“What’s Cultural Representation?” a Shades Perspective

Rewind back to fall of 2015. Then, imagine a young freshman nervously fidgeting as she approaches the stage of Woolsey Hall to sing her solo for the first time. Shades of Yale, an a cappella group that sings songs of the Black Diaspora, had been invited to sing at the Multicultural Open House (MOH) event that Yale holds every year. MOH allows prospective students of color to gain a glimpse of Yale’s cultural and academic offerings. And I was the young freshman in Shades, worrying about whether or not I would hit the right notes in front of an audience I didn’t know.

With all honesty, I wasn’t as focused on the significance of MOH as I was on my solo at the time. The weight of the event hit me most when I ran into an admitted black student the following year during Bulldog Days who had attended MOH. She caught me as I was leaving Bass Library and exclaimed, “I saw you at the Multicultural Open House last year! That weekend is what sealed the deal for me.” The fact that this event allowed her to envision herself here at Yale was so incredible to me.


This past weekend, Shades sang at MOH again but this time the mindset that I held was vastly different. This was no longer about my solo, but about the prospective students watching. At the occasion, Shades and other groups such as Yale’s step team Steppin’ Out and Yale’s first American Indian performance group Blue feather performed while different panelists spoke on the cultural environment of Yale. Attendees also got to visit different cultural spaces that Yale offers such as the Afro-American Cultural Center (a central space for Shades) and the Asian American Cultural Center.


In addition to participating in Shades, I also had the opportunity of speaking with prospective students one-on-one about their experiences as a Recruitment Coordinator. As the day concluded, I bonded with one black woman who is currently a prospective student. We talked about a gamut of topics from Solange Knowles’ most recent album to the importance of female representation in STEM. There was one phrase in particular she said that stuck with me: “I’ve always looked at Yale from the outside in, but today I feel like I finally understand what it would be like on the inside.”

At times, Yale might come across as an institution that only accepts specific types of students from specific backgrounds. Some potential students of color discourage themselves from applying to Yale simply because are uncertain if they can fit in socially and/or academically on our campus. Due to a lack of representation, someone can look at the website pages and brochures we offer and unfortunately not have the ability to visualize themselves at Yale. The word ‘cultural’ can come across as an amorphous term, but MOH demonstrates how different cultures are concretely valued here. The students of our campus form the culture, the atmosphere of Yale, and that is why encouraging underrepresented ones to apply to our university is so important to me. By painting a picture of how one can thrive as an underrepresented student here, MOH helps to build bridges. For me, being part of that bridge building process was a wonderful opportunity. I can’t wait for next year’s MOH!