By Isaac Stanley-Becker
November 18 at 2:43 PM
NEW HAVEN, CONN. — The president of Yale University has unveiled a far-reaching plan to enhance the academic study of race and ethnicity and to improve the experiences of people of color, following days of protests and demonstrations on the Ivy League campus.
Peter Salovey told the university community in an e-mail that he hoped to “build a more inclusive Yale,” one without isolation and hostility.
“It is clear that we need to make significant changes so that all members of our community truly feel welcome and can participate equally in the activities of the university, and to reaffirm and reinforce our commitment to a campus where hatred and discrimination have no place,” Salovey wrote.
Yale’s plans include the creation of an academic center focused on race, ethnicity and social identity, in addition to new faculty appointments in those fields. Salovey also pledged to double resources for existing centers serving students of color and said he and other top administrators will undergo “training on recognizing and combating racism and other forms of discrimination in the academy.”
The announcement comes in response to claims, aired in public confrontations between students and administrators, that the university is inhospitable to students of color, and to minority women in particular. These claims have stirred debates about race and sensitivity on campus, which have drawn on movements for racial equality at colleges and universities around the country, including at the University of Missouri, where protests this month unseated Tim Wolfe, the president of the school in Columbia, Mo.
Protests at Yale began earlier this month after allegations surfaced that a fraternity had barred black women from a party the night before Halloween and following an e-mail from a Yale administrator, on the subject of Halloween costumes, that cast acts of cultural appropriation as expressions of free speech warranting debate and discussion. Student dissent — which hundreds of faculty members endorsed in an open letter — ultimately went deeper, charging that the university had failed to fully include minority students even as minority enrollment has increased.
“In my thirty-five years on this campus, I have never been as simultaneously moved, challenged, and encouraged by our community — and all the promise it embodies — as in the past two weeks,” Salovey wrote in an e-mail on Tuesday.
In addition to the formation of an academic center on race and ethnicity, Salovey said the school will create four new positions for scholars working on “the histories, lives, and cultures of unrepresented and under-represented communities.” Salovey already had announced a $50 million, five-year initiative to enhance faculty diversity.
The make-up of Yale’s faculty has come under heightened scrutiny as a string of minority scholars have announced plans to leave for other universities. They include Elizabeth Alexander, a prominent black poet and essayist, who will join the faculty at Columbia, and Karen Nakamura, a scholar of anthropology and East Asian studies, who plans to leave Yale for the University of California, Berkeley. Between the 2011-2012 and 2014-2015 academic years, the percentage of black tenure and tenure-track faculty fell from 4.5 percent to 3.6 percent, according to data compiled by Yale’s Office of Institutional Research.
“There’s a sense that this recent wave of campus protest is part of a larger history of repeated institutional failures and neglect,” said Vesla Weaver, an assistant professor of political science and African-American studies.
Seyla Benhabib, a professor of political science and philosophy, said Yale has failed to recruit and retain enough minority faculty members, one of the factors she believes has led to the distress of minority students, who miss the opportunity to “see a person like them in a position of authority.”
Weaver called Salovey’s response to recent campus events a “victory” for faculty who have been urging administrative action on these issues for many years. Inderpal Grewal, a professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, called this “an exciting and promising moment for Yale.”
The initiatives Salovey announced are the result, in part, of consultation with approximately 30 faculty members who have been discussing these issues for years. But one faculty member involved in the conversations said the efforts gained momentum amid recent campus unrest, distilled in a set of student demands announced last week. Students had asked Salovey for a response by Wednesday.
Jonathan Holloway — a scholar of African-American history and now the first black dean of Yale College — years ago counted himself a member of the faculty group that was urging the administration to grow the ranks of minority faculty members and to promote the study of ethnicity and race. The faculty group had advocated for a center that would demonstrate the university’s commitment to these disciplines, but the economic recession made its cost prohibitive, Holloway said in an interview.
Now a member of the administration, Holloway said these new initiatives respond to longstanding problems laid bare in a “moment of eruption,” one that found him outside the university’s main library two weeks ago, face-to-face with students of color who said he had failed to be their advocate. Holloway said the initiatives unveiled this week closely mirror the faculty’s requests.
Students embraced the spirit of Salovey’s announcement but said his proposed solutions still fall short.
“He made no effort to reach out to us to have a meeting,” said Eshe Sherley, a senior who last week joined several hundred students in delivering a set of demands to Salovey’s home. She called Tuesday’s announcement “woefully inadequate” and said it represents “lukewarm policy” and an attempt to “throw a little bit more money at the issue.”
Among the demands of the student group “Next Yale” was renaming Calhoun College, the undergraduate residential community named for John C. Calhoun, a prominent exponent of slavery and an 1804 graduate of Yale College. In his e-mail, Salovey said the Yale Corporation, the university’s board of trustees, plans to gather student input on the Calhoun label, as well as the names for the two new residential colleges currently under construction.
Adriana Miele, a senior, said she was heartened by Salovey’s acknowledgement of the problem. Still, she was dismayed that he did not act on students’ request that he remove the master and associate master of Silliman College over their handling of a controversial e-mail telling students not to be offended if they see insensitive Halloween costumes.
The Silliman master, Nicholas Christakis, told Silliman students in a meeting Sunday that it was Salovey’s decision whether he would continue to lead the college, according to a student who was present. In a Tuesday e-mail to Silliman students, Salovey and Holloway said they have asked Christakis to stay on as master.
“Both Nicholas and Erika Christakis remain committed to serving the college, and we fully support them in these efforts,” the administrators wrote.
In a victory for low-income students, Salovey said there will be a reduction in the amount of money students must contribute to their own financial aid packages, on top of what their parents may already pay in tuition. The specific amount was not specified.
“I’m excited by the general spirit of the announcement, but there are a lot of places where it could fall apart in the details and the implementation,” Sherley said. “This is a university, and we get to critique each other’s work.”
Here is his letter in full:
Dear Members of the Yale Community,
In my thirty-five years on this campus, I have never been as simultaneously moved, challenged, and encouraged by our community—and all the promise it embodies—as in the past two weeks. You have given strong voice to the need for us to work toward a better, more diverse, and more inclusive Yale. You have offered me the opportunity to listen to and learn from you—students, faculty, staff, and alumni, from every part of the university.
I have heard the expressions of those who do not feel fully included at Yale, many of whom have described experiences of isolation, and even of hostility, during their time here. It is clear that we need to make significant changes so that all members of our community truly feel welcome and can participate equally in the activities of the university, and to reaffirm and reinforce our commitment to a campus where hatred and discrimination have no place.
We begin this work by laying to rest the claim that it conflicts with our commitment to free speech, which is unshakeable. The very purpose of our gathering together into a university community is to engage in teaching, learning, and research—to study and think together, sometimes to argue with and challenge one another, even at the risk of discord, but always to take care to preserve our ability to learn from one another.
Yale’s long history, even in these past two weeks, has shown a steadfast devotion to full freedom of expression. No one has been silenced or punished for speaking their minds, nor will they be. This freedom, which is the bedrock of education, equips us with the fullness of mind to pursue our shared goal of creating a more inclusive community.
Four key areas, outlined below, will give structure to our efforts to build a more inclusive Yale, and the deans of all of Yale’s schools will provide leadership across the university. I look forward to working with everyone in the days and months ahead to refine and expand on these themes. In a time when universities and communities around the country are coming together to address longstanding inequalities, I believe that Yale can and should lead the way. Many of you have proposed ideas for constructive steps forward, and my hope is that our collective endeavors can become a model for others to emulate.
The conversations we are having today, about freedom of expression and the need for inclusivity and respect—principles that are not mutually exclusive—resonate deeply with the issue Dean Holloway and I addressed at the beginning of the semester, about the name of Calhoun College. At that time, I quoted President Lincoln and said that Yale, like our nation, has “unfinished work.” This is just as true with the work that stands before us now. I am eager to embark on it with you.
Strengthening the Academic Enterprise
Race, ethnicity, and other aspects of social identity are central issues of our era, issues that should be a focus of particularly intense study at a great university. For some time, Yale has been exploring the possibility of creating a prominent university center supporting the exciting scholarship represented by these and related areas. Recent events across the country have made clear that now is the time to develop such a transformative, multidisciplinary center drawing on expertise from across Yale’s schools; it will be launched this year and will have significant resources for both programming and staff. Over time, this center will position Yale to stand at the forefront of research and teaching in these intellectually ambitious and important fields.
Yale already has outstanding faculty members who are doing cutting-edge scholarship on the histories, lives, and cultures of unrepresented and under-represented communities. To build on this strong foundation, I will ask the committee that oversees the allocation of resources in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to devote four additional faculty positions to these areas, housing them in relevant FAS departments and programs. We will hire the very best scholars to bring their knowledge and insight to our students and the broader community.
In the meantime, in expectation of increased student interest, we are adding additional teaching staff and courses in Yale College starting in spring 2016 that address these topics. To continue the conversation outside the classroom, throughout the university, Yale will launch a five-year series of conferences on issues of race, gender, inequality, and inclusion.
Earlier this month Provost Ben Polak and I announced a $50 million, five-year, university-wide initiative[president.yale.edu] that will enable all of our schools to enhance faculty diversity. This is a campus-wide priority. Within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which includes the faculty who teach in Yale College, we will invite one of our senior faculty members to take on the responsibility of helping to guide the FAS in its diversity efforts and its implementation of the initiative. This new leadership position will be located in the office of the dean of the FAS, and will hold the title of deputy dean for diversity in the FAS and special advisor to the provost and president. The deputy dean will also coordinate support and mentoring for our untenured faculty. Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler and the FAS deputy dean will convene a new committee to advise them about faculty diversity issues and strategies for inclusion.
Expanding Programs, Services, and Support for Students
Starting in 2016-17, the program budgets for the four cultural centers will double, augmenting the increases made this year and the ongoing facilities upgrades resulting from last year’s external review. The expanded funding will enable the centers to strengthen support for undergraduate students and extend support to the graduate and professional student communities. Staffing will be adjusted, and facilities for each center will continue to be assessed with an eye toward identifying additional enhancements. In addition, I will ask the deans of our schools to explore ways in which our community, including our extraordinary alumni, can increase the support and mentorship they provide to our students.
Financial aid policies for low-income students in Yale College, the subject of a spring 2015 report by the Yale College Council, will also see improvements beginning in the next academic year. Details will soon be announced, and will include a reduction in the student effort expectation for current students. In the meantime, funds for emergencies and special circumstances already available through the residential colleges and the financial aid offices are also being reviewed and increased. We will follow up with the graduate and professional schools to ensure that they also have the capacity to support students in times of emergency.
Professional counselors from YaleHealth will work with the directors of the four cultural centers to schedule specified hours at each center, building on the existing mental health fellows program in the residential colleges. Additional multicultural training will be provided to all of the staff in the Department of Mental Health and Counseling at YaleHealth, and renewed efforts will be made to increase the diversity of its professional staff. These changes are in addition to the improvements that we are already making in our mental health services for students across the university.
Improving Institutional Structures and Practices
Educating our community about race, ethnicity, diversity, and inclusion begins with the university’s leadership. I, along with the vice presidents, deans, provosts, and other members of the administration, will receive training on recognizing and combating racism and other forms of discrimination in the academy. Similar programs will be provided to department chairs, directors of graduate and undergraduate studies, masters and deans, student affairs staff, and others across the university.
We are also making funds available to improve existing programs and develop new ones—both during orientation periods and beyond—that explore diversity and inclusion and provide tools for open conversations in all parts of the university about these issues. Programs may take the form of trainings, speaker series, or other ongoing activities. We will appoint a committee of students, faculty, and staff to help us develop and implement these efforts, so that we can learn to work together better to create an inclusive community, a community in which all feel they belong.
The work of creating robust and clear mechanisms for reporting, tracking, and addressing actions that may violate the university’s clear nondiscrimination policies will be rolled out in two phases: in the first, which will take place immediately, we will work with students to communicate more clearly the available pathways and resources for reporting and/or resolution. Then, in the spring, we will review and adopt, with input from students, measures to strengthen mechanisms that address discrimination. I have asked Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kim Goff-Crews to lead this work.
Representations of Diversity on Campus
To broaden the visible representations of our community on campus, I am asking the Committee on Public Art to hold an open session at which members of the campus can present ideas for how we might better convey and celebrate our diversity and its history. Just as Yale in recent years has heralded the role and contributions of women by increasing the number of portraits of women across campus and by commissioning the Women’s Table in front of Sterling Memorial Library, we can more accurately reflect the vibrancy of our university community.
Finally, many of you have asked with renewed interest about the names of the new residential colleges as well as the name of Calhoun College. In the next year, the Yale Corporation will be deciding the names of the two new colleges that will open in August 2017. I have asked the Corporation’s senior fellow to organize meetings with several other fellows at which community members can express their views both about names for the new colleges and about Calhoun. Corporation fellows value, and will continue to hold, in-person and other discussions as they move toward making decisions.
We take these important steps in the full knowledge that our community will have to do much more to create a fully inclusive campus. To lead the way forward, I am creating a presidential task force representing all constituencies to consider other projects and policies. The efforts that we launch today, and the commitment to the core values they represent, must be continuous, ongoing, and shared by all of us. I thank all of you for the perspectives you have offered already and for all that you will contribute to the work that lies ahead.
President and Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology