When I first arrived on campus, I knew nothing about journalism. I had started writing op-eds only a few months prior, and I was generally excited by the prospect of addressing any given publication’s readership with my opinions. So naturally, I started writing columns for the YDN. Some of them were decent, most of them were bad, but all of them gave me the chance to share my ideas with readers and start critical conversations about Yale. 

When I became a staff columnist, I sought to focus on issues of collective responsibility, of what we owe to one another and the world as Yalies. I wrote about racial injustice and class stratification as those issues presented themselves at Yale and across the country. In hindsight, the column was a bit heady, and I was never really able to cover everything that I set out to. I realize now, especially, that I never truly turned my focus to one of the most important institutions on this campus, one whose legitimacy I took as a given: the Yale Daily News. The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that this student newspaper is quite reflective of the same problems of race that plague this entire university.

Every year that I have been on this campus, I have been asked to contribute to the Black History Month “spissue” of the YDN. The first time it happened, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity — it was a chance to speak candidly about what it’s like to be a Black Yalie. So I wrote eagerly about what I had learned during my five months in college, and I shared that piece in earnest once it ran. 

The second time it happened, I was much less enthused about contributing. I had just finished a semester co-editing the News’ opinion section, and I became aware of two disappointing facts during my term. First, very few Black Yalies contributed to the News, and second, very few Black Yalies wanted to contribute to the News. Forced to step back and examine why this was the case, it didn’t take long to realize that the News was both unwelcoming to Black writers and unwilling to take meaningful steps to change that. 

One could speculate why: the News’ has a long history of covering Black communities in deeply problematic ways; it has a reputation as a cutthroat, time-intensive and occasionally toxic organization; and, as far as I’m aware, dedicated efforts to recruit Black students to the YDN are simply non-existent. That speculation is besides the point, though, because the truth remains that the Yale Daily News has a dearth of Black writers and editors. The four Black editors my year was considered a record. So I met the spissue of my sophomore year with cynicism, only speaking briefly on a YDN podcast about the same diversity problems presented here. 

This is my third time around the block, and I think it’s safe to say that I’m completely disillusioned. For yet another year, the YDN has decided to place the burden of spinning up an entire special issue on the backs of its handful of Black contributors (and anyone else they can sleeze into writing). Once this spissue is done, the effort to recruit Black contributors will likely also be done (if history is any guide). So, to me, this spissue is a farce. It is Black Yalies being given their one day in the Sun to perform and explain their Blackness to the YDN audience, and remind them that, yes, Black people do go to this school and, yes, Black people may occasionally have interesting things to say. It is the YDN’s chance to make a pro-diversity posture with as little effort as possible.

This is not to disparage the editors leading these efforts. I’d like to think that most of them are genuinely interested in making the YDN a more diverse place. Nor is it to disparage the entire concept of a special issue (or any diversity effort); a performative effort is better than no effort. A spissue is a great way to spotlight Black voices, but in the absence of any more meaningful attempts at change, it amounts to nothing more than a cheap trick. It’s a way to claim progress without actually making any.

I am somewhat encouraged by the progress that the YDN has made in recent years. It seems that the managing board has gotten more diverse, and the News even has diversity positions now. All of that is quite cute, but I’m not one to hold my breath. Every year, YDN leadership promises to commit to diversifying its staff, and that promise never materializes.  The promise of diversity itself is a false one as well, it will not necessarily address the deep-seated issues the YDN has in relating to Black communities. 

So if you’re a Black student on campus, avoid spissues and consider writing elsewhere.

Caleb Dunson is a former co-opinion editor and current columnist for the News. Originally from Chicago, Caleb is a senior in Saybrook College majoring in Political Science and Economics. His column "What We Owe," runs monthly and "explores themes of collective responsibility at Yale and beyond." Contact him at caleb.dunson@yale.edu