During my conversation last week with Bria Godley, a black undergraduate at Yale, she theorized that “the disconnect between how Yale presents itself and the reality of racial strife at Yale is partly due to students’ tendency to academically self-segregate.” She explained:
...black students are overrepresented in Af-Am Studies classes. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, I cannot help but roll my eyes when white students defend themselves by saying that they simply “don’t understand” what it is like to be a minority, as if the minority experience is not well documented in current events and in literature. The people of color at Yale can articulate injustices, no matter how nuanced, not only because of their lived experience but also because of the vocabulary and theoretical framework that these classes and the articles they read have given them. But, it seems as if white students tend to shy away from the topic of race because they not only lack the experience, but the educational and theoretical foundation to address it.
Although Yale projects this image of a diverse community in which people are smart enough to avoid offending others with their ignorance, due to this self-segregation, many students of color at Yale feel isolated and disrespected by the majority population.
One needn’t hold any particular view in the long-running debate over the optimal role of black studies on campus to see how students at the same institution, but enmeshed in different texts, frameworks, and academic approaches, might feel isolated from one another or talk past one another in ways that cause some to feel disrespected.
And I wondered, how do Yalies decide whether or not to take a black studies course, anyway? Yale graduate Christopher Finney emailed one answer: