A cool November morning in New Haven, Connecticut. Yale University students and alumni march across campus chanting "No justice, no peace!", "United we stand!" and other slogans. Protestors carry signs with statements like "Bigotry at Yale ends now!" and "Educate against hate!" Now, if you've been keeping up with the news this past week, you'd say I was describing the March of Resilience that took place at Yale a few days ago. Good guess, but incorrect. These descriptions are of the Rally Against Hate that took place Wednesday, November 14, 2007.
Eight years ago, I was a freshman at Yale. Like most freshmen at any university, I was excited to be in this new place with new people. I was eager to learn, compare my experiences in Chicago with the experiences of my classmates from all over the world, and make Yale my own. I'd joined a few student organizations, settled into my academic schedule, started my job at one of Yale's libraries, and was preparing for friends to come visit for my first Harvard-Yale weekend. Then, I woke up to a text message about someone spray-painting "Nigger School" on the wall of one of the residential colleges. This graffiti, along with the "Drama Fags" graffiti on the wall of the University Theatre and the blackface Halloween costumes worn by students two weeks before, crushed my idealistic thoughts of a Yale for all. I was upset. Many Yalies of color and the LGBT community were hurt and angry. The result was the Rally Against Hate. We shared our stories, used our voices, and demanded change. We called for adding a cultural studies curriculum to the graduation requirements to enhance cultural education, the renaming of Calhoun College, more representation of people of color in the administration, recognition of students of color as equal members of the Yale community, and a protocol for reporting incidents of discrimination on campus.
Was I naïve for thinking Yale would be a place free of racism and bigotry? Perhaps. Was my naiveté all my fault? No. I, like many students of color before and after me, was sold the idea that Yale was an inclusive, welcoming place were all would feel accepted regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, or sexual orientation. I, like many students of color before and after me, quickly found that the reality of life on campus did not match the stories I'd read in viewbooks or heard at information sessions. I was called a race baiter for planning a rally and using my voice. I was told to stop being so sensitive and to transfer if I didn't like it. I started to feel like I didn't belong at Yale. This place I'd chosen and was so excited to make my own wasn't mine after all.
So, I did two things. First, I did everything I could to make it look like I belonged at Yale. I bought Yale hoodies to wear everyday. I figured this would stop people from asking if I actually went to Yale, requesting to see my Yale ID to enter certain spaces, and allowing gates and doors to close in front of me so I'd have to use my ID to unlock them. Second, since I couldn't make Yale my own, I made my own Yale instead. I created my own bubble within the bubble. I accepted that there were places on campus that weren't mine, some events that students of color just shouldn't attend, and some Yalies who would feel more included than I ever could. I ignored racist jokes and comments by professors and classmates. I ignored the blackface that popped up every Halloween. I embraced my Yale and ignored people and things that would burst my bubble within the bubble. When asked about Yale, it was easy to say how much I loved it and how amazing it was, but it was only because I was focused on my Yale.
Fast forward eight years, and it seems history is repeating itself. A couple of weeks ago, Yale's Intercultural Affairs Council sent an email to the student body encouraging students to avoid Halloween attire that "disrespects, alienates or ridicules segments of our population based on race, nationality, religious belief or gender expression." Erika Christakis, assistant Master of Silliman College at Yale, sent a follow-up email saying "how we dress ourselves" is an "exercise of free speech," and questioning "is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious... a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?" She encouraged students to "look away [from costumed classmates], or tell them that you're offended." Now, some people will say the current students should do exactly what I did. Instead of marching and organizing, they should just ignore the micro-aggressions, blackface and other ethnically offensive costumes, racist jokes, and discrimination. They shouldn't speak out to professors or fellow students who offend them. They should just embrace the inclusive spaces of Yale and make their own bubble within the bubble. I couldn't disagree more! There was a price for my silence. I didn't get to enjoy the full Yale experience. No Yale student should have to settle for a piece of Yale. No student at any school should have to settle for a small piece of it.
The student activists at Yale are protesting because they refuse to settle. They want the Yale they were promised in viewbooks, info sessions, alumni interviews, and Bulldog Days (Yale's admitted students weekend). They want the inclusive university they chose. They are not asking to be coddled. They are asking to be respected as full members of the Yale community, capable of accessing all that Yale has to offer. They are courageous enough to stand up and demand that Yale live up to its promises. As a black, Yale alumna who didn't feel like I got the Yale I chose, I hope the administration will take the necessary steps to make Yale a better, safer, more inclusive space for all Yalies. As an alumna who loves and believes in the university, I stand with current students and alumni of color dedicated to holding the university accountable for as long as it takes. We out here. We've been here. We aint leaving. We are loved.