After the University launched an anti-discrimination website earlier this week, University President Peter Salovey has announced the formation of another one of his proposed initiatives: a presidential task force on diversity and inclusion.
In a Wednesday afternoon email to the Yale community, Salovey announced that the 18-member committee is now ready to begin its work. The committee’s creation stems from conversations about race and discrimination on campus that took place last November, which led Salovey to announce several initiatives, including the presidential task force and the anti-discrimination website, as well as increased funding for the four cultural centers and improvements in financial aid offerings. Members of the task force include administrators, deans, alumni, one Yale Law School student and one Yale College student. Martha Highsmith, senior advisor to the president and vice-chair of the task force, said the group will meet monthly and its end date is yet to be determined. Salovey told the News that the task force is meant to work beyond the spring to ensure that Yale continues to build a more inclusive campus.
“The overall purpose of the task force is we need a process by which ideas that people generate for addressing the challenges of full inclusion at Yale are considered,” Salovey said. “I would say it has a charge with at least three prongs: be the body that vets new ideas as they come in, the body that talks about and generates ideas of their own on the theme of inclusion at Yale and the body that monitors the progress we’re making on carrying out the Nov. 17 initiatives.”
Highsmith said she helped Salovey gather a roster of potential task-force members and ultimately establish a group that is representative of the broader Yale community. She added that as vice-chair, she will serve as Salovey’s “right hand” in helping to create agendas for the task force and engaging in appropriate post-meeting follow-ups.
Still, Abdul-Razak Zachariah ’17 — the only Yale College student on the committee — told the News that he believes more undergraduate and graduate students should have been included in it. He said he applied to be part of the task force through the YCC, adding that he believes he was deemed qualified because of his participation in several identity-based activities, such as the Yale Black Men’s Union.
He added that while on the committee, which he says should focus on finding ways to support students with identity-based struggles, his main priority will be to advocate for diversity and inclusion in the undergraduate experience.
Salovey said he expects the task force to generate new initiatives as early as this semester, adding that the committee is composed of talented individuals from across the Yale community who are more than capable of formulating ideas internally.
Emily Greenwood, a Classics and African American studies professor who is on the task force, said she is serving as a representative of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate, where she is chair of the Senate’s ad hoc committee on diversity and inclusivity. She added that the task force will help the University see the big picture as its distinct schools seek to increase inclusivity on campus.
“In recent months many different parts of the University — including each of the respective schools — have formed committees and working groups to address challenges to inclusivity and diversity,” Greenwood said. “In the months ahead it will be important for these different committees and groups to talk to each other and to share information and perspectives. This presidential task force has an important role to play in looking at the Yale-wide picture.”
Greg Sterling, dean of the Yale Divinity School and a member of the task force, said the committee will think broadly when creating new campus initiatives, including by drawing upon lessons from the Civil Rights movement and actions taken by other universities.
In discussing Brown University’s $165 million-dollar diversity plan, whose final version was announced on Monday, Salovey said he would also like the task force to look toward the best practices of other universities while formulating ideas.
“I think a useful and productive task for that committee would be to collect the initiatives on other campuses and to understand them at a level of detail that goes beyond the public announcements and then to ask, ‘Are there ideas that would be good for Yale?’ — that would be a great homework assignment for our new task force,” he said.
Sterling said Salovey invited him to serve on the committee likely because he is a professional school dean and his students at the Divinity School played a significant role in campus events of last fall.
Sterling added that the ultimate goal of the task force is to formulate ideas of inclusivity and fit them to the Yale community.
“We did not reach this point overnight and we will not change the ethos at Yale overnight,” he said. “My hope is that we can find ways to change the ethos. I hope that the task force can make recommendations that provide a comprehensive strategy for Yale broadly. Ultimately, I hope that we can cultivate a community in which we respect one another as human beings and treat one another with the respect that each person deserves.”
Sameer Jaywant LAW ’18, another task-force member, said that before joining the task force, he had worked on issues of diversity and inclusion in higher education, most recently as an undergraduate senator on the New York University Student Senators Council.
Jaywant added that with that experience in mind, he believes the task force holds significant potential.
“I think this task force is a great opportunity to seize on the momentum around this issue, both at Yale and around the country, and reflect on the key areas of change that are needed to enhance inclusion on campus,” he said. “I personally hope this committee can build on the initiatives announced by President Salovey last semester, and lay the groundwork for an effective long-term strategy that will make Yale a better institution for future generations of students.”
Jaywant added that he will look to his fellow students, particularly those in graduate school, to solicit ideas on how to achieve meaningful diversity and inclusion on campus.