A year ago, when I chose to come to Yale for graduate school, I was excited about coming into the African American Studies department with all the resources, faculty and university support that it had. Unfortunately, despite my engagement with my department, I’ve found that people of color and the study of race are undervalued at this institution, which is why the article “List of best colleges for blacks ranks Yale 38th” (10/11) didn’t completely surprise me.
As a second-year graduate student who studies race, sexuality and identity politics, these discourses over power and access offer me a unique lens through which to view and critique the University. I am thoroughly aware that Yale lacks senior faculty of color, but I am equally concerned that the junior faculty of color do not earn tenure here.
For seven years, junior faculty at Yale earn grants, create new scholarship and mentor students. They are then “relieved” of their duties and earn tenure at other schools where their work — academic and otherwise — will be more appreciated. Thus, instead of the promotion of Yale’s junior faculty, there is a “revolving door,” as described by Dr. Hazel Carby in last year’s “The Few, the Proud: The State of Diversity at Yale.” Carby is the only black woman tenured out of the more than 800 professors who teach here, and the only black woman tenured in the past 20 years.
This lack of faculty diversity affects my scholarship and my hopes of entering the academy. But this also affects all of the students here at Yale. In the Oct. 11 News article, the problem was expressed by Daryl McAdoo ’05, who said that “there are very few black professors at Yale, so it’s harder to find black academic advisors — Everyone ends up asking [Assistant Yale College Dean Pamela] George.” This is unacceptable and places a burden not only on the students, but also on the faculty.
To address this crisis of mentorship, in April of this year, more than 300 graduate students from more than 29 departments filed a grievance with the University concerning the University’s diversity procedures. In this grievance, we asked for 1) increased resources for the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity (ODEO) to allow it to recruit and retain more women and people of color in the graduate school, 2) permanent support for the now-defunct Center for the Study of Race, Inequality, and Politics (CSRIP) and under-resourced fields like gay and lesbian studies and area studies, and 3) the creation of an independent grievance committee to deal with issues such as hate crimes, sexual harassment and abuses to free speech.
In filing this grievance, we highlighted legitimate concerns and used the University’s own process to find concrete solutions for implementation. After all, wouldn’t a university such as Yale want to pilot the academy, true to the word of former Dean William Clyde DeVane, who insisted that “it should not be the function of Yale to reflect American life but to lead it”?
Right now, Yale isn’t leading in diversity; it’s being led. While the administration responded to pay-equity grievances filed in the History Department and the Program in American Studies, it has ignored the diversity grievance.
How, I ask, are students of color supposed to feel valued at this institution when the University doesn’t even bother to address our concerns? If anything, it seems that the purpose of people of color at Yale is exactly that: to “color” the institution and make it seem diverse, when the reality is that the lack of response to our grievance shows just how low diversity is on the list of Yale’s priorities and how ill-equipped the University is to address the complex nature of concerns over diversity.
My experiences here are not in line with Yale College Dean Peter Salovey’s comments to the News, which assured the Yale community that “we strive continually to create an even more welcoming atmosphere at Yale for African-American students.” It is one thing to “strive,” yet it is completely another to attain. As Black Enterprise’s listing shows, out of the 50 schools ranked, we may be better than some but we’re worse than most.
Uri McMillan is a second-year graduate student in the African American Studies and American Studies departments. He is chair of GESO’s Accessibility and Diversity Committee.