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 firstname.lastname@example.org .