Yale college

School Notes: Yale College
March/April 2008

Yale debate team wins competition in China

A group of four Yale College students demonstrated their mastery of Chinese language, rhetoric, and culture by winning the Varsity International Debate Competition in Beijing, the world's premier debate competition in Chinese for non-native speakers. The Yale team competed against teams from South Korea, Russia, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. In October, the students had beaten teams from Columbia, Princeton, and Harvard to win the right to represent the United States in the competition in China.

The team, composed of Adam Scharfman ’08, Nick Sedlet ’08, Austin Woerner ’08, and J. T. Kennedy ’09, debated controversial topics such as whether smoking should be banned; bullfighting; and, in the final competition against the team from Oxford, whether a university should be hard to get into and easy to graduate from, or easy to get into and hard to graduate from. All of the students on the team have been recipients of Yale College's Richard U. Light Fellowships, which allow students to study Chinese intensively in China over the summer.

Broader support for freshmen from diverse backgrounds

For more than 35 years, the Yale College dean's office has appointed "ethnic counselors" as part of the freshman counselor program to provide additional support for freshmen who identified with one of Yale's minority cultural groups. These counselors served as informal mentors and connected freshmen to a variety of resources on campus. The program has provided valuable assistance over the years, but students and administrators have been concerned recently that the program is inadequate to address current needs. "Yale is much more diverse than it was in 1972 when the ethnic counselor program started, but the size and scope of the program has changed very little," says Dean of Freshman Affairs George Levesque. Some of the current ethnic counselors are now responsible for up to 60 freshmen across several colleges. Meanwhile, other freshmen who are not necessarily affiliated with one of the cultural houses often face significant challenges in their adjustment to Yale but have comparatively little specialized support. After a lengthy review of the program, the dean's office recently announced a significant expansion of peer advising programs for freshmen.

Under the new system, which will go into effect in the fall of 2009, the ethnic counselors will be fully integrated into the freshman counselor program, and all 90 freshman counselors will receive extensive intercultural training. In addition, a broad network of peer mentors will be established. These peer mentors will continue much of the traditional work of ethnic counselors but in greater numbers and in a wider variety of communities. In addition to the cultural centers, the dean's office envisions having peer mentors through the Office of International Students and Scholars, the chaplain's office, the Queer Resource Center, and other offices. "We of course want to maintain and strengthen the support we have provided to students of color," Levesque said, "but we don't want to overlook equally powerful factors such as socioeconomic class, a disability, religion, being the first person in a family to attend college, or sexual identity."

Pamela Y. George, assistant dean of Yale College and director of the Afro-American Cultural Center, who coordinates the ethnic counselor program, is pleased with the move. "I believe that we are taking some very important steps in creating a more comprehensive and efficient structure that will impact the entire college and support the greatest number of students served by the freshman counselor program," she said, adding that it is "essential that we bring more intercultural education into the residential colleges and the daily lives of all students."

Students monitor elections in Kenya

Nine Yale students traveled to Nairobi over the holidays, working with election monitors from around the world, seeking to ensure fair and democratic elections in Kenya, a country where elections are still tenuous. The U.S. embassy in Nairobi helped organize the trip and train the students for what they would see over the following days, and especially on December 27, the day of the elections. On that day, the group traveled all over Nairobi from 4 a.m. until midnight, monitoring and observing conditions at the polls around the city, including Kibera and Mathare, two precincts that experienced a great deal of violence following the elections. In Kibera, the students were present when presidential candidate Raila Odinga arrived at his local polling place to vote. (Odinga, the students reported, was turned away temporarily because his name did not appear on the list of voters for that neighborhood.)

The students, most of whom left directly after the elections, agree that the short time they spent in Kenya was a valuable educational experience. "It's important for undergraduates to take full advantage of our excellent liberal arts education," said Julie Carney ’08, a political science major and a trip organizer, "and to find situations that meet the broader vision of connecting the academic with the larger world where such expertise matters." Some of the students are trying to find ways to extend the educational experience to Yale undergraduates who did not travel to Kenya. Aniket Shah ’09 added, "I really want to see us start taking a more active approach on working with youth leaders in countries like Kenya."

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