This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Updated: 6:53 p.m.
Almost a month after 147 students signed a petition asking for the removal of Rodney Cohen from his position as director of the Afro-American Cultural Center, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway sent a campus-wide email informing students that Cohen had resigned.
According to the Monday morning email, the decision was made as part of the larger review of the University’s four cultural centers. Members of the Yale community had the opportunity to submit their suggestions about each of the four centers. Holloway said the findings showed that Cohen’s vision for the house did not align with those of the house’s community, and that Cohen had chosen to step down because of these differences in opinion.
“The review has shown that Dean Cohen and the House’s community have diverging visions for the center,” Holloway’s email read. ”Dean Cohen has taken the initiative in stepping aside so that its community can spend the rest of the semester searching for a new director.”
Michelle Nearon, assistant dean and director of the Office for Diversity and Equal Opportunity in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, has agreed to be the interim director, Holloway wrote in the email. He also noted that an advisory group will be formed to help guide the selection of a new director.
Cohen’s resignation comes roughly one month after members of the Af-Am House called for his removal at an external review meeting, chaired by Holloway and University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews. At the Feb. 17 meeting, Elisia Ceballo-Countryman ’18, a freshman liaison for the Black Student Alliance at Yale, presented a 60-page petition signed by 147 students, which included letters from current students and alumni, to Holloway and Goff-Crews.
Petition organizer Micah Jones ’16 told the News after the external review meeting that complaints were already lobbied against Cohen after his first semester in 2010, and that two internal reviews had been conducted regarding his leadership since he began.
The most recent petition outlined numerous grievances about the way the House was being run, including claims that Cohen was rarely present in the house, did not make funding opportunities easily accessible to students and retaliated against students critical of his leadership by terminating their campus job contracts. The petition signatories argued that the only way to resolve the problems with the House’s management was for Cohen to immediately step down.
“The apathy and disengagement of Center Director Rodney Cohen is at the center of the issues we face,” the petition read, adding that though the decision to call for Cohen’s removal was not made lightly, it was the only way to improve the cultural center for the better.
In a Monday statement to the News on behalf of the Black Student Alliance at Yale, Jones said Cohen’s resignation was “the best decision for everyone involved” and that the community is appreciative of his consideration of their views.
Noting that the community “needed an immediate response,” Ceballo-Countryman said after the announcement on Monday that she is glad that Cohen acted so quickly following the petition. Ceballo-Countryman agreed that Cohen’s vision, which was never entirely clear to her, was not congruent with what the African-American community desired in their cultural center.
Jacob Neis ’17, a member of the Liberal Party who is responsible for identifying activism for the party to support, attended the February review meeting and also expressed his “pleasant surprise” on Monday that student opinions in the petition were taken on board so quickly. However, he noted that the swift response is an anomaly in the African-American community’s lengthy campaign to improve their house leadership.
“I think the petition was the proverbial last straw,” Neis said. “Students had been submitting complaints about Cohen’s tenure for several years.”
Though Ceballo-Countryman said she is not sure of what kind of environment Cohen wanted to create, she perceived that Cohen wanted the house to be more of a scholarly environment than one that emphasizes community, the latter being what students preferred for the house. Ceballo-Countryman added that as the African-American community moves forward to select a new figurehead, ensuring a common vision for the house will be paramount.
Austin Johnson ’16, who took part in the letter-writing campaign that called for Cohen’s removal, said he is happy about “the prospect of the house moving forward and selecting a new figurehead.”
However, Jones’s statement on behalf of BSAY noted that Cohen’s resignation is only the first step in the restoration of the Af-Am House. In an email to all petition signatories and supporters following the February external review meeting, the petition organizers emphasized that there is a long road ahead. Jones reiterated this message in BSAY’s Monday statement, explaining that the director selection process should also be receptive to student voices.
Holloway added his thanks to Cohen, who served as director of the center for five years. He said Cohen would continue to oversee the Science, Technology and Research Scholars (STARS) program and the Peer Liaisons.
“Both programs provide significant academic leadership opportunities to students across campus, and they will benefit from Dean Cohen’s long experience as a member of the Yale College Dean’s Office,” the email said.
Cohen will also continue to serve as Holloway’s designate to the Yale College Executive Committee, the email said.
Ceballo-Countryman noted that though she has no direct involvement with these two projects, she is content with Cohen retaining his responsibilities over STARS and the Peer Liaisons.