Yale has always been a safe space for whiteness.
Elihu Yale, the founder of Yale, was a man who had a major role in the East Indian slave trade. Moreover, Yale relied on slave trading money for its first scholarships, endowed professorships and libraries. It was therefore no surprise when, on Founders Day, an unknown individual posted graphs and charts on Cross Campus comparing the amount of minority faculty members to the amount of minority students. Mysteriously, the charts on Cross Campus were torn down from the bulletin board in order to be replaced by a sloppy arrangement of cards and lollipops advertising Founders Day.
At Yale, only around 3.5 percent of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences are black, 9 percent are Asian and 2.8 percent are Hispanic. Only 13.4 percent of tenured professors are non-white. Even though some of Yale’s peer institutions, such as Emory and Stanford, did not hire any black faculty until the 1970s, the amount of black faculty has noticeably increased at those universities, whereas Yale’s number of African-American professors has remained stagnant.
And the poster, poignant though it was, failed to mention the issue of sexism in academia. A mere 24.1 percent of tenured professors at Yale in 2014 were women — around the same percentage of women in Congress.
Many tenured deans often say that research in “minority” areas of scholarship is less valuable than traditional research areas. Women of color in particular often receive lower teaching evaluations than their white counterparts. This problem, however, is not an isolated issue; out of the 26 percent of female university presidents nationwide, only 4 percent are women of color. And according to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 84 percent of full time professors across all American universities are white.
In some ways the lack of faculty diversity may be a self-fulfilling prophecy: Even though more minority students enter the University, it becomes difficult to see yourself entering academia when no one in a position of power looks like you. As a black, female student at Yale and an aspiring academic, a sort of double consciousness plagues my existence here. Although I want to play by the rules, assimilate and work my way up into academia, a small part of me feels the need to reject the system entirely. Historically, the academy has been mired in white supremacy and in many ways still is.
Any investigation of faculty diversity must also be taken in the context of the academic subjects taught at Yale. In spite of being considered one of the top institutions for studying humanities in the world, Yale only has one course in Asian American history, which is absolutely ludicrous when 20 percent of the student body identifies as Asian. Moreover, our philosophy department is dominated by the analytic tradition, whereas continental philosophy, critical theory and post-colonial studies are neglected. Scholars such as Cornel West, bell hooks, Henry Louis Gates ’73 and most recently Elizabeth Alexander ’84 have all left Yale for other institutions.
To be sure, 42 percent of Yale’s undergraduate population consists of minority students. Yale has come a long way from its “old boy” and “blue blood” culture by increasing the amount of minority students in the student body, and by increasing resources available for those students. Programs such as the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program work to increase opportunities for minority students at Yale who want to enter academia. However, this does not excuse Yale’s reluctance to hire minority and female faculty. Accepting minority students and providing them with resources is necessary but not sufficient for dismantling white supremacy in the university. When students of color do not see faculty in positions of power, it subconsciously and consciously reinforces the idea that they will not be able to obtain the highest pinnacles of achievement.
As one of the most competitive universities in the country, Yale’s name is respected and recognizable. Given this prominence, Yale has the opportunity to set the precedent for education. With all of its resources and qualified faculty, it can create a model for education that is critical of power structures that oppress minorities in America. It can start by doing more to encourage minority students to go into academia, and hiring more professors of color.
It’s your move, Yale.
Isis davis-marks is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .