With mounting pressure on universities across the country to respond to student demands for more inclusive campus environments, University President Peter Salovey developed and released related policies just 12 days after students presented him with initial demands.
While meeting with roughly 50 students on Nov. 5 to discuss racism and discrimination on campus, Salovey promised to announce policy changes by Thanksgiving break to address the concerns and demands of students of color. Next Yale — a coalition of Yale students of color and their allies — worked to hold him accountable through various gatherings, marches and demonstrations, as well as a deadline of their own: Nov. 18. With a day to spare, Salovey emailed the Yale community on Tuesday detailing policies that will affect areas that include financial aid policy, the funding for four cultural centers and faculty hiring.
The multilevel bureaucratic structure of universities like Yale requires widescale consultations and several stages of approval for major policy changes, typically preventing such rapid action. This time, the administration responded to student demands within the week.
Salovey said crafting new policies is often a slow process because the University relies on a decision-making model of shared governance and local authority. For example, he said faculty usually need to take the lead on issues of curriculum and hiring. He also said the chairs of programs and departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as well as the deans of professional schools, have considerable authority and autonomy in setting their priorities.
However, Salovey said the recently announced policies were able to be developed and settled upon more rapidly because the planning for many had begun previously.
“In the case of the initiatives announced on Tuesday, we were able to move quickly because inclusion and diversity have been priorities for us for some time,” he said. “As a result, some good ideas were already on the table. And as I engaged University faculty and administrators, many more good ideas came to the fore, some of which they had been hoping to implement for quite some time.”
Still, Karleh Wilson ’16, a member of Next Yale who has met with Salovey on two occasions, said she believes the administration responded with policies as quickly as it did because of student pressure and similar movements occurring at other universities across the country.
“The main thing was the student pressure: it was obvious we weren’t going to back down,” she said. “We spoke directly to [Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway] and President Salovey in a way that they’d never seen before. We shared our tears and our stories and showed them how they failed us, and our 1,200 person March of Resilience showed how much power we have … Second, this is a national movement happening right now … We reached a boiling point and we couldn’t take it anymore, and now we are standing in solidarity with our fellow students at other universities.”
Sam Chauncey ’57, who served as University Secretary during the 1960s and ’70s, said Yale’s president used to hear student demands much more frequently. As a result, the president did not adhere to student-mandated deadlines — though Chauncey said he does not fault Salovey for doing so — and would respond by meeting some demands immediately, considering and studying others and simply rejecting those that were obviously impossible.
Chauncey said while this strategy made sense decades ago, modern times have presented Salovey with newfound challenges and heightened scrutiny. He said the fact that every one of Salovey’s actions will be broadcast on the Internet within seconds may have influenced the way he approached the policy response process.
“We were thinking of the responses as something going only to students and groups of students,” Chauncey said. “We knew they might have broader implications, but our goal was to respond to the people who made requests or demands to us. I think President Salovey legitimately has to try to respond not only to the people who have made requests or demands, but he has to consider the implications of having a mass audience as well.”
A NATIONWIDE TREND
Yale’s swift response to student activists’ demands joins a growing national trend in which university administrators have felt pressure from student protests and national media scrutiny to take action, or to at least acknowledge student demands and concerns. Over the past two weeks, for example, Georgetown University and Princeton University have both witnessed student activism about race and discrimination on campus, as well as subsequent administrative action.
Administrators at these universities have also been pressured to respond swiftly or preemptively to student demands in part because the activists have aligned themselves with national student movements that have attracted significant media attention.
On Nov. 12, 250 Georgetown students and other activists gathered in a demonstration of solidarity with student activists at Yale and Missouri, according to a Nov. 15 article in The Washington Post. The next day, around 50 people participated in a sit-in outside Georgetown President John J. DeGioia’s office to call for the renaming of two buildings named after two former university presidents who had organized the sale of Jesuit-owned slaves in the 1830s. On Saturday, DeGioia announced the decision to rename the buildings based on a recommendation he received from the university’s Working Group on Slavery, a panel of administrators, faculty and students appointed to examine slavery-related sites on campus.
Although the panel was appointed in September — before the recent national discussions about race on college campuses — some student activists at Georgetown believe DeGioia appointed the group to pacify them while stalling on a renaming a decision, according to the Post. A student organizer of the demonstration and sit-in told the Post the momentum from student protests at other campuses helped expedite the name-change decision at Georgetown.
Wednesday morning, the Princeton administration announced it had replaced the title of “master” — used for faculty members who help run the university’s residential colleges — with “head of college.” The announcement on the university website made no mention of student pressure in the decision.
Later that day, a group of minority students and their allies called the Black Justice League organized a sit-in at Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber’s office to submit a letter of demands to improve the experiences of black students on campus. These demands include the university administration’s public acknowledgement of Woodrow Wilson’s racist legacy and the renaming of Wilson residential college, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs and any other buildings named after him.
The group also demanded cultural competency training for all staff and faculty, and a cultural space on campus dedicated specifically to black students, to be named at the students’ discretion. In the letter, the students wrote that they crafted these demands in this “unique time” in hope of a quick administrative response.
While Yale has cultural centers for students of specific races and ethnicities, Wilglory Tanjong — a Princeton sophomore and member of the Black Justice League — told the News in September that Princeton provides minority students with just a single center.
“The center is extremely far from the center of campus, and the way to support minority communities is not to shove all minorities into one building,” she said.
The letter said national student movements would help speed administrative response to their demands.
“While we are grateful for the collaboration we have had with faculty and administration in the past, we make these demands during this unique time to expedite these processes,” the letter read.
A sophomore at Princeton, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue, said while the removal of the title “master” was not technically linked to the student sit-in, some students believe the administration made the announcement after hearing that the sit-in would happen.
According to a Wednesday article in The New York Times, Eisgruber refused to sign the student letter, disagreeing with the renaming and mandatory cultural competency training for faculty. In response to his refusal to sign the demands, students remained in and outside of his office, despite warnings of disciplinary action, late into Wednesday night.