Yale’s President Announces Major New Commitments to Diversity Initiatives in Wake of Student Protests

Yale Law School (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Yale Law School (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the wake of the massive student protests that have rocked the Yale campus highlighting the institutional racism of the school and the hostile campus climate that students of colour endure, university president Peter Salovey sent a campus-wide email this afternoon announcing several new commitments for improving inclusivity and diversity at the school.

The announced commitments were broken down into four major areas. First, Salovey announced a commitment to improve the racial diversity of Yale’s faculty by creating four new faculty positions to be filled by those whose scholarship is devoted to “the histories, lives and cultures of unrepresented and underrepresented communities”; their hiring will be guided by a new “Deputy Dean for Diversity” position that will also be created. Salovey also announced a commitment to increase the number of courses and teaching staff dedicated to topics of diversity, including “a five-year series of conferences on issues of race, gender, inequality and inclusion”. Finally, Salovey hinted — but did not explicitly state — renewed interest in creating a multidisciplinary ethnic studies department, which I can only hope would include some form of Asian American Studies offering (because, dude, #WeNeedAAPIStudies).

In another exciting announcement, Salovey committed to expanding programs and services for students. This includes a commitment to increase funding for the school’s four cultural centers, including the Asian American Cultural Center (AACC) which does great work for students. The AACC hosted a phenomenal event to give AAPI students a forum to express their solidarity with other protesters of colour and their outrage towards school administration, and it has hosted me as a guest speaker in the past. An external review revealed last year that most of the cultural centers are massively underfunded and “in poor physical condition”. Salovey also committed to improving multicultural training for Yale’s on-campus mental health professionals, and to work with the current directors of Yale’s cultural centers to improve access to these services for students. Finally, Salovey also committed to increasing financial aid policies for low-income students at the school.

Salovey’s third area for improvement involves educating university leadership on issues of race and diversity. Salovey announced that he, along with the school’s vice presidents, deans, provosts and other administrators (including College Masters such as Nicholas Christakis) would undergo diversity training as the first step towards beginning a conversation on institutionalized racism at the school. In addition, Salovey said he would commit more funds to the creation and improvement of programs that focus on diversity issues for students, during orientation and afterwards. Finally, Salovey announced that he will institute a new system for reporting and addressing incidents that violate the school’s nondiscrimination policy.

Lastly, Salovey announced commitments to alter structural representations of diversity on campus. He announced that the Committee on Public Art would be considering new ideas focused on the representation and celebration of marginalized identities. But, more importantly, Salovey addressed the controversy surrounding Calhoun College, which is named for John C. Calhoun, noted chattel slavery proponent during the Civil War. Salovey wrote that he will implement a mechanism whereby Yale community members can provide input on the names of Calhoun College and two new (still unnamed) residential colleges slated to open August 2017.

Salovey also put to rest the absurd argument that the protests of the past week have anything to do with free speech; it doesn’t, except in the minds of those who are fundamentally opposed to discussions of diversity and inclusion.

This announcement appears to address the vast majority of the demands issued by Yale’s student protesters last week. This is a major victory for Yale’s student protesters, but all those committed to racial justice must now redouble our efforts to ensure that the promises made by President Salovey in this email do not turn out to be empty ones.

The full text of Salovey’s email is reproduced below:

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 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.


Peter Salovey
President and Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology

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