On Sept. 21, the Yale Women Faculty Forum rang in the new academic year by unveiling a portrait of Otelia Cromwell, the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate from Yale in 1926 when she earned her doctorate in English.
The unveiling of Otelia Cromwell’s portrait contributes to a narrative of “who belongs” at Yale and in society at large, where lives are governed and impactful decisions are made. It tells the story of a Yale graduate who helped further the diversity of races, ethnicities and genders at Yale. It also underscores a collective responsibility to consciously promote representation of all persons, notwithstanding their gender, race, religion or other forms of identity.
One such conscious effort of promoting representation is to seek gender equity. Through the efforts of the Women Faculty Forum, among others, Yale has made strides towards promoting women’s representation. In 2016, the group unveiled a group portrait in Sterling Memorial Library which was commissioned a couple of years earlier, of the first seven women doctoral graduates. The painting both increased the portraiture of women on campus and commemorated the admission of women to Yale’s graduate school in 1892.
This portrait came about after a review of the number of portraits on campus — the study found that of 258 portraits, only 28 depicted women. Deficits in the representation of women persist in the names of buildings at Yale. It was not until 2016 that Yale named a college for a woman, christening one of the new colleges “Pauli Murray.” The only other college among the 14 to be named for a woman is Grace Hopper College, once named Calhoun College, in honor of John C. Calhoun, class of 1804. Calhoun was an active proponent of slavery and a slave owner. As such, the college was eventually renamed in honor of Grace Murray Hopper, a computer scientist, engineer and naval officer who graduated from Yale in the 1930s with both a master’s and a doctoral degree.
These low numbers, be they in the form of portraits or names of colleges, indicate a level of both conscious and unconscious bias in the University, a bias that is reflected throughout the institution itself. We recognize that Yale is an institution with a long history of male exclusivity and that the portraits available represent the success of faculty and students throughout the years, the majority of which were male. But as that history recedes and more women graduate from the university, we expect to see a response from the University through greater gains in representation.
Institutional inequality at Yale doesn’t just manifest itself through portraiture — it reflects itself in faculty makeup as well. Take for example, the fact that tenured women faculty members are a mere 27 percent of all tenured faculty, while female department chairs only make up 24 percent of department chairs across the university — at the Yale School of Medicine for example, it’s a lowly 11 percent. Even these modest numbers have only been achieved due to a deliberate effort by women faculty: to push for more recruitment in traditionally male fields and strengthen the existing talent pipeline. Furthermore, the overall faculty pay gap between male and female Yale professors is staggering, at $12,564 annually. In addition, much effort needs to be made to increase the numbers in the faculty mix of not only female but also male faculty members who are Black, Asian, Hispanic and Native American.
Yale prides itself in being associated with five U.S. Presidents and 60 Nobel laureates, amongst other notable persons, most of them male. Many of its graduates go on to take on positions of leadership and influence around the globe. As such, it’s important to remember that the judgment of future leaders could be affected by this unconscious bias, this blind spot reflected in male dominance and continued absence of women in key leadership roles.
To be sure, Yale is not alone in its lack of women portraiture. Last year, the University of Oxford commissioned 20 artists to depict various people, academics and students, under its Diversifying Portraiture initiative, to broaden the range of people represented around the University. The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics Foundation supported “Outnumbered,” a photo exhibit meant to highlight the achievements of women scientists and provide role models to young women hoping to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Cromwell stood for the social equality of all people. She believed in developing the mental and spiritual growth of students, values she believed could be found in literature of both present and past. As Yale promotes conscious efforts toward gender equality in portraiture, it is important to ensure this is done in other sectors of the University, such as faculty composition.
Equitable representations of women and men at Yale would convey a subliminal message that those who wield power and deserve special recognition are not just men, or people from a particular race, class or faith. As a prominent institution of higher learning, Yale has the responsibility to take charge in changing the status quo. Living up to its primary symbol — a coat of arms celebrating light and truth — requires Yale to incorporate more representative symbols of its community, placing them in the light.
Fauziya Ali is a 2018 Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellow. She is the founder and president of Women in International Security-Horn of Africa (WIIS-HoA), a Kenyan-based organization that works towards gender, peace and security initiatives. Elsamarie D’Silva is a 2018 Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellow. She is an Indian gender activist and is the Founder and CEO of Red Dot Foundation (Safecity) and is President of Red Dot Foundation Global. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.