More than 72 students, faculty and community members have signed on to a petition calling on the Yale Divinity School to better recognize the importance of indigenous people and scholarship, as of Tuesday evening.
Madeleine Hutchins DIV ’21 circulated the petition three weeks after she and fellow YDS student leader Anthony Trujillo DIV ’19 published an op-ed in the News, titled “Recognised but marginalized.” The piece generated conversations among students and faculty members about how to better include studies about indigeneity in the YDS’s curriculum, but incurred no administrative response.
On Friday, Hutchins published another op-ed, this time outlining specific goals she developed with her group Native Crossroads -— a student-led organization in the YDS working toward Native representation. That same day, she released the petition, which has received signatures from YDS students, professors and outside supporters. While YDS administrators have yet to publicly respond to the petition, members of Native Crossroads are slated to meet with them in early December to discuss goals moving forward.
“We want to see a commitment on the part of the institution as a whole to bringing indigenous North Americans to the center of this institution,” Trujillo said in an interview with the News. “To this point there has been no real effort to specifically attract Native students or Native faculty to YDS. What has happened has largely been student-led. One thing we did last year was establish Native Crossroads to show that there has been Native presence here.”
Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling did not respond to request for comment.
The petition urges the school “to turn a critical eye towards the legacy of settler colonialism.” By fully incorporating indigeneity into YDS scholarship, the school would more fully serve its students, the petition said.
The petition demands that YDS publicly recognize that Yale’s campus sits on Quinnipiac land. The group is also seeking for the integration of indigenous voices into the foundational coursework for all divinity students and a renewed commitment to funding digital humanities research about Native Americans in the Northeast.
In an interview, American religious history professor Tisa Wenger argued that YDS must prioritize indigenizing the school.
“I support all of the actions that Madeleine is advocating, though realistically it can’t happen in the time frame that she proposes,” Wenger wrote in an email to the News. “Implementing a land acknowledgement as a part of our regular institutional practice would be an important first step and can be done immediately. Creating new faculty lines and redirecting institutional resources to build a new program will necessarily take more than a couple of years.”
Wenger added that YDS could hire a permanent indigenous scholar and draw from existing Yale programs to create a concentration focused on indigenous scholarship at the school. She said that having a program in place would help to recruit Native students, which Native Crossroads leaders have called a challenge and a priority.
Trujillo and Hutchins said questions surrounding the colonial legacy of the Yale Divinity School and its lack of Native representation have frustrated Native students on campus.
“We would like to see YDS be a solution to that problem rather than perpetuate that cycle,” Trujillo said of academia’s shortage of indigenous representation. He added that it’s a challenge to attract Native students to a school where “there is this history of missionization.”
The Divinity School was founded in 1822.