The Yale Daily News has a conformity problem. Yale students know it, and the News should too.
In October of 2018, two News’ Views — “Our Diversity Problem” and “Our Diversity Report” — assessed the racial and socioeconomic makeup among 42 members of the News’ Managing Board, expressing through a written piece and a collection of simplistic pie charts how “ashamed” the board was for not exactly matching Yale College’s already-arbitrary quotas for diversity. Shockingly, these accounts demonstrated that the current leadership is a tad too white and rich — who would have guessed?
No attempt was made, however, to double-check the last 20 years of Managing Boards’ diversity, nor was there any information reported on other factors that are crucial to identity besides race and socioeconomic status, such as geographic data or religious affiliation. These sorts of things matter when five out of six new staff columnists hail from the exotic land of New York or when religious views are frequently overshadowed by columns, administrative policy or Yale College Council initiatives that call for an aggressively sex-positive campus culture.
While well-intentioned, this report and a series of similar columns produced by two large organizations — see “RAO: The YCC Responds” and “WANG: YIRA Responds” — all make the same mistake: They assume that discussions on diversity must begin and end with representation. That view, at its best, attempts to reflect a variety of backgrounds in its leadership. This is an uncontroversial and noble endeavor for institutions with important positions of power across the country.
In such an intimate environment as Yale, however, a representation-centric mindset assumes too quickly that people with certain sets of identities will produce certain sets of opinions. It runs the risk of forgetting that disadvantaged people, too, are independent-thinking individuals. At the same time, it often masks over the nuances of personal experience, assuming that we all conform to the same standard of “diversity” — one that, more often than not, only serves to make wealthy people feel better about themselves.
Now, before you throw down the paper in disgust at my bigoted, unreasonable views, I beg you, my astoundingly wealthy, self-righteous peer, to listen to my story.
I come from a single-parent home. I belong to the lowest income bracket represented at Yale — less than $30,000. I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a state entirely alien to any place in the Northeast, in a neighborhood where drug use, homicides and broken families are endemic. Where I’m from, kids have less than a 17 percent chance of graduating college; many of them barely struggle through high school. They could never even conceive of a place like Yale — they probably couldn’t even understand what it means to eat three full meals a day, like we do in our dining halls. At the same time, I’ve talked to countless people around my block that prove how resilient and intelligent poor families with good parents can be. Some of the best friends I grew up with are illegal immigrants, struggling against a system that doesn’t give them a path to legitimize their drive to succeed.
While race certainly influences a person’s experience, a diversity of experience is irreducible to race. I’ve encountered plenty of people at Yale, who, while of a different race, simply can’t understand what it means to grow up poor in Tulsa. To imply, as these representation manifestos do, that race and poverty are inextricably linked forgoes any notion of progress in the past 50 years, turning a blind eye to the real experiences of individuals growing up in poverty. Demands for an emphasis on quota-based representation reduces people to what they can’t change about themselves and assumes that their intellectual worth is only valuable insofar as it reflects their marginalized or privileged background in the way that people in power believe it should.
It’s not the job of disadvantaged people to “create” diverse environments in every space at Yale. And it’s not “diversity” to think that everyone who is disadvantaged in one category shares the same views with everyone else in that category. True diversity emerges when everyone is respected as an individual who is equally capable of engaging or disengaging, agreeing or disagreeing, as they please. It’s a great failure to only consider ourselves to be engaging in “productive” conversations on diversity when we fall in line and play the endless representation game.
“Having an opinion” can’t be reduced to “agreeing with the obvious.” It will not take 140 years to make the News, and Yale, a less conformist place. But that starts with ensuring that people — from all backgrounds — are respectfully given the right to be more than meets the eye.
Leland Stange is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at email@example.com .