Pauli Murray LAW ’65 spent her life battling the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow and the subjugation of women. Her words point us to the future we all can embrace: “True community is based upon equality, mutuality and reciprocity. It affirms the richness of individual diversity as well as the common human ties that bind us together.”

We are at a turning point for Yale, a point at which we embrace the rich diversity of each member of our community and the resulting vibrancy of the ties among us. Some students have expressed the view that their engagement and advocacy in the fall were wasted. Nothing could be further from the truth. We value your voices, and the initiatives we announced then and now reflect our respect for the student, alumni, faculty and staff who participated.

Initiatives for a more inclusive Yale, some already underway and others newly announced in November, are being implemented. We want to be held accountable as we fulfill important commitments to strengthen the academic enterprise, expand programs for students, improve institutional structures and increase representation of diversity on campus.

Although one may feel disappointment and even anger at some aspects of the decisions announced on Wednesday, the decisions connect to the mission of the University in ways that can inspire us to improve the world. These are turning points toward a better Yale, a bright future we can make by joining from our individual points of view, honestly examining the past and committing to work together to strengthen our common ties.

Yale’s motto is “light and truth,” and we cannot seek the truth by hiding it. As a University, as students and faculty, we search out knowledge and pursue discovery. We cannot inhibit this pursuit by marking the ugliest aspects of our own nature “off-limits.” We must confront even those ideas that disgust us in the search for progress and an honest understanding of the human condition. If we understand the past, and know ourselves, we can make positive change.

Scholars and students across the University engage in these activities each day. The research and education mission of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale is a major participant in conversations on campus and across the nation. The new Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration will add new voices, on our campus and around the world. We must use our voices and our influence as students and as educators to share that knowledge with broader society and seek solutions, not just solace.

Even if you do not agree entirely, I ask that you join in these intellectual pursuits, and also in helping to broaden our understanding of historical realities, and representations of our community’s diversity, around our campus. Help us shape the historical study of names and memorials to be undertaken throughout the campus. The Committee on Art in Public Places requests student and faculty insights into what iconography we must create and change to better reflect the nature of our community and our history. Submit a proposal to the juried competition that will select a piece of art to defy the beliefs of John C. Calhoun by shining a light on equality and justice.

The two new colleges honor people who both were dedicated to the life of the mind and service to humanity. Both spent their lives connecting ideas to actions, to fight the injustices they recognized in their times. One is well known to history and worthy of new examination today and beyond; another is a hero who deserves broader recognition for the inspiration she provides to people today and tomorrow. Both their lives will be part of Yale’s campus environment, encouraging active engagement with the past, in the present, to shape a better future.

It is a privilege to serve Yale and its students. Your views inform our University today, and you will lead the world tomorrow. Murray’s words about community remind us that there is much that one individual, and a vibrant community together, can do — through light and truth, through the pursuit of knowledge — to improve the world.

Peter Salovey is president of Yale University. Contact him at president@yale.edu .

  • Boott Spur

    Correction: “Peter Salovey — a white male — is president of Yale University.”

    • aaleli

      Which immediately makes him suspect, in your world?

      • asdf

        I think Boott Spur was being sarcastic.

    • asdf

      Right, and therefore his opinion is irrelevant to anyone whose DNA sequence does not match his within a certain arbitrary margin of error.

  • disqus_f3Gqo4uR2r

    This weak and ineffective president hides behind the honorable priestly vestments of a true heroine–Pauli Murray–in order to defend the indefensible: the continued *honoring* of John C Calhoun. A name on a building has nothing to do with the study of history; that is what books, classes, and discussions are for. A name etched in stone is an honor, and Calhoun should not get any of that in our times.

    • marcedward

      Suggestion – somebody actually contributes to the nation and to Yale as much as Calhoun did. Just because he doesn’t go along with 21st century norms does not make him an evil person.

      • disqus_f3Gqo4uR2r

        Actually, in this case, it really does. Slavery and racism are evils. Calhoun played a significant role in strengthening those forces in American society. His “contribution” or legacy to the nation was the Civil War.

        • CoryIntheHouse

          That’s stupid and you’re wrong

  • joybrown

    President Salovey, just like Calhoun before him, is on the wrong side of history.

    We shall overcome.

  • https://twisteddiction.wordpress.com/ PJ Fitzgerald

    “We cannot inhibit this pursuit by marking the ugliest aspects of our own nature “off-limits.”” … So slavery is a part of our own nature? Wtaf Salovey….

  • If_we_dream_too_long

    It’s time to be honest, and serious, as befits a place with the intellectual standards of Yale. The decisions on “master” and on “Calhoun” are embarrassing and wrong-headed. The president has failed to offer a coherent, intellectually credible defense of either.This ridiculous art show idea only makes matters worse. On “master”, seriousness may have lost, alas. But the “Calhoun” decision seems very unlikely to stand. And when President Salovey backs down, we will need honestly to address the question of whether he is up to the job of leading Yale.

  • 2Table

    I agree about the importance of confronting the truth and not hiding from history. After changing the name, the university should put up a plaque that says “For over 80 years, Yale University used the name of this college to honor a white supremacist who relentlessly advocated for enslavement of black people.”