Announcing the Pennington Fellowship

December 12, 2022

Dear Members of the Yale Community,

In October 2020, Yale launched a set of programs—based on your input and the recommendations of the President’s Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging—to create a stronger and more inclusive Yale. As the Belonging at Yale initiative continues in its third year, I write to announce the creation of a new scholarship program—the Pennington Fellowship—that responds specifically to the research of the Yale and Slavery Working Group. This new initiative, one among an anticipated set of responses to the working group’s findings, supports New Haven public school students who choose to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and strengthens our connections with these institutions. I provide more details below.

In the coming days, University Secretary and Vice President for University Life Kimberly Goff-Crews will share with you the progress of other efforts associated with Belonging at Yale, including public safety, financial aid, and support for postdoctoral scholars, staff, faculty, students, and alumni.

The Pennington Fellowship: Supporting New Haven public school students who attend HBCUs

The Yale and Slavery Working Group—formed in the fall of 2020 to examine the university’s historical roles in and associations with slavery, the slave trade, and abolition—has released initial findings as it works toward publishing a narrative book next year. The working group is chaired by David Blight, Sterling Professor of History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition.

The working group’s research has made our past vivid and concrete. And its scholarship will continue to inform our diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts to create a stronger Yale. Our responsibility to discover light and truth compels us to reckon with our past. Although the working group’s research activities are still underway, its findings thus far point us to some actions we can take now.

Among the working group’s discoveries are details concerning those individuals within the Yale and New Haven communities who thwarted a proposal in 1831 to establish in our city what could have been this country’s first institution of higher learning for Black students.

Today, I am announcing a new scholarship to support New Haven high school graduates who attend HBCUs. This scholarship addresses, in part, historical disparities in educational opportunities for Black citizens. It will be funded by Yale and administered by the New Haven Promise program, which the university co-founded in 2010 to put the dream of a college education within reach for young people in our home city who otherwise could not afford it.

The new scholarship is separate from and incremental to the New Haven Promise scholarship program, which remains unchanged. New Haven Promise provides scholarships for public school students in the city to attend college in Connecticut. Now, with this new program, additional New Haven high school graduates will receive support to attend participating HBCUs around the country.

This new scholarship will bear the name of the Reverend James W. C. Pennington, who is recognized as the first Black student to attend Yale. Born enslaved on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, he lived for twenty-four years as a fugitive before securing his freedom. He was prevented from formally enrolling at Yale on account of his skin color, but he audited classes at Yale Divinity School before continuing a noteworthy career as a minister, antislavery organizer, scholar, and speaker.

Despite living in a time when Black citizens were denied equality, James Pennington pursued education for himself and others throughout a life lived with extraordinary courage. From 1828 to 1834, he hired teachers to tutor him in Greek and Latin and attended night school, all while working as a coachman in Brooklyn Heights and gaining prominence as a delegate at the first Colored Convention in Philadelphia. In 1849, he published a powerful autobiography, The Fugitive Blacksmith.

The Reverend Pennington’s illustrious legacy is bolstered by his work to publish the first African American history textbook. Now, it will include a scholarship program in his name. To date, the Pennington Fellowship is established with Hampton University, Morehouse College, Morgan State University, and Spelman College. And we will add to the number of eligible institutions as we form partnerships with them.

The Pennington Fellowship is a competitive scholarship program that will support ten to twelve students in each college-bound cohort for four years. When fully implemented, about forty to fifty students will receive Pennington scholarships at any given time. Applicants must be seniors at a New Haven public high school, submit an essay, provide a letter of recommendation, and have participated in at least forty hours of community service.

New Haven public school students selected for the Pennington Fellowship will receive up to $20,000 toward tuition and fees per year for each of four college years. They also will be supported in their academic, financial, and career entry success through mentorship opportunities, structured internships, resume workshops, and other programs organized by New Haven Promise. Fellowship applications are being accepted now, and the first group of Pennington Fellows will begin college in the fall of 2023.

For more information, see the FAQ on the New Haven Promise website (, and you can email if you have questions about the application process.

Building on collaborations between Yale and HBCUs

The Pennington Fellowship builds on existing collaborations between Yale and HBCUs, including faculty-led research and teaching initiatives. For example, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has been engaging with HBCU students to increase their participation in the graduate school’s one-year post-baccalaureate research program. In addition, Yale is increasing the number of HBCU students who participate in the eight-week-long summer undergraduate research fellowship (SURF) program. We trust that these experiences with Yale encourage HBCU students to continue their education here.

Yale is also broadening the pipeline of prospective students through our affiliation with the Leadership Alliance, a group of U.S. universities and private companies that support the development of students from historically Black and minority-serving institutions. Yale has welcomed students from ten HBCUs through this partnership.


The strength of institutions can be measured, in part, by their willingness to confront their past openly—and act meaningfully on what they find. The initiatives I have described here are important steps in response to Yale’s historical role and associations with slavery. They complement and will be reinforced by work planned across the university, and additional programs and projects will be announced in the coming months. Taken together, we have a blueprint for building a stronger, more inclusive, and more excellent Yale. I am grateful for all we have accomplished as a community so far and look forward to the critical work ahead of us.


Peter Salovey
Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology