I walked into the Franklin dance studio on Sept. 13, my heart throbbing with excitement as I prepared to audition for Taps at Yale. Mental flashbacks of the leaders’ warm Instagram posts and welcoming energy during the Extracurricular Bazaar made me jump at the prospect of finally finding a community I can come home to and stomp the ground with after a hard day of classes.
I left that same night having decided that I will no longer pursue tap dancing at Yale — regardless of whether or not I get into the group. Throughout the audition, which consisted of prospective members tapping in a group, I felt uncomfortable and out of place. In the moment, surrounded by a nearly completely white group of auditionees, instructors and club alumni, I wasn’t an individual, but rather something to be compared against— a pretty easy thing to do given my dark skin tone and the pennies I had glued to the bottom of my sneakers.
All I had wanted to do was have a good time, dance and meet new people, but I found myself hesitant to ask questions about the choreography for fear of being judged. I intentionally masked my energy because I felt as though I wasn’t good enough. Not once did someone approach me for a check-in, and no one acknowledged that I felt bad until I personally asked to speak to the leader afterwards.
The reason why we applied to college is to pursue something we know we aren’t perfect at but love, or to explore new things that pique our budding interests as we continue to make sense of the world around us. We shouldn’t be punished for doing either of those things. At an institution like Yale where social elitism runs rampant, there needs to be active encouragement and support for historically marginalized groups.
Modern efforts to make the world more inclusive often include useless attempts at making numbers — we are 80 percent international, we have X number of diverse people in our group. Diversity is more than about achieving a particular statistic or doing it for the name, as a testament to a particular group’s degree of “acceptance.”
We must realize that it is no longer enough to see other cultures as a subset of the cumulative colonizer perspective. Actively seeking out a Black person to be present at an open house to appear “diverse,” telling others to heart react BLM posts or reading books authored by a Latinx writer only during Hispanic Heritage Month only further perpetuates this vision in which other cultures and identities must depend on firmly rooted whiteness. What’s more, these juvenile efforts suggest that little else is required aside from a certain statistic. They assume that newly recruited members of underrepresented backgrounds will be completely happy and comfortable in their new position simply because they have people who look like them to look up to. They fail to check up on them until it’s too late.
This piece is not to dump on a particular club that I didn’t vibe with. It is frustration at a systemic pattern in which white perpetrators of power give themselves the right to dictate what diversity is and what it isn’t — to determine how certain activities that historically originate from other groups should be run. Tap is a traditional Black art form that started with enslaved peoples finding other outlets of dance expression after slave owners took away their percussive instruments. The first dancers didn’t have tap shoes, and instead relied on wooden attachments or coins. The dance style was learned, performed and perfected in a communal setting where everyone celebrated each other’s history, struggles and achievements. It wasn’t meant to be a way to compare financially underprivileged people of color to dancers who have already had years of professional lessons.
Being accepting requires establishing an environment where people aren’t afraid to speak up and ask questions. It means making resources easily accessible to people who need support. These can appear in the form of consulting sessions, and individualized help on a given academic or extracurricular skill. No one should be put in a position in which they need to be the ones physically asking for help.
Though change at an institution like Yale — where everything stands on centuries of oppression and classism — can be challenging, we can always begin small— in the next club meeting you’re headed to or while checking in on the next person we meet. Furthermore, realize that whatever currently exists at Yale is not your only option when it comes to channeling your interests. Start your own activity or even take it outside.
Who’s going to stop me from tap dancing in the rain anyway?