As Bulldog Days comes and goes, we are once again reminded of Yale’s alleged values and mission. Our University boasts about how it prioritizes diversity and cultivates an ethical and accepting environment. This is written into its mission statement, which reads, “We carry out this mission through the free exchange of ideas in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni.” These ideals are brought to the forefront of Yale’s agenda when attempting to attract prefrosh to Yale, coaxing them into calling this campus home for the next four years.
As a rising sophomore, I had only experienced one housing process — the one that took place during the summer preceding my first year. For incoming first years, the housing process consists of students filling out surveys listing the type of environment they would like their prospective suite to be, the level of organization and cleanliness they tend to keep, whether they are a morning or evening person, the sex of their potential suitemates and any other cultural or religious accommodations. I am not a particularly picky person. Last year, my only specific request was a single-gender suite. While grateful for my housing arrangement this year, I anticipated that this year’s housing process would simply mimic that of when you are a rising first year, sans the randomized suitemates. This was anything but the case.
I do not require any religious or cultural accommodations in terms of housing. While I am more comfortable living in a suite of all females, it is not a “necessity.” But a friend of mine, Sarah Kammourh ’22, required religious accomodations. As a Muslim female who wears a hijab, Sarah is not allowed to be seen without it by men who aren’t her immediate family. That makes not living or showering in an all-female suite and restroom almost impossible and means that the sound of a man walking toward our suite door is enough for her to grab the covering closest to her, which on occasion has been the scarf around my neck or the blanket on the couch. Inherently, I believed that her religious requests would be accommodated if it came down to us not being able to find four other female suitemates with whom to enter into the housing lottery.
In short, we struggled to find four other female suitemates, largely because many female students wanted to live with friends who happened to be male. As a result of this emerging conflict, Sarah and I asked those in charge of the housing process whether there was any way a suite with a single-gender restroom could be reserved on the grounds of religious necessity. During our first attempt to communicate this need, we were explicitly told that this was not possible due to the computerized lottery system, that it would not be able to include that request. My suitemate was subsequently questioned as to why she needed a single-gender restroom.
After a couple of weeks of bouncing back and forth between multiple individuals in the administration and being sent in multiple directions, my suitemate was finally offered a suite with a single-gender restroom, on the condition that we were able to find three other girls, as opposed to the original four. Eventually, we were able to finalize a suite with a single-gender restroom.
But, the bigger issue lies elsewhere. Rather, the gargantuan effort my suitemate had to go through, not only to explain why she needed a single-gender restroom but also to legitimize her existence as a female Muslim student on campus is dispiriting, strikingly antithetical to the Yale that this institution strives to portray. Being placed into a position in which one has to validate parts of their identity in order for their needs to be acknowledged can be disheartening and dehumanizing. This is especially true when, upon matriculating, Yale asks us about our accommodations and preferences, creating a future expectation that these things will continue to matter, continue to be accomodated. What is it that changes between our first year and the years following? Why is it that the identities that make up Yale’s prided diversity need to constantly prove themselves as legitimate, worthy of the same accommodation as others?
Asking an individual why her religious accommodations are necessary demonstrates the manner in which diversity is truly viewed by the administration. It appears as if diversity is more of a commodity meant to strengthen this University’s appeal than anything else. Yale, in more avenues than just this one, seems to work harder to push the narrative it wishes to portray, rather than actually putting its alleged values into practice.
Maybe it’s too optimistic of me to hope for a Yale where Sarah’s needs are always considered by others, where her being in an unfamiliar suite doesn’t put her on edge for unexpected guests. But at the very least, she deserves the right to be at ease in her living situation, in the corner of campus that she calls home. As college students, having a school-home divide is especially difficult — why make that harder? I think it’s reasonable to imagine a Yale where Sarah doesn’t have to prove that her identities are valid in order to be able to call this place home like the rest of us.
Leila Jackson is a first year in Saybrook College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .