Building a Stronger and More Inclusive Yale

Date: 
Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Dear Members of the Yale Community,

Since becoming the president of Yale, I have had the opportunity to learn from your ideas, personal stories, and viewpoints on our strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations as a community. Through thousands of letters, emails, and conversations, you have expressed many recommendations for how we can continue to improve our campus environment and contribute knowledge and understanding to the world. You also have shared your anguish for the inequality, racism, and violence in U.S. society, which disproportionately affect members of Black and brown communities across the nation.

From your many voices, it became clear that we are connected by a need to improve the world, and we are a community that holds itself to high standards of acceptance, inclusion, and belonging. As members of a great research university, we recognize that we have a responsibility to use our individual expertise and the intellectual capacity of our institution to address longstanding challenges and injustices in our society and to continue advancing our university in ways that are essential to its excellence.

Change begins within our own community. Today, I am announcing the launch of programs that are part of the next phase of the Belonging at Yale initiative, which will delve into our history, assess and build on our current actions, support members of the university community, and create a stronger Yale for the future. Through these programs, we will ensure that we can continue to lead the way in teaching, research, scholarship, practice, and preservation of the highest caliber. All these activities require diverse strengths and a climate in which all members feel they belong and can thrive.

We designed these new initiatives based on your input and the recommendations of the President’s Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, which I formed in January. The committee was chaired by Kimberly Goff-Crews, university secretary and vice president for university life, and Gary Desir, vice provost for faculty development and diversity and Paul B. Beeson Professor of Medicine. I asked the members of this committee to recommend to me goals for the university, as well as strategies, actions, and assessment methods for achieving a more inclusive and equitable university environment. I am grateful to them for their work and their wisdom, and to all who consulted with them. 

The details of the programs I describe below build upon what many have done to bring Yale to this point. They mark the next phase of work to which we all must be committed for the long term, requiring perseverance and honest self-assessment. The excellence that we hope to achieve will not happen overnight, and we will need to adjust as we learn from our progress. Moreover, the president’s committee deliberated about a relatively short-term action plan, one stretching over the next three to five years, with the understanding that the work of diversity, inclusion, and belonging will extend for many years to come. What I am announcing here is part of necessary efforts to mitigate racism in society, which will require continuous hard work on many fronts, from education to research, from everyday campus operations to visionary new initiatives within our alumni and surrounding communities.

UNDERSTANDING YALE’S HISTORY

To understand where we are today and to move forward as a community, we must study the history of our university. As an American institution that is 319 years old, Yale has a complex past that includes associations, many of them formative, with individuals who actively promoted slavery, anti-Black racism, and other forms of exploitation. We have a responsibility to explore this history, including its most difficult aspects; we cannot ignore our institution’s own ties to slavery and racism, and we should take this opportunity to research, understand, analyze, and communicate that history.

Professor David Blight, Sterling Professor of History, of African American Studies, and of American Studies, has agreed to lead a thorough examination of Yale’s historical entanglements with slavery and connections to abolition that will be made public for discussion, remembrance, memorialization, and learning. To complete this work, Professor Blight will use the resources of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, and reach out to scholars associated with the Department of African American Studies; the Department of History; the Program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration; the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration; and other units. A working group of faculty, staff, librarians, and community members is being organized to oversee the project. Several student research assistants will be enlisted to examine documents and materials in Yale archives and other research collections. The project will aim to complete its work and produce a written assessment by the end of the 2021 calendar year.

BUILDING ON CURRENT ACTIVITIES

Assessing our campus culture and the effectiveness of ongoing initiatives

Internal accountability for existing programs and organizational structures at Yale is key to identifying and combating our challenges. From increasing training focused on discrimination and harassment to advancing the diversity and excellence of the faculty and student body, the university has invested significantly in building and sustaining a community where everyone can thrive. To know whether we truly are making progress and whether we have created an environment that welcomes open discussion and debate among many different points of view, we must assess ourselves. I commit to transparency in tracking our progress in fostering a sense of belonging on campus and in preventing and addressing incidents of prejudice, racism, and discrimination.

I have asked the Office of the Provost, in consultation with the Office of the Secretary and Vice President for University Life, to create a method for assessing existing challenges and for identifying improvements in creating a culture of belonging on campus. The results will be shared with the community, and thus provide transparency about the status of our campus culture over time and help us direct resources where they are most needed.

I also will require all schools and departments to develop—as many already have—local DEI and belonging plans with specific direction to address the experience of staff, faculty, alumni, and students of color. Several offices will be involved in guiding how plans are structured, as well as developing a rubric for evaluating progress.

Shoring up financial aid for all students with need

Across our nation and around the world, a university education has long been a facilitator of social and economic mobility. In the past seven years, we nearly doubled the number of entering first-year students in Yale College who are eligible for Pell Grants and increased substantially those who are first in their families to attend college. We provided financial aid to over half of our undergraduates and enlarged the number of families whose financial contribution is zero.

As a result of our financial aid policies, approximately 85 percent of the Yale College Class of 2020 graduated debt free. We will protect the support we provide to undergraduates, especially those from the least affluent families, and build on what we have been able to achieve in the last half decade. We will continue to grow the resources available for need-based financial aid. We will raise additional gifts for scholarships. In the coming capital campaign, we will make providing funds to the endowment for financial aid a top priority, so that these resources are available in perpetuity.

We will examine every program that provides a pathway for those from marginalized populations to study and succeed at Yale, with the goal of ensuring it is fully accessible and maximally effective. I am asking the Yale College Dean’s Office to consider an expansion of the Eli Whitney Scholars Program, approaches to transfer applicants from community colleges who would like to study in Yale College, and the First-year Scholars Program, as a start. We will also staunchly defend Yale’s admissions policies against the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to reverse the progress that we have made toward a more diverse student body. Our admissions policies fully comply with the law, and we have determined—as an institution of highly experienced teachers and scholars—that they improve the education that we offer our students.     

In addition, we need to do more to address the high levels of debt among students graduating from some of our professional schools. I will make it a special focus to seek funds for financial aid in the fields that are least remunerative, such as public health, nursing, divinity, environment, and the arts.

New centers for research and scholarship

Yale is a thriving center of world-leading scholarship and research in fields relevant to addressing racism. The university has invested in this work for some time. Our Department of African American Studies was the first of its kind. The Gilder-Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition and the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration are unique sources of vital scholarship. Last year, we bolstered support for the Program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration. Other centers of related work , such as the Law School’s Justice Collaboratory, continue to generate excellent scholarship and inspiring teaching as well.

Because Yale has several centers, programs, and departments working in this crucial interdisciplinary space, I have asked Vice Provost Gary Desir to convene their leaders to determine the best ways to ensure high levels of collaboration and project prioritization among them. Scholarly activities should be coordinated and have the greatest possible impact.

In addition to the established units committed to the study of race and ethnicity, we will develop a new center this year: The Center for Law and Racial Justice. Headquartered in the Yale Law School and directed by J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law James Forman Jr., the Center for Law and Racial Justice will be a hub for teaching, research, and policy work on legal aspects of racial justice, oriented around a successful pedagogical model of turning classrooms “inside out” and enabling students to learn by doing.

I also am delighted to report that Professor Phillip Atiba Goff, an expert on the social psychology of criminal justice, has joined our faculty. He holds appointments in the Departments of African American Studies and Psychology and brings with him to New Haven his well-known Center for Policing Equity.

I here mention only a small number of the academic leaders at Yale committed to this intellectual work. Our faculty, staff, students, and alumni can learn from the research and teaching in these centers, as well as in other academic units with award-winning educators and scholars. To this end, we will deploy the Office of Public Affairs and Communications to amplify faculty research in these and related areas so that the work can benefit the public.

MAKING YALE MORE WELCOMING

A new commitment to develop and retain an excellent and diverse faculty

A diverse faculty is a cornerstone of our university’s excellence. Everything we aspire to do flows from our ability to find great new scholars and bring them to Yale. To mentor well, teach skillfully, and stretch the boundaries of the intellectual frontier depend entirely on bringing new people from all backgrounds and experiences to our campus.

In 2015, we launched the Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative (FEDI), pledging $50 million to be used over five years to improve the excellence and diversity of Yale’s faculty as well as the academic pipeline. In the first five years of FEDI, Yale recruited 101 faculty members and supported 43 visiting fellows, 101 graduate students, and 25 post-baccalaureate fellowships for recent college graduates. Last fall, we extended FEDI for another half decade with an additional $85 million commitment. Recognizing that having excellence and diversity in our tenured faculty ranks is an issue of importance, the FEDI renewal includes support for recruiting senior faculty members. We reaffirm this expanded commitment to FEDI. With this action, Yale makes an emphatic statement about welcoming the most distinguished scholars to our campus to strengthen and help diversify the university. Moreover, resources from FEDI can be used in creative ways—such as to support cluster hires—to build strength in key areas.

However, hiring excellent and diverse faculty is not enough. Yale must welcome them and develop their careers in ways that provide the best chances for long-term success and retention. I am therefore asking deans and department chairs to evaluate the current state of mentoring programs for instructional, research, and ladder-track faculty and enhance them wherever necessary. We will ensure that faculty have the formal mentors who will advocate for them in their careers and help create plans for their advancement. School and department leaders will be accountable to Provost Scott Strobel and Vice Provost Gary Desir for the effectiveness of these efforts.

Yale also is committed to expanding the pipeline of scholars who will join the ranks of faculty in the future. We already have Mellon Mays Fellows and Edward A. Bouchet Fellows programs for undergraduates, and the Emerging Scholars Initiative in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. I am now announcing two additional enhancements to strengthen these critical efforts. First, we will arrange systematic outreach to and recruitment of graduates from historically Black and minority-serving colleges and universities as well as tribal colleges to our professional school programs, as we already do for the graduate school. Second, we will offer focused educational programs and mentorship to postdoctoral scholars at Yale, so that they can be prepared better to be hired on to college and university faculties throughout the country. 

Transforming public safety and policing

Our community is home to the oldest university police force in the country, and we aspire to lead the way in transforming policing on college campuses. We started this work last fall, when we engaged a team of recognized experts on public safety, 21CP Solutions, to conduct a comprehensive assessment of our campus police department. After holding in-depth listening sessions with community and campus stakeholders and analyzing existing policing practices, they produced a report that has helped us to take a series of initial actions. For example, we are discouraging a police response to calls that would be addressed better by trained mental health, student life, and counseling professionals, and we are conducting new scenario-based training in de-escalation techniques and reduction of the use of force. We also are reporting annually all instances when Yale police officers use force.

Our work here has just begun. I have asked Senior Vice President Jack Callahan; Kerwin Charles, Indra K. Nooyi Dean of the Yale School of Management; Lauren Zucker, associate vice president for New Haven affairs and university properties; and Secretary and Vice President Kimberly Goff-Crews to make suggestions to me regarding the continued implementation of the 21CP recommendations and beyond. I am asking them to work closely with Chief of Police Ronnell Higgins to review quantitative and descriptive data from the Yale Police Department and on policing more generally, solicit input from members of the Yale and broader community, and analyze how other communities have approached police reform. This group will consider the mission and goals of the Yale Police Department and ensure that our current operations and policies are aligned with them. The members of this task force and I will also confer with campus experts on policing and racial injustice to seek their advice on university policing for the future. Our dedicated and hardworking officers deserve our full engagement in helping them protect and serve our community.

Increasing the diversity among top staff leaders

The percentage of Yale managers and professionals from historically underrepresented minority groups has more than doubled in the past decade. However, at the top levels of university leadership, we have much more work to do.

It is well demonstrated in the literature on organizational behavior that diverse teams, with respect to members’ backgrounds, beliefs, and life experiences, make better decisions than those that are more homogeneous. We will continue to seek applications from individuals who will bring greater diversity to the university’s leadership when hiring for vice presidents, deans, and other key positions. We will work hard so that short lists for these positions include candidates who would bring additional diversity to Yale.

To develop the pipeline to leadership further, I have launched a Staff Leadership Initiative. At the end of every academic year, starting with this one, I will ask each dean and unit leader at Yale to nominate high-potential staff members, including those who would bring excellence and diversity to the leadership ranks, to participate in an early- and mid-career development program with the goal of strengthening their qualifications for promotion to leadership positions including senior management. Participants should come from across the university. The program will be developed with experts from the School of Management and will involve mentorship, training, the creation of a career ladder, and the opportunity to work on a project with a university leader.

Working with our alumni community

Our alumni have long supported a more diverse and welcoming campus community. In the past five years, the Yale Alumni Association (YAA) has prioritized diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Now, expanding its virtual presence in new ways—such as the recent launch of the Cross Campus platform for mentorship and community-building among alumni and students—the association will make DEI and belonging key thematic areas in its programming, supporting career and professional development and lifelong learning that will promote understanding and inspire action and service.

At the second biennial Impact Conference in March 2021, faculty, other experts, and alumni will focus on DEI and belonging and their relationships to social justice and action in their communities. The YAA will work with alumni shared identity groups to help them build strong connections with student organizations, campus leaders, and university centers and offices. These direct connections will expand the YAA’s mentoring and networking programs for students, facilitate alumni support of first-generation and low-income students, and provide role models of alumni leadership. The YAA will also arrange facilitated and other types of conversations among alumni from diverse backgrounds to encourage learning and understanding through the sharing of personal stories. Finally, as part of a plan to build a strong alumni leadership pipeline, the YAA will develop connections with students and recent graduates from historically underrepresented groups to ensure their voices are heard and to explore their interest in leadership service.

Increasing diversity of contractors, vendors, and business professionals and other community partnerships

A new program under the leadership of Susannah Gobbi, the university’s chief procurement officer, and John Bollier, vice president for facilities and campus development, will reach out to minority-owned businesses in the New Haven community to ensure that they are aware of opportunities and encouraged to bid on university contracts for goods and services. The changes will support the New Haven community, especially businesses suffering under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yale will continue to partner with the City of New Haven to promote economic development and job creation, public safety, educational opportunity, home ownership, and wellness. And we will continue to work with New Haven retailers who rent university-owned spaces to help them withstand the impact of the pandemic on their revenues.

The New Haven Promise program provides scholarships, funded by Yale, to all graduates of New Haven public high schools meeting certain criteria to be used to pursue a college education anywhere in the state. Yale currently budgets $4 million each year for this program, and we will increase this allocation in future years to continue to fund all eligible students. 

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The engagement and feedback of every one of us will be critical to the success of these initiatives to change Yale for the better. We can remain a great university only if we are tireless in seeking ways to improve every aspect of campus life and operations, encourage participation by people of all backgrounds, and foster a sense of belonging. Your input will be needed as we continue to improve existing programs and pursue new ones. Thank you for joining hands and strengthening our university.

Sincerely,

Peter Salovey
President
Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology