Yale News

A half-century ago, Carlos Moreno ’70 was a first year in Pierson College catching his first glimpse of Phelps Gate.

Upon arriving at Yale, Moreno dropped his suitcases, nabbed the bottom bunk of Suite B42 in Lanman-Wright Hall — then called Wright Hall — and stared up the words “Property of Yale University” written on the bed frame above him.

“I’ve arrived,” he remembered thinking.

As a first year in the fall of 1966, Moreno was one of three Mexican American students in his 1,000-person class. Together, they founded Yale’s first affinity group for Mexican American students.

Now, as the newest member of the Yale Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — Moreno thinks the Belonging at Yale initiatives are the University’s most pressing priorities. He also hopes to work with the University to improve town-gown relations, as they have been strained by Yale growing and taking over taxable land space, he said.

Particularly, Moreno wants to hire and retain a more diverse faculty. Moreno said Rodolfo Alvarez, then the first Mexican American faculty member, was instrumental in encouraging him and the other Mexican-American students in his class to bond.

Alvarez invited the three students to his home in Morse College to make tacos. That evening, they formed a group called Los Hermanos — the brothers. As the population of Mexican-American students at Yale grew, the group morphed into the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

At meetings, the group would make traditional Mexican food, often tacos that were made with tortillas Alvarez had brought back in his suitcase after travels to Texas or California. When the dean of Morse College got word of the gatherings, Morse’s dining hall cooks asked Alvarez to teach them how to make tacos for the whole college.

The club also pushed University administrators to increase diversity at Yale, as it was then largely known as a college for prep school graduates. The students initiated seminars on diverse topics — such as courses in Mexican American and Asian American studies — that residential colleges could sponsor, lobbied for more faculty of color and convinced the admissions office to sponsor recruiting trips.

On his trips, Moreno went home to central Los Angeles to recruit students at local public high schools. 

“I basically said it could be done and there was nothing to fear,” he said. “You’ll have kindred spirits [at Yale] and it’s an adventure.”

Moreno grew up in his uncle’s home along with his mother and four siblings. By middle school, he had decided he wanted to go to college on the East Coast, despite never having left the state.

In 1966, he took his first airplane ride to New York — on his way to New Haven for his first semester at Yale. 

“I wasn’t intimidated or afraid or anything,” he said. “Maybe you don’t know better at that age and you just do it.”

He and a group of other first-generation college students thought of themselves as “Inky’s Kids” after then-director of admissions Russell Inslee “Inky” Clark Jr., who made a concerted effort to recruit students from public schools.

At Yale, Moreno majored in political science and took international relations classes to better understand the tumultuous world around him, he said. Moreno attended college during the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and the Cold War.

He particularly enjoyed reading literature and told the News that he wished he had majored in English instead. Still, he noted the rapid pace of his reading; At one point, he calculated the length of his assignments, and found himself at about 2,000 pages per week.

“I wonder how much attention I was paying,” he said.

After Yale, Moreno went on to Stanford Law School and ultimately became a judge in California. On the California bench, Moreno helped decide numerous cases preserving rights for same-sex couples. In 2014, President Barack Obama made him U.S. ambassador to Belize.

Republican leaders appointed him to two of his positions, while Democratic leaders gave him two others. The current polarization around the courts bothers him, he said — he believes he is a “product of bipartisanship,” and as a judge has a duty to the letter of the law, not to a political party.

His open mind will make him a strong Trustee, Alvarez said. 

“He has had on the ground experience in a variety of different situations and I think that will serve him very well in understanding the needs of people in making policy decisions as a Trustee,” he said. “I don’t see him as having a particular bias.”

Currently, Moreno volunteers for a variety of organizations in California, where he lives. He mentors local high school students, is on the board of Kaiser hospitals, vets candidates for state judges and is on a special committee on discipline for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Moreno had his first meeting with the other Yale Corporation members in early October. He is currently attending a number of orientation meetings.

“Justice Moreno has an extensive history of service to Yale and to communities across the nation and around the world,” University President Peter Salovey said when Moreno was elected to the Corporation last May. “His distinguished career in pursuit of justice, his experience representing the United States abroad, and his lifelong dedication to inclusivity — in the legal profession and beyond — exemplify Yale’s aspirations for its students.”

As a Trustee, Moreno hopes to meet with students, saying they “energize him.” The Corporation is now a much more diverse body that better represents Yale’s students, than before. But when Moreno went to Yale, the Corporation members seemed like a distant entity.

“When I was a student you thought of these old white guys who had backgrounds in finance,” Moreno said. “[It was] totally alien.”

Moreno has two blue and green conures — a type of parrot — named Diego and Frida. He and his wife, Christine, have three children.

Rose Horowitch | rose.horowitch@yale.edu