Kristina Kim

The Yale College Council, in collaboration with the Graduate Student Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, drew a crowd of at least 30 attendees to a University-wide town hall meeting on faculty diversity Tuesday evening.

The town hall — which featured Richard Bribiescas, deputy provost for faculty development and diversity, Kathryn Lofton, deputy dean for diversity and faculty development, and Darin Latimore, deputy dean and chief diversity officer at the Yale School of Medicine — aimed to provide an update on University President Peter Salovey’s announcement in 2015 that the University would allocate $50 million toward the Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative.

“On the surface level, we want to get an update from the faculty and administrators about how well this is going,” said Stephen Gaughran, chair of the Academic and Professional Committee at the Graduate Student Assembly. “On top of that, we also want to give a stage for students from across the University to come together and have a continued conversation about this.”

In 2015, Salovey announced that the University would earmark $50 million to fund faculty salaries, providing better professional development programs and supporting graduate students to pursue intellectual and professional goals. Despite the administration’s announcement about 24 new faculty appointments in September 2016 and another 26 additions in October 2017, Sean Massa, diversity and inclusion chair of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, told the News that the public has not received enough updates on the progress of the initiative.

Emphasizing the importance of transparency, Bribiescas outlined the projects funded by the initiative at the beginning of the town hall meeting. On top of providing salaries and resources for outstanding faculty across 14 different schools, the initiative supports the Dean’s Emerging Scholars program, which funds graduate students who contribute “to excellence and diversity in the academy,” Bribiescas said. In addition, the provost’s office works with Center for Teaching and Learning to host faculty development workshops on creating more inclusive classrooms and eliminating implicit biases.

“By supporting scholars at early stages of their careers and providing faculty workshops, we are contributing to diversity in academia, instead of just consuming it,” Bribiescas said.

The panel focused on expanding the definition of excellence and changing the mentality that encouraging diversity requires, in Latimore’s words, “dumbing down” Yale’s faculty.

While the abstract idea of diversity is celebrated on campus, Lofton and Latimore said, many faculty members balk at the practical implications of hiring professors from different backgrounds.

“They think I’m asking to [dumb] down excellence because I’m talking about diversity and excellence, but I’m not,” Latimore said. “Diversity brings a different type of excellence.”

After the panel discussion, Bribiescas, Lofton and Latimore answered students’ questions about what diversity entails, how to implement practical measures to increase diversity and how to transform campus culture by working from within.

Each panelist emphasized the central role that students play by voicing their concerns.

“Hold your faculty accountable in whatever departments you are in,” Bribiescas said. “If you’re invited, go to the job talks. Ask questions. Even if you’re not invited, go anyway.”

Students interviewed by the News at the event said they considered the town hall a success, calling the panelists’ honesty refreshing.

Alexa Bakker GRD ’21 said she was surprised by the amount of emotion many of the panel’s speakers displayed.

“I kind of expected it to be a lot of the same when I come to things like this, but I think that the panelists also still have some fire in them about this. They’re not just robots about diversity,” Bakker said. “I enjoyed seeing the emotion coming from all of them.”

For Karina Di Franco ’21, it was interesting to learn about the initiative’s procedures. Still, she would have liked to see a higher turnout at the event, she said.

While the initiative has been crucial for improving diversity among faculty, Gaughran said, meaningful change will require additional institutional efforts and continued student interest.

Since its launch in 2015, the Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative has resulted in the appointments of 50 faculty members.

Aakshi Chaba | aakshi.chaba@yale.edu

Serena Cho | serena.cho@yale.edu

Clarification, Feb. 28: The headline of this article has been updated to accurately reflect the sponsorship of the town hall meeting. 

Clarification, March 1: The article has been updated to show a more accurate count of town hall attendees.