While students and administrators in Yale College have spent the last two weeks engaged in race-related conversations and demonstrations, those at the Yale Divinity School and the School of Management have hardly remained silent.
In a Wednesday email sent to the Divinity School community, Dean of the Divinity School Gregory Sterling acknowledged the pressing nature of current campus issues, affirmed divinity school students’ efforts in response to those issues and invited the school to a session held last Friday where students could air their concerns before administrators. School of Management Dean Edward Snyder also sent an email to the SOM community last Thursday, calling the school’s attention to the recent campus events and inviting the community to one student-led and one administration-led conversation on race. Beyond these administrative responses, students at the two professional schools have also supported undergraduates in their efforts to make campus a welcoming place for all students.
AT THE DIV SCHOOL
“To say [the events taking place at Yale] are distressing is an understatement. The tension has not eased this week,” Sterling wrote in his Wednesday email. “I want to lend my voice to those who are expressing deep concern over the issue of racism and the need to address it. I also want to acknowledge those of you who have been active in raising these issues in respectful, positive ways.”
In his email, Sterling also noted the importance of administrators listening to students at times like these. Sterling wrote that he knew a number of his students were hurting and he wanted to understand their pain.
Almost all of the school’s top administrators were present at the Friday listening session, Sterling said, adding that the session lasted an hour and a half longer than scheduled.
Nicole Tinson DIV ’16, who attended the session, said some students talked about their experiences being students of color, and some proposed ways in which the school could become a more welcoming space for students of all backgrounds.
Another attendee, Tony Coleman DIV ’17 said that at the session, students
talked about the lack of faculty diversity at the Divinity School, as well as the lack of visual representation for people of color in the school’s buildings. For example, Coleman said, all the portraits hanging on the walls of the school’s common room feature only white faces.
Sterling said students also voiced the need for a spiritual advisor on sensitive issues, increased financial support for students for underrepresented groups and concerns for personal safety in light of recent campus events. For example, one student said she had heard that there have been at least three instances of death threats received by students at the University over the preceding weeks, Sterling said.
Coleman said the atmosphere at the listening session was emotionally charged, with students shedding tears and voicing anger. He added that the session gave him the impression that race-related questions have been pressing at the school for a long time, and that it was the first time students at the Divinity School were given a voice in this way.
Sterling said the administration will craft a statement and hold a town hall meeting to give a formal response to students’ concerns, but that will not happen until December. He added that the school may hold another listening session or conversation specifically for those who may not have had the chance to speak at the last session.
“[The school has] been doing a lot, but there is still a long way to go,” Sterling said. “There are still problems, and I will be the first one to acknowledge that.”
Bailey Pickens DIV ’16 said students also decried the ignorance of most faculty on nonglobal or minority theologies. For example, she said, one student at the session heard from professors that certain final papers on minority theology did not qualify as “real projects.”
Pickens added that the school has “no concept” of traditions outside of Western Christianity, not even Eastern or Orthodox Christianity, let alone African or South-American Christianity.
Sterling said the school currently has no Latina-, Latino- or Asian-American professors, but is in the process of filling a newly created position in Latina and Latino Christianity Studies.
In addition to the Friday listening session, the Divinity School community also responded to recent events through student-led initiatives.
Tinson, one of the organizers and moderators of the racial sensitivity teach-in held at the Battell Chapel last week, said she devoted her time and energy to these issues over the past few weeks because she knows that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“What happens downtown impacts what happens at the Div School, as well as in New Haven and anywhere around the world,” Tinson said, “I cannot sit idly by when I know there is a world of issues impacting communities of color everywhere.”
Following the joint campus-wide email sent by University President Peter Salovey and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway last Tuesday, Coleman wrote a letter to the Divinity School community, both as a call to action and to critique the email sent by the administration.
In the letter, which was also posted in several public spaces at the Divinity School, Coleman said debates about recent campus events are not about questions of values — such as the values of diversity or free exchange of ideas — as the joint email stated, but rather about moral questions on how to build a campus that respects all and protects students from violence.
Coleman said he wrote the letter because he was “deeply troubled” by the joint email and also because he felt the Divinity School had not done much in response to the energy and passion captivating the campus.
“As students interested in morality from scholarly perspective, or students interested in moral leadership as ministers, it’s our duty and responsibility to respond to these issues of violence and injustices,” Coleman told the News.
AT THE SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT
In an email to the SOM community on Thursday, Snyder wrote that campus events concerned the entire University and raised questions for the school.
“I recognize that this message comes well into the semester when students and faculty are focusing on their courses and our staff are incredibly busy,” Snyder wrote. “Nevertheless, based on my communications with several of you and on my own experience, I recognize that it is impossible and indeed inappropriate to compartmentalize when important issues around campus raise highly relevant questions for us about diversity and learning.”
In the email, Snyder invited SOM students, faculty and administrators to two discussion events to be held at SOM in the following weeks. The first of these events, held Monday night, was a community discussion on the United States’ history, as well as the legacy and current state of issues of race, said Tiffany Gooden, director of community and inclusion at the SOM.
Gooden added that because about 40 percent of the SOM student body comes from abroad, not all students enter conversations about race with the same understandings and perspectives on racial issues. The Monday event was designed to provide students a chance to ask any questions that confused or troubled them. The conversation was student-run and spearheaded by a multicultural group at SOM called “Liaison,” which holds regular conversations at SOM on issues like race.
Emika Abe SOM ’16, who helped organize yesterday’s event, said the Liaison dialogue was an private conversation for the SOM community in order to ensure students feel comfortable to speak freely and openly.
The second of the SOM events, an informal forum on race, is being organized by the SOM Dean’s Office and will be held on Dec. 1, Gooden said.
Besides the two conversations mentioned in Snyder’s email, Gooden said that there will also be a student-led lunch dialogue on Thursday for students not comfortable with speaking and asking questions in large group settings.
Gooden said many of the members of SOM’s Black Business Alliance — a student group aimed at promoting awareness on issues of particular interests to minorities — have worked to support undergraduate students who have been most impacted by these issues. D’Andre Carr SOM ’16, leader of the alliance and an employee at the African American Cultural Center, declined to comment on his involvement.