Finding Home at Yale

by Janis Jin

The clearest memory I have from Bulldog Days is of Yuni Chang standing on a chair during the PoC and Indigenous prefrosh event and telling us, the students of color in the class of 2020, “Prefrosh: this has, is, and always will be your Yale.”

Yale was not my dream school. But when I visited Yale during Bulldog Days, I knew that it was everything I wanted for my next four years. I fell in love with this place.

I think a lot about what it means for a space to feel like home. What causes us to become so attached to spaces? What kinds of spatial and temporal relationships allow for us to call someplace home? Home for me is the lull of my parents watching Korean drama in the living room at night; my neighborhood park that still has the same yellow slide and green swing set from when I was in the third grade; the stone ledge in the Humanities building of my high school where I used to study in 6 am stillness. Home is the quiet comfort of the spaces that hold us, the security of familiarity, knowing that we belong, that we love and are loved. Walking out of Bass and back to Old Campus in the evening, surrounded by beautiful buildings whose names I am finally beginning to learn, smiles belonging to faces I recognize and also those I do not, and elm trees that have become companions to sit beside between classes – I am beginning to feel at home here.

What I have learned, though, is that Yale exists in two realities. As a student in FKA Calhoun College, every time I eat in the dining hall I cannot help but look up at the stained glass windows and wonder what Corey Menafee felt in his moment of resistance, when the racist legacies in which this place is rooted became physical, tangible, breakable, destructible. I cannot help but think of the unpaid labor that has created these beautiful ivory towers, the Black and brown and yellow bodies exploited by this institution that gives me the education my immigrant parents believe will promise the life of my dreams, the stolen Quinnipiac land on which we stand and build our futures. Yale is incredible. We are so lucky to be here; I still cannot believe I am here. But I remind myself that I cannot forget this history. We cannot forget this history. Do not forget this history.

Like many incoming students, I heard about the protests last fall and read extensively about the issues at Yale that made national news headlines. From large media outlets like The Atlantic, Democracy Now! and The New Yorker, to articles written by actual Yale students, it seemed as though everyone had something to say about what was happening at Yale. As a senior in high school, there were aspects I didn’t understand at the time that I am starting to grasp more now that I’m here. It is one thing to be detached from Yale and talk about it. But to be here, in this physical space, is something else.

To be a student of color at Yale is to know that this place is at once our home and our pain.

On Thursday afternoons, I walk from “Intro to Third World Studies” with Gary Okihiro to my English 125 class in ten minutes. How interesting it is to navigate these two spaces. In “Intro to Third World Studies,” I sit quietly, captivated, in the back of a lecture hall and learn about discourse of colonialism and global power structures, the history of student activism, and how third world liberation is tied to ethnic studies demands. In English 125, the notorious “Major English Poets” course here at Yale and a required class for the English major, I sit around a rectangular wooden table with mostly white students and discuss the works of writers who are, without exception, all white and male.

As an East Asian from an upper-middle class background, I still navigate white spaces with relative ease in comparison to other students of color. This is an important distinction to make – that not all people of color experience oppression in the same ways and to the same degrees. If you are a student of color who looks like me, know that we do not experience what our Black and brown friends do. Know this. Feel it. Do not stand for it. Demand change. We cannot have these conversations without first acknowledging our positions and privileges within our spaces.

I keep hearing that as the class of 2020, we are coming into Yale at an “interesting time.” Things are changing, but they are far from perfect. Yale is taking steps, but still making wrong moves. We have a brand new center dedicated to the study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration. The Ethnicity, Race & Migration is becoming one of the fastest-growing majors on campus. Debates about the naming of Calhoun are happening everywhere from dining hall discussions to freshman orientation meetings. The English department is reviewing its curriculum to discuss classes like English 125/126. Professor Jessica Brantley opened our first English 125 class with a conversation about the English literary canon and if/why it should be expanded to include voices of women and people of color.

Yale is changing. We are changing it. The then-high-school seniors who wrote our “Why Yale?” essays on the Ethnicity, Race & Migration major, the Black women who led campus protests last fall, the resilient now-graduates who left Yale better than it was when they were in our shoes – we are changing this place. We are changing Yale because we love it. Because although it is built on legacies of our pain, it is still our home. And we give this place our greatest love with the weight of our ancestors’ resistance in our blood and in our bones, by challenging its history and transforming its future.

I am still learning what it means to be a student here – what it means to be student of color, what it means to be an Asian American woman in the English major, what it means to support Black students and Black women and Black power when I am a member of a residential college named after John C. Calhoun. There are a lot of intangible parts of this place that I do not understand, and perhaps never will. But what I do know is that Yale is beginning to feel like home. Complex in its love and history, but still home, nonetheless. And we will inhabit this space by resisting the injustices in which it is rooted. As the class of 2020, we will continue the legacy of resilience left by last year’s students and the students of color who came before us, who have given us community, solidarity, strength, love.

I will echo the words of my friend Yuni: this has, is, and always will be our Yale. Know these words. Believe them. Live them. This is our Yale.