Yale is at risk. If Yale is careful about addressing its ills, it could become a more inclusive and diverse environment, in which a range of views are sought and welcomed. If it is not careful, it will become a place with a divided student body and a fractured faculty, putting people into “for us” or “against us” categories. It will also become a place where people are afraid to speak their mind.
Many thoughtful people have suggested measures that can help Yale to heal. With respect and humility, I would like to suggest some others as well. I am aware as I do so that there are many more important issues in the world. Nonetheless, Yale was a transformative experience for me. In addition, I love teaching and advising at Yale and hope, therefore, that I can make a minor contribution to Yale’s healing.
First, I hope that we will communicate better with each other on matters of importance, both at Yale and beyond. Yale’s leadership has begun to communicate more regularly with the community on such matters. This is good, even if necessitated by crisis. A lack of communications by Yale’s leadership on these matters gives the impression that the leadership does not understand or is not concerned about them. It would also be good if Yale’s administration could help to lead us on critical issues of the day, as Gregg Gonsalves wrote in his column last week (“Connecting the Dots,” Nov. 12).
Second, I hope that other thought leaders at Yale, especially the chaplaincy, can help us to heal. All religious groups are concerned with compassion for the less fortunate, charity, injustice and inequity. There are many ways that Yale’s religious leaders, individually and collectively, can use their moral authority to keep these matters at the top of our community’s agenda. When presidential candidates bash Muslims and immigrants and when African-American churches are set on fire, for example, Yale’s chaplains can speak to the Yale community about these injustices. I also hope that Yale’s chaplains, more frequently acting collectively, can help to lead our community on other critical questions of social justice. They do not have to agree on the solutions to these issues to raise our consciousness of them.
Third, Yale has failed for decades to address diversity in the faculty. I arrived at Yale in 1967 when diversifying Yale was a central issue. I am embarrassed that almost 50 years later, Yale is still setting up task forces on diversity. The new initiative on diversity is welcome. It could also be valuable — but only if it leads to specific and measurable changes in Yale’s hiring and retaining a more diverse faculty. The alumni and students must now hold the Yale Corporation and the administration accountable for achieving in a timely way transparent and measurable goals on faculty diversity. If not, we will be discussing the same issues at not just my 50th reunion, but at my 75th, as well.
Lastly, one of Yale’s key aims is to educate enlightened citizens. I hope that an important part of this will be to encourage many more Yale students to look beyond themselves and see the world through the eyes of other people. The best way to do this is to ensure that students engage in immersive experiences in another culture. Yale seriously lags other institutions in the extent to which Yale students study abroad or take a semester immersing oneself in another culture overseas or within the U.S. Some Yale students might go to school in Dakar or Delhi. Others might go to Berea or Baltimore. Sensitivity training will be valuable. However, no amount of such training can build one’s ability to appreciate people from other cultures like an immersive experience living with people different from oneself for more than a summer.
Yale is in trouble. Some students are optimistic that a “new community” is being formed. Other students tell me that the student body is splintering and polarizing, that longstanding friendships are breaking apart and that intimidation is in the air. I believe that our community now faces conscious choices about where it wishes to take Yale. I hope we make the right choices.
Richard Skolnik is a 1972 graduate of Branford College and a lecturer in the Yale School of Public Health and in the Practice of Management for the Yale School of Management. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .