Dear Members of the Yale Community,
In the past week, many of you have written to us to express your support for two of Yale’s central values: respect for our diverse community and the freedom to speak and be heard. You have written as students, staff, faculty, alumni, and friends of the university, in many cases to share personal struggles that stretch far before any of last week’s events, in other cases to stand by ideas that define the university’s mission, and in still others to do both. As we plan the next steps, we want you to know that you have our full attention and support.
We cannot overstate the importance we put on our community’s diversity, and the need to increase it, support it, and respect it. We know we have work to do, for example in increasing diversity in the faculty, and the initiatives announced last week move us closer toward that goal. At the same time, we are proud of the diversity on our campus and the vibrant communities at the Afro-Am House, the Asian American Cultural Center, La Casa Cultural, and the Native American Cultural Center. We are proud to support our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students, staff, and faculty. We are proud to support women. And we are proud to attract students and scholars from around the world, of all faiths and traditions, and with all levels of physical ability. We are committed to supporting all of these communities not only by attending to their safety and well-being but in the expectation that they will be treated with respect.
We also affirm Yale’s bedrock principle of the freedom to speak and be heard, without fear of intimidation, threats, or harm, and we renew our commitment to this freedom not as a special exception for unpopular or controversial ideas but for them especially. We expect thinkers, scholars, and speakers, whether they come from our community or as invited guests, to be treated with respect and in the expectation that they can speak their minds fully and openly. By preventing anyone from bringing ideas into the light of day, we deny a fundamental freedom – and rob ourselves of the right to engage with those ideas in a way that gets to the core of Yale’s educational mission. We make this expectation as a condition of belonging to or visiting our community.
Protest and counter-protest are woven into the warp and weft of the Yale that you see around you today, and we embrace the right of every member of this community to engage in protest. The news and social media have reported threats, coercion, and overtly disrespectful acts, and these actions have added to the distress in our community. They are unacceptable. But we have also seen affirming and effective forms of protest, most notably in Monday’s march for resilience, which brought together over 1,000 students, faculty, and administrators to show solidarity for students of color. Students are gathering to share thoughts and feelings in helpful and supportive ways, faculty are offering teach-ins, and those affiliated with the cultural houses are championing change in constructive ways.
Forty years ago, explosive debates about race and war divided Yale’s campus, and in response the university formed a core set of principles to support protest and counter-protest. Those principles, available in a document known as the Woodward Report, apply today just as they did then. C. Vann Woodward, who chaired the committee that produced the report, recognized that “It may sometimes be necessary in a university for civility and mutual respect to be superseded by the need to guarantee free expression,” but he also cautioned that, “The values superseded are nevertheless important, and every member of the university community should consider them in exercising the fundamental right to free expression.” We give the principles in this report our fullest support, and we urge you to read this document. You can find it here. As an institution of higher learning, we must protect the right to the free and open exchange of ideas – even those ideas with which we disagree. At the same time, we do this on a campus that values civility and respect. We do not believe these are necessarily mutually exclusive.
We are grateful for your questions, your involvement, and your engagement, and we renew our pledge to take further actions to improve the climate on campus and support and enhance diversity; we will share those steps with you before Thanksgiving.
Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology
Dean of Yale College
Edmund S. Morgan Professor of African American Studies, History, and American Studies