For the over 1,000 students who attended the March of Resilience Monday, normal academic life ground to a halt: classes, sections and even midterms were canceled or skipped, with or without dean’s excuses.
The march began at 2 p.m. and lasted for more than two hours, as the outpouring of emotions about recent racial tensions in the community turned into a joyful dance party on Cross Campus. Many students at the event said they missed class in order to attend, and some faculty members said they canceled or rescheduled classes in response to students’ interest in participating in the march. The disruption of classes Monday is only one of many instances in which the emotional toll of ongoing campuswide conversations about race at Yale has affected academics at the University. During multiple events over the past week and a half — such as an open forum at the Afro-American Cultural Center Wednesday and a three-hour impromptu confrontation with Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway on Cross Campus Thursday — students have repeatedly shared their emotional distress and how that distress has left them unable to fulfill their academic obligations.
Administrators have taken note of the unusual climate on campus. Holloway met with residential college deans and masters yesterday to discuss how they should address student emotions. His message to them boiled down to a single notion: take care of everyone.
“There have been debates publicly and privately. Students are dealing with emotional stress. Some are not getting enough sleep or are not eating enough,” Holloway told the News. “Our job is to be mindful of this. We have a real concern about students’ capacity to manage all this stress and their academic obligations.”
He said residential college masters and deans have been working overtime to take care of students, who may be dealing with a wide range of issues. For residential college deans specifically, many of these concerns center around students’ abilities to complete their academic obligations, whether this is attending classes or completing assignments.
Holloway stressed that the residential college system aims to take care of everyone, regardless of their political stances on recent campus debates. He said there has been a “massive convulsion” in the community and students are simply “strung out.”
“Residential colleges are filled with ideas and discussions, but when there are moments of crisis, whether it is local or international tragedies, or even weather catastrophes, the master and deans’ primary duty is to take care of everyone,” he said.
Holloway added that it is up to individual faculty members to grant leniency on class assignments, but he said many instructors seem to be generous in their understanding of the situation.
African American Studies professor and Director of the Ethnicity, Race and Migration Program Matthew Jacobson teaches “Introduction to Documentary Studies,” which overlapped with the March of Resilience. Emphasizing the importance of being at the march and supporting his students, Jacobson said he invited all 18 members of his class to join him and take the event as an opportunity to practice filming and recording. Several of his students are now working on a collaborative documentary project about the march, he added.
“I regarded the [march] itself as one of those moments when what was taking place outside the classroom was more urgent than what was going to take place within,” he said. “I think my students saw it that way, too.”
Anthropology professor David Watts, who teaches “Introduction to Biological Anthropology,” said he received two Dean’s excuses from students who missed class for reasons related to the march, though Watts added that his students may have cited more general concerns regarding the recent events on campus in requesting excuses from their deans.
At the beginning of his class on Monday, which also started at 2:30 p.m., Watts told his students that they were free to leave and join the march. Several students did, Watts said.
Director of Undergraduate Studies for Directed Studies Kathryn Slanski, who teaches a DS literature section that meets every Monday and Wednesday at 2:30 p.m., said students waited for her at the beginning of class and asked for permission to attend the March of Resilience.
“I was impressed by their courtesy in coming to class to ask permission, and moved by their argument that the event was something that felt important and real,” she said. “I hope that our students, because of their studies, have found themselves better equipped to evaluate what’s at stake in the statements and arguments whirling around campus right now, and to participate meaningfully in the discussions, with courtesy and generosity.”
Some professors said they understood students’ desires to attend the march but thought they should have been notified of students’ absences beforehand. English professor Leslie Brisman said about half of his “The Bible as Literature” course missed class Monday, and none of the absent students contacted him prior to the class. Brisman acknowledged that students felt strongly enough about the issues to go to the march, but he said he was “distressed by the discourtesy” of students not notifying him beforehand.
Astronomy professor Louise Edwards, whose “Introduction to Cosmology” class started at 4 p.m. on Monday afternoon, said because of the later timing of her class, she did not receive any Dean’s excuses, although some students were absent. Students could have attended both the rally and the class, she said, and she started class by acknowledging the march and making time for students to share their thoughts.
Physics professor Zosia Krusberg, who said about half her class left for the event, said her students had been discussing the issue of faculty diversity at Yale even before the events that triggered the march.
“I wanted my students to know that I am aware that there is more happening in our classroom than physics education,” she said. “I recognize that many of them are working through difficult issues relating to their individual and collective identities while trying to keep up with challenging academic schedules.”