input from our membership, we realize that this is a crucial next step and are working to understand the ways in which socioeconomic status affects our membership.
As we gathered results, we had conversations regarding the primary barriers to diversity in our membership. We recognize that our institutional structure often favors students with prior experience with Model U.N., travel, conference-planning and an international relations curriculum.
Our applications for both leadership and membership positions are often inaccessibly complex. In the past, we have had dress codes for interviews. During those interviews, we sometimes ask about international relations experiences that suggests that applicants need to have travelled abroad prior to Yale. These are all topics of conversation during our meetings, especially during recruitment season. We endeavor to confront these barriers head-on, further interrogating our blind spots.
Accessibility is a central tenet of our philosophy. While we acknowledge that our reforms to date have not been comprehensive, we are incorporating the information from our census into future initiatives and have taken preliminary actions to reduce barriers to entry. Some of our new initiatives, which are in no way exhaustive, include a more robust need-blind financial aid program, a Western Business Attire closet, pre-tryout and pre-application office hours, information sessions and training events for students interested in joining us.
We continue to reevaluate the success of these initiatives, and whether or not they actually result in a culture of inclusivity. While these are only small steps, we see them as moving in the right direction. Indeed, we learn from those who selflessly do this work on campus, constantly inspire us to interrogate our mission statement and hold us accountable in these efforts.
As YIRA enters its 50th year, we, as the executive board, reformulated our mission statement to reflect these critical conversations that are happening at board meetings, on campus and broadly, around the world, a statement that can be found on the front page of our website. This mission cannot and will not be achieved without the incorporation of diverse voices that more accurately reflect the Yale community.
We recognize that we have a long way to go, but we want to call on all of you to join us in continuing this conversation and advancing in action.
This piece was written by the 2018–2019 executive board of YIRA: Muriel Wang ’20, Andrew Sady-Kennedy ’20, Eujin Jang ’20, Mbella Beseka ’20, Henry Suckow Ziemer ’21, Ziad Ahmed ’21, Jessica Ainooson ’20, Ornella Bayigamba ’21, Michael Borger ’20, Simon Cooper ’20, Hanah Lee ’20, Anin Luo ’20 and Elisabeth Siegel ’20.
Muriel Wang is a junior in Trumbull College. She is President of the Yale International Relations Association. This piece was written as a joint effort with the 2018-2019 YIRA executive board. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .