December 2, 2013

I have just returned from Thanksgiving break – although Marta and I stayed fairly close to home – as have most of you. I hope everyone is energized to face the final weeks of the semester!

Thanksgiving is a special time in this country, one that unites us in a common expression of gratitude. Thanksgiving itself, however, has been a difficult holiday for some. Many Native Americans feel that the story of early English settlers and the Wampanoag Native Americans happily dining together presents a false picture of the relationship between those groups and has contributed to harmful stereotypes lasting even to the present.

We have not been immune to the effects of these stereotypes at Yale, but Yale has worked to provide a welcoming atmosphere for Native Americans in recent years, and even extending back more than 100 years.

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I attended the dedication of the Native American Cultural Center at Yale. The building that houses the NACC includes spaces for meetings, studying, cooking, art, drumming, and just hanging out. For many in our Native American community, it seems like a dream come true, something that was unimaginable less than a decade ago. But through the generosity, dedication, creativity, and hard work of donors, deans, staff, and students, a vision of community initially shared by a few has become a reality for many.

One of the exhibits in the house tells the story of Henry Roe Cloud, the first Native American student to graduate from Yale. He completed a B.A. in psychology and philosophy in 1910 and an M.A. in anthropology in 1912. Cloud went on to further education, was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, and had a long and vital career in public service working with the Office of Indian Affairs and the Brookings Institution. He is a role model, and not just for our Native American community. I have no doubt that the students with whom I visited at the NACC will also be leaders in our community and in the wider world after they leave Yale. And that is something worthy of thanks from all of us!

And while we are on the subject of giving thanks, I would be remiss if I did not once again express my thanks and deep appreciation to all of the members of the Yale community who responded so magnificently during last Monday’s campus lockdown. It is true that many undergraduates were far away from campus, but many students remained here, and, along with faculty and staff, were asked to shelter in place for hours as our Yale police, along with the university’s emergency management team and our many community partners in law enforcement worked to resolve the situation. I am thankful that no one was hurt, and I am proud of how everyone responded, from the SWAT teams who went door to door to ensure there was no intruder on our campus, to the students, faculty, and staff who stayed patiently in their dorm rooms or offices – often without food or water. I know it was a long day, but in the end, the outcome was good. Thank you!