Now that University President Peter Salovey has announced initial action steps in response to concerns about racism and discrimination on campus, the Yale Corporation will soon make decisions of its own.
On Nov. 12, Next Yale — a coalition of Yale students of color and their allies — presented Salovey with policy demands with the goal of fostering a more inclusive Yale. While Salovey adopted some of those demands and modified or passed over others in an email to the Yale community on Nov. 17, he did not have direct jurisdiction over two of Next Yale’s requests: naming the two new residential colleges after people of color and renaming Calhoun College. Those decisions fall under the purview of the Yale Corporation, which is expected to reach a consensus of its own by the end of the academic year. Salovey simultaneously serves as president of the University and chair of the Yale Corporation, the governing board and policymaking body for Yale.
As per Salovey’s recent policy announcements, Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Margaret Marshall LAW ’76 will organize open meetings between Corporation members and the Yale community. However, the Corporation will reach its decision as a whole during a closed-door meeting. Students interviewed expressed frustration with the Corporation’s lack of communication so far, but Salovey said its members look forward to hearing from the Yale community about specific names as well as more general values.
“The Corporation is very interested in hearing from members of the Yale community their views on the naming of the new colleges as well as whether or not to change the name of Calhoun College,” Salovey said. “I don’t want to speak for the Corporation, but I believe the interest is as much about the principles involved in naming and remembering as it is about specific suggestions for the names themselves.”
While students have often criticized the Corporation for being out of touch with campus climate, Senior Advisor to the President Martha Highsmith noted that Corporation members have a personal link to Yale: They all hold a Yale degree and many have children at the College. She added that she expects the Corporation to take the campus climate into account during its deliberations.
“I think the context always shapes decision-making, and [the Corporation] will not make a decision without carefully reflecting on that context,” Highsmith said. “They will want to do something that is responsive, responsible and helpful.”
Salovey said the Corporation is considering input from all members of the Yale community who share their ideas or opinions, adding that the body will have a thorough conversation about those points of view at one of its future meetings.
Given the limitations of Salovey’s power, Akinyi Ochieng ’15 — a former peer liaison for the African American Cultural Center — said she was pleased with the announcement of community-wide meetings.
“What he did was put the ball in their court publicly — it’s on the Corporation to make the change, to come together and act on the greater interests of the Yale community,” she said.
Tobias Holden ’17, a student of color who has been present at many of the discussions and demonstrations of the past month, said the Yale Corporation failing to publicly respond to the events of the past month — especially given their stewardship of the University and jurisdiction over some of Next Yale’s demands — has led him to worry that all of its members have not yet fully heard the voices of concerned minority students.
Karleh Wilson ’16, a member of Next Yale who has met with Salovey on two occasions, said it is critical that powerful University figures, including Corporation members, be made more accessible and transparent to students.
“[Salovey] needs the support of other people who have more power — the people who pull the strings he can’t pull,” she said. “I know President Salovey doesn’t have the power to do everything by tomorrow, but I need to know who is stopping these things from happening and to talk to them.”
History professor Jay Gitlin ’71 MUS ’74 GRD ’02 said recent conversations on race and discrimination would inevitably influence the Corporation. However, he said because these decisions will impact the University for decades to come and new student concerns likely will emerge before then, the Corporation must think in the long-term. But beyond these specific issues, what matters most is that students feel as if they are being listened to, he said.
“In the end, one thing is most important — people need to feel that they’ve been heard and that their voice matters,” Gitlin said.
The Yale Corporation is composed of 19 members.