After years of proposals and planning, the University has announced the establishment of a new interdisciplinary center focused on race and ethnicity.
The Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration will support scholarship in ethnic studies; intersectional race, gender and sexuality research; and Native and diasporic communities. The center, which does not yet have an official location, will likely host the Ethnicity, Race and Migration Program, sponsor summer research fellowships for Yale undergraduate and graduate students, and organize public functions. According to history professor David Blight, who is a member of the center’s implementation committee, the center will have an annual budget of $600,000. The Provost’s Office did not respond to requests to confirm the figure.
In a Tuesday email to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, University President Peter Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak said the center furthers the University’s goal of becoming more inclusive. Salovey originally announced that the center would be established in November, as part of a wider response to student concerns about racism and discrimination on campus. Its implementation committee includes faculty from ER&M, African American Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and met for the first time roughly two weeks ago with Polak. The committee also includes Jock Reynolds, director of the Yale University Art Gallery. There are no students on the committee.
“What’s exciting about this center is that it draws on so many strengths of our faculty across the disciplines, and in doing so provides new opportunities for collaboration between and among them. For students, this means wider access to courses that examine key aspects of who we are through a variety of lenses and from a range of academic perspectives,” Salovey told the News. “It’s important for Yale to lead on scholarship about race and ethnicity just as we lead the effort to foster a culture of inclusion on university campuses and in society more broadly. This center will be a highly effective way to solidify that leadership.”
Ezra Stiles Master Stephen Pitti, former ER&M director, will serve as the center’s inaugural director and chair of its implementation committee.
Pitti said over the course of this semester, the implementation committee will be discussing the center’s first steps and reaching out to members of the Yale community for input. But the center has yet to find a physical space, he said.
“We are looking to establish a permanent home for the center on campus in the next few years,” Pitti said. “There is strong support for finding a new space on central campus that will be home to this center, and I am confident that the University will identify and make such a space available in the coming semesters.”
Polak said the center will help promote research on campus and attract new faculty members.
Blight said he has been told the center will be located at an office space behind Toad’s Place, though that may be subject to change. He also said the building, which currently houses the Yale College Writing Center, has a “sizable” amount of space, perhaps enough to fit a seminar room.
Blight added that while some functions of the center are set — such as funds provided for student research in related fields and the hosting of public functions — significant planning is still required, as it is unclear whether the center will be used by students or how its $600,000 budget will be allocated. Blight said the Yale Center on Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, which he directs, has an annual budget of $400,000.
“It is yet to be determined how any of [the budget] is to be used toward undergraduate education, graduate education, how much of it could go into recruiting new faculty. I don’t think any of those decisions have been made yet,” he said. “I guess I would say this — any center like this has to evolve.”
Native American Studies specialist Ned Blackhawk, who is serving on the implementation committee, said the center is one of the few initiatives that highlights the importance of indigeneity through intersectional and transnational analysis. He praised the University’s commitment to the center’s establishment.
Blight said while he is not sure why a student was not included on the implementation committee, he hypothesized that the provost — who asked him to serve on the group — likely wanted to recruit academics for the center.
“What Yale does best in the world is create knowledge and education, which is why the scholarly focus exists,” Blight said. “I also hope the center reaches out to the community and the world, and is not just about us.”
While a center for ethnic studies has been in the works for quite some time, the University has not always been fully committed to the idea.
In an interview with the News last semester, Pitti said conversations about a possible center began in 2009 amongst a group of eight faculty members, including himself. The center they envisioned then would have supported the ER&M program and departments such as African American Studies, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and American Studies.
However, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, who took part in the initial efforts, told the News in December that four proposals made since 2011 simply did not gain enough traction in the community.
The ER&M program began in 1998.