Lifting the Burden to Educate

by Treston Codrington

At a time when students around the nation are confronting the negligence of their school administrators and calling for their resignation, Yale administrators like Timothy Dwight (TD) Head of College Mary Lui and Dean Sarah Mahurin have decided to take action.

During last Saturday’s brunch, TD held an open forum for students to discuss the current racial and gender issues facing Yale’s campus. It was not an easy conversation to have, but there were two important conclusions from the meeting: The first was that many students felt they didn’t have the space to talk or think freely about racial tensions on campus and second was that students of color on the front lines are exhausted from bearing the burden to educate.

Mary Lui is very aware of her role as the “intellectual, cultural, and social” leader of TD College. This is Lui’s first semester as the Head of TD and already she is wildly popular. “Mixmaster L,” as she is affectionately called by TD sophomore Rosa Vargas, has made a great effort to get to know the people of Timothy Dwight intimately. “She has made a great effort to get to know all of the Master’s Aides and freshman especially,” said Vargas, one of the TD kitchen aides. “She also met with the kitchen aides and other aides in charge of TD spaces at the beginning of the year to learn about how the student spaces worked and work on ways of improving them. She really cares about the TD family. It’s obvious she’s very dedicated to the college.”

When she isn’t sitting through her popular TD office hours, Lui can be found in the American Studies department. Professor Lui specializes in Asian-American history, Women and Gender Studies, as well as Urban history. With this background she and Dean Mahurin, who has a Yale Ph.D in English with a focus in Southern and African-American literature, felt prepared to make a move. “As educators, Dean Mauhrin and I felt like [we have got to] do our job. Let us help take the burden of educating our students. Let’s own it.”

In an e-mail following up Saturday’s brunch, Lui reaffirmed her and Dean Mahurin’s commitment to making sure everyone at Yale feels at home. “As the Dean and Master of the college,” Lui wrote, “we are not here to question those experiences or emotions but to take them on as a sign that we have to do better as a college and university.” She recognized the “ethical obligation” that students of color feel “to carry on the work of…activists before us.” She also recognized that many students ask how they can better understand the pain and anger of students of color on campus. “We’ve seen the very distressed, the very confused, and the very supportive.” she told me. “Students want to be thoughtful and helpful but are not sure how they can be.”

So she and Dean Mahurin created the reading group, which originated as a student idea. The reading group meets for 6 hour-long sessions held during lunch period in Timothy Dwight’s Thompson Room. The first session was Thursday, November 12th, and the sessions will continue through Friday, November 20th. “It is a big experiment and a nice start to creating more intellectual spaces.” Each session has a reading assigned to it that students do before hand in order to have a profound discussion.

The idea seems to be well received by TD students. All six sessions are fully booked. “I think they have the potential to bring our community closer together as literature seems like one of the better and fuller means of communication we have,” said William Eckner (TD ’18). TD senior Asia Brown responded, “I think it is a good and necessary opportunity for students to take advantage of. Especially considering we don’t have mandatory classes to help people learn about themselves and others.”

In fact, Lui also recommended in her e-mail that students also take classes on social inequality to “build a critical vocabulary needed to engage in those questions as both an intellectual enterprise and an ethical duty.” Another TD student told me, “It’s awesome that people want to educate themselves on this matter. It means I’ll be less likely to have to explain the same thing six times a day.”

If we are to move forward at all in terms of racial equality. WE need to understand each other’s pain and grief. We can’t move forward if half of us don’t understand or even perceive a problem So now, Yale. As the saying goes, the ball is in your court. It is time we all bear the burden to educate ourselves.

Below are the list of the books that TD students will be discussing over the next week:

Richard Wright, “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow,”

Martha Biondi, “The Black Revolution on Campus”

poetry by Natasha Trethewey

Zitkala-za “School Days of an Indian Girl”

Asian American Students’ Report (1970s) and other readings

Jeff Hobbs, The Short and Tragic Life