Yale Divinity School (YDS) is on its way to reaching its diversity goals, but the road ahead is long.
Though YDS has worked toward increasing diversity for several years, YDS Dean Greg Sterling charged the school’s Diversity Committee last spring with developing a new 10-year plan to increase diversity in various areas of the YDS. Sterling said YDS is advancing towards its goals, but added that progress is still required.
“We are trying to work on a number of fronts: We have targets for diversifying our faculty, for diversifying our students, and we are also looking for ways in which we can diversify staff,” he said.
Sterling said YDS experienced a setback in the recruitment of minority students this year: about 16 percent of the incoming class this year was composed of minority students, compared to 25 percent last year. Still, he said this does not undermine the long-term trend of increasing diversity over the past five or 10 years.
YDS Professor Theresa Berger, who currently chairs the Diversity Committee, said the committee tries to keep several different kinds of diversity in mind when it creates targets for recruitment. But Berger also said that because the school does not have unlimited resources, it inevitably has to focus on one aspect at a time.
“At this point we are most hurting in terms of ethnic diversity,” she said. “I think that that’s where the energy has to be put at the moment.”
One of the greatest challenges facing YDS is the comparative advantage other schools may have in offering financial support, Sterling said. For example, this year YDS lost a student to Harvard because he was offered a 10,000 dollar stipend in addition to full tuition there.
Sterling said student and faculty recruitment go hand-in-hand because there often needs to be a critical mass of faculty from a minority group for students of that same group to want to come to YDS. Faculty recruitment has been successful in the past two years – out of three tenure track professors hired, two were women and one was a member of a minority group.
The goal for faculty hiring this year would be to find at least one more tenured professor from a minority background, Sterling said.
Berger said the challenges of creating a diverse community are not unique to YDS: they pertain to the wider University as well.
“Yale is perceived as a white institution — and that is just its history,” she said. “We simply have to overcome this, to realize that that’s where we are coming from. I think people feel at home here, but there is sometimes a perception from the outside that it is not as welcoming as [we] think it might be.”
Four out of six students interviewed said they feel there is a lack of ethnic diversity at YDS, but the same four added that they are more concerned about the lack of religious diversity.
John Cleveland DIV ’15 said he thinks the lack of resources for people of the Pentecostal faith may partially account for the fact that there are fewer Hispanic students at YDS, as many Hispanics are Pentecostal.
YDS does not offer the specific training needed by students planning to become preachers in Latino or black churches, Greg Williams DIV ’15 said.
Still, T.J. FitzGerald DIV ’16 said he thinks YDS is more diverse than many other divinity schools.
“There aren’t that many schools with 38, maybe almost 50, different faith traditions,” he said. “That for a divinity school is pretty remarkable.”
Assistant Director of Admissions and Recruitment Sean McAvoy said having a diverse student body at YDS is necessary to make the school a crucible for education inside and outside the classroom.
“I think diversity is of great importance to education, and makes the difference between education and indoctrination,” he said. “We at YDS seek to educate the student, and our unique ecumenical environment ensures that all of our students will learn as much from each other as they will from their professors.”
Diversity is also crucial for community building, according to Andrew McGowan, a YDS professor and dean and president of the Berkeley Divinity School, an affiliated school to YDS that shares its campus. YDS is a place people come to not just because of an abstract thirst for knowledge, but also to be immersed in a vibrant environment, he said.
McGowan also said that there needs to be a critical mass of faculty, students and staff from different ethnic backgrounds for each of these groups to really be integrated.
“You have to create a culture internally where you can be respectful of differences, but you also allow the possibility for the different groups to come to the school and make a home for themselves and not be treated like a guest,” he said.
Faculty and administrators interviewed agreed that YDS needs to target ethnic diversity and geographic diversity separately.
McGowan said YDS should think harder about recruiting internationally since it is one of the least diverse schools at Yale in that respect.
In the 2012-’13 academic year, approximately 5 percent of YDS students were international.