More than 700 members of the Yale community have signed an online petition demanding blue-collar representation on the University’s new renaming committee.
Addressed to University President Peter Salovey, the petition initially circulated among dining hall workers earlier this month before being released to the wider Yale community Tuesday afternoon. It calls for Salovey to appoint Shirley Lawrence, a veteran dining hall worker in Davenport College, to the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming as a representative for the hundreds of blue-collar workers at Yale, many of whom are people of color. As of Wednesday night, 153 Yale Dining employees and over 600 current or former undergraduates — including Dasia Moore ’18, the sole undergraduate on the committee — had signed the letter.
“If you look at the history of what Yale is putting out on paper, they say that they want to let the world know that this is like a community, like everyone is accepted,” Lawrence told the News. “That’s clearly not the picture. It was really important that [administrators] know that we have something to say, too.”
In its current form, the naming committee consists of six faculty members, three alumni, an undergraduate, a graduate student and one staff member. The staff representative is Lalani Perry, who holds an office job as Yale’s human relations communications director and is not a blue-collar worker.
The petition nominates Lawrence to be the blue-collar representative on the committee, noting her many accolades, including an NAACP award, and her nearly three decades of employment at Yale. According to the petition, Lawrence wrote to Witt earlier this month to ask about blue-collar inclusion and was told that Salovey decided the makeup of the committee.
“I have great respect for all of Yale’s staff members, whether they work in Yale Dining, facilities or as staff in a department,” Salovey said in an email to the News Wednesday night. “That is why I appointed a staff representative to the committee, Lalani Perry.”
Salovey added that committee Chair John Witt ’94 LAW ’99 GRD ’00 will soon announce discussion sessions designed specifically for Yale staff members, as well as a phone line for employees who want to offer confidential input on the naming issue.
In an interview with the News Tuesday night, Witt said the naming committee has worked hard to give every group in the Yale community a chance to contribute to the ongoing discussion.
“We have a small committee, and I think we’re really well-equipped to get as much input as we can from the community,” Witt said. “We have done our best to get input and ideas from every part of campus.”
History professor David Blight, another committee member, said he wishes the issue of blue-collar representation had come up earlier in the process. The committee is scheduled to publish a final report by the end of November.
“It’s kind of late in the game,” Blight said. “It’s too bad this wasn’t discussed a lot earlier.”
The renaming committee was established in August, in response to student and faculty outrage over Yale’s decision to keep the name of Calhoun College after a yearlong debate. In an email to the Yale community, Salovey tasked the committee with outlining principles to guide future renaming decisions on campus. The committee met for the first time in late August.
The committee was also formed just a month and a half after Corey Menafee, a dining hall worker in Calhoun College at the time, intentionally broke a dining hall window that depicted slaves carrying bales of cotton. The letter to Salovey describes Menafee’s actions as symbolic of the “collective frustration” of Yale’s dining hall workers over the University’s “blatant disregard for creating an inclusive environment for blue-collar workers of color.” Menafee, who now works in the Morse and Ezra Stiles dining halls, was one of the signatories of the petition.
“The fact that our representation on the committee was never considered is evidence of its necessity,” the petition states. “It is especially pertinent for us to have a voice at the table given that CEPR could profoundly impact our experiences and well-beings while working Yale.”
The petition was circulated widely over social media by Daniel Hamidi ’18, a student in Davenport College who told the News he spoke with Lawrence last month about her frustration over the lack of blue-collar representation on the committee.
“The people who work in the dining halls and who work in the facilities, they put so much work into enabling us to be here and enabling Yale University to exist,” Hamidi said. “Students have a responsibility to stand by them.”
He added that it would be “cowardly” to claim that it is too late to include a blue-collar representative on the committee and said appointing an additional member would not make the committee less efficient.
Rachel An ’19, one of the students who signed the petition, said that granting a committee spot to a dining hall worker would show appreciation for the work blue-collar employees do every day.
“Yale is a big part of their lives too, and they deserve to have some say in affairs like this,” she said.
Yale’s blue-collar workforce is not the only group dissatisfied with the composition of the naming committee. Local activist Barbara Fair, who helped organize protests in support of Menafee over the summer, told the News that Yale should also include New Haven residents who are not affiliated with the University in its decision-making.
“The community is upset about having Calhoun College. No one’s thought about talking to the community,” Fair said. “That would be a sign of good faith that Yale’s working with our community.”
This story has been updated to more precisely reflect the number of signatories as well as the link to the online petition.