Yale Plans to Stop Offering Separate 'Ethnic Counselors' to Minority Freshmen

February 25, 2009

Officials of Yale University’s undergraduate college have announced plans to cease maintaining a group of student “ethnic counselors” for minority freshmen, and instead to provide all freshman counselors with intercultural training — a move that is getting mixed reviews from students.

Gwendolyn Dungy, executive director of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, said she expects other colleges to follow Yale’s lead in restructuring their counseling efforts and, in many cases, eliminating separate counseling programs for minority students. “I think it is going to happen in a lot of places,” Ms. Dungy said. Many of the colleges that have talked to her about making such changes, she said, “are really having to do it because of the financial situation.”

Yale College now assigns 78 seniors to serve as residential student counselors for freshmen and has an additional 13 seniors assigned to work with students from racial and ethnic minority groups. Its planned overhaul of its counseling program, to take effect in the fall, calls for its ethnic-counselor program — established in the early 1970s — to be merged into its regular freshman counseling program, which will be expanded to employ 103 students.

As part of the change, the college plans to try to recruit a more diverse counseling force. It also says it will seek to better serve students who are not necessarily members of minority groups but who nonetheless face challenges in adjusting to Yale, such as those who come from low-income backgrounds or are members of the first generation of their family to attend college, a statement issued by the college says.

The statement says the planned change “represents a significant increase in specialized support over the current system,” under which some ethnic counselors have responsibility for up to 60 students across several of Yale’s residential colleges. The statement quotes Mary Miller, dean of Yale College, as calling the change “an important expansion in recognition of Yale’s diverse population.”

Some minority students, however, have expressed reservations about the proposed change. And an editorial in the Yale Daily News objects to the college’s likely need for affirmative action to ensure enough diversity in its counseling force.

“We object to the notion that freshman counselors will, with some additional training, be able to perform all the functions ethnic counselors have traditionally performed,” the editorial says. “A freshman disappointed by her distance from her ethnic counselor will not likely find a freshman counselor with ethnic-counselor training to be a more helpful source of guidance.” —Peter Schmidt