On Nov. 20, over 120 people from the Yale School of Nursing community gathered to hear school faculty and administrators discuss student complaints about ongoing racism at YSN and future plans for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
University Provost Scott Strobel, Secretary and Vice President for University Life Kimberly Goff-Crews, YSN Dean Ann Kurth and Associate Dean for Global Affairs & Planetary Health LaRon Nelson took part in a Zoom panel on Nov. 20 and addressed students’ concerns about DEI issues at YSN. Strobel began Friday’s event by welcoming participants, and he was followed by Goff-Crews, who emphasized that DEI issues are “really important here at Yale.”
From there, Nelson read a list of student demands collected by the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Action, Solutions — or IDEAS — Council, which consists of YSN alumni, faculty and students. According to University spokesperson Karen Peart, students decided against speaking individually during the panel and drafted the demands document instead.
Kurth also announced the creation of a full-time associate dean of equity position — which students had called for in their list of demands.
“I want to be very clear about where I and the University leadership stand,” Strobel told attendees. “First, acts of racism, discrimination and harassment have no place at Yale. Second, students should be able to enter a classroom or clinical learning environment without fear of experiencing such behavior, particularly from those who are their peers or their instructors. Third, all members of this community belong at Yale. You should all feel you can participate in the school and the University.”
The event comes after weeks of discussion in the aftermath of the YSN’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director Raven Rodriguez’s abrupt Oct. 22 resignation, which prompted discussion about systemic racism within YSN. Students voiced concerns to the News, criticizing the school’s outdated curriculum, offensive remarks made by guest lecturers and professors and a lack of diversity within the school.
Although Peart told the News that about 130 people were present at the event, Jelissa Neal NUR ’22 chose not to attend.
“My absence today also sends a message,” a statement from Neal, read by Nelson at the Nov. 20 meeting, said. “I expect this to be the last listening session that happens … Every time we have a listening session and recount the same things over and over and over, it delays progress. This is why we’ve chosen to have our demands read today. We expect only action moving forward, and we expect it now.”
Neal, who serves on the IDEAS Council, helped create the document of demands that Nelson also read at the meeting. Seven pages long, the document was submitted by “a collective led by Black students at YSN,” and details the changes students want YSN leadership to make.
The document was split into five sections, each addressing a specific area of change within YSN. The demands include involving University administration in bias reporting, the hiring of more BIPOC faculty members and a public acknowledgement of the failure of the current anti-racism plan to address Black students’ needs.
“It is important that the YSN community acknowledges the intersectionality of Blackness,” the student demands document said. “Changes at YSN that support Black students will benefit all. Time and time again, the voice[s] of Black students have been ignored.”
The document also included a section on the challenges faced by international students at YSN, who they said face “unique structural barriers”.
The students requested that the school provide networking opportunities with international YSN alumni, dedicate a staff member to support international students and provide funding and scholarship support specific to international students. YSN Director of Communications Niamh Emerson told the News that YSN “gives scholarships and loans” to international students.
Within the list of demands, students also gave several examples of funding initiatives within Yale and at other educational institutions that could be adopted by YSN to support BIPOC students in areas such as transportation and faculty recruitment.
The document’s final section addressed demands related to financial reallocation and transparency at the school.
The students demanded that YSN provide information on how the school uses student tuition in an effort to increase trust between students and administrators. They also demanded that the school provide funding to establish Belonging at YSN initiatives, which would be led by the ODEI and BIPOC students.
“YSN has an office of Development and Alumni Affairs that raises funds for the school, including a fund specifically for BIPOC initiatives and programming at the school,” YSN Director of Communications Niamh Emerson wrote in an email to the News.
Additionally, the students requested that YSN create an emergency fund, similar to the Yale College Safety Net, that fulfills non-tuition needs such as food, housing and other resources “needed to be successful.”
The students said that this fund must include clear guidelines that describe the application process and timeline, as well as any limits on how much funding students may receive.
Emerson said that the school “has always had” an emergency fund, and that students who have emergency non-tuition needs may contact the YSN Financial Aid Office for assistance. According to Emerson, as of this Monday, there had not been any student requests for emergency funds for the fall 2020 semester.
“We are committed to raising and distributing resources for students who have precarious access to food, housing, income and transportation,” Kurth said in the Nov. 20 meeting. “The fund has been formed and allocated through the YSN Financial Aid Office.”
Students also demanded that YSN create a fund that compensates BIPOC students for the time they spend addressing “structural and institutional inequities” at the school.
They added that this funding should be available to BIPOC students who work to address inequities at YSN, regardless of whether they hold formal positions in the ODEI.
“BIPOC students work towards dismantling institutional inequities for free every time they write an email detailing their traumatic experiences or speak up in class about racist content on slides,” the student demands document stated. “They should at least be compensated for the formal work they do to organize for a more just YSN.”
When asked about this demand, Emerson responded that students on the YSN IDEAS Council are compensated for their time spent on council activities.
Timeline of changes
At Friday’s panel, Kurth announced a six-to-12-month timeline for changes to be implemented at YSN. These include hiring a full-time ODEI director, a curriculum review of current YSN materials and the development of anti-discrimination and anti-racist curricula for the education of faculty. She also announced the creation of a new full-time position of associate dean of equity for the school.
“I have been pained by recent events, by the harms that have happened, and want to state that moving forward I am committed to going beyond rhetoric and bringing about positive change in partnership with the faculty, students and staff,” Kurth said at the meeting. “I agree that YSN doing a better job [of] supporting Black students is needed … I am committed to improving the YSN culture and community through action to address discriminatory attitudes.”
In an email to the News, Peart said that the duties of the associate dean of equity were being finalized and that a nationwide search would subsequently take place. She added that both internal and external candidates are “encouraged to apply” and that administrators look forward to filling the post.
He works alongside Student Equity Coordinator Heather Reynolds, who was appointed in August 2015 to support students of color.
Reynolds referenced the YSN’s anti-racist statement from June and said she had “faith” that the “shared mission will be expressed in the programs and work planned for over the next few months and ongoing.” She added that continued dialogue with those “directly impacted by racism” will enable YSN faculty “to realize a more inclusive and healthy environment for our entire community.”
According to Strobel, BIPOC students compose 31 percent of the YSN student body.
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