Yale Daily News

On the coattails of two senior faculty hires in African American studies, three additional scholars have received appointments in the department and will begin teaching at the University this fall. The hires were made in conjunction with the humanities and English departments, and multiple hiring searches are ongoing.

Elleza Kelley, Jonathan Howard and Ernest Mitchell will officially join Yale faculty in July. The News spoke with these scholars — who hail from Columbia University, Boston College and Harvard University, respectively — about their research and excitement regarding the move to Yale. Professor of African American studies and psychology Phillip Goff and professor of African American studies and history Elizabeth Hinton — the aforementioned senior faculty hires — have already begun teaching at the University. Six current faculty members and University administrators also spoke with the News about the new hires, the hiring process and the need for continued investment in African American studies at Yale.

“Yale is in a position to hire this extraordinary group of faculty because, for the last half century, we’ve sought to be at the forefront in African American studies,” Tamar Gendler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, told the News. “[The department] has always sought to capture the voices of the generation that is pushing forward the frontiers of the field, and the hires that we’ve done in the last couple of years … are a continuation of this half-century legacy of excellence and leadership in this field.”

Jacqueline Goldsby, chair of the Department of African American Studies, expressed similar sentiments. She called the African American studies department an “engine of diversity.” Since all of the appointments are joint hires with either the humanities or English departments, Goldsby said they were, in effect, “diversifying other departments too.”

FAS Dean of Humanities Kathryn Lofton told the News that the hiring searches received more applications than any other division of the FAS during the hiring year. She said the searches were organized with and led by “deeply inclusive practices,” such as financial investment, an emphasis on diversity and a focus on younger generations, which led to an unsurprising final result of “superlative excellence.”

“Black studies is asking the most exciting questions in the humanities, opening broad horizons for new research,” Lofton added in an email to the News.

While the majority of the hires are either starting next term or have yet to be selected, the University has already hired two senior faculty for the current school year — Goff and Hinton.

Goff, who began at Yale in July 2020, works at the intersection of race and public safety and is the co-founder for the Center for Policing Equity. He told the News that although his recruitment was over before the current “cultural moment” began, “some of the best minds thinking around this stuff were either at or on their way to Yale. Yale has earned its reputation as the place where the deep work happens. Where there’s not investment in trends, but investment in the fundamentals.”

Goff added that “some of my favorite people just as human beings” happen to also work at Yale, making the move “incredibly attractive” for a multitude of reasons.But, Goff said, there is still more that the University can and needs to do to invest financially in infrastructure so that Yale is “the place where justice happens,” both in the current moment and for generations to come.

Hinton did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Kelley, Howard and Mitchell all expressed their excitement to make use of Yale’s resources in their scholarship.

“Across departments, Yale has outstanding faculty who I am excited to work with,” Kelley, an English doctoral candidate at Columbia, wrote to the News in an email. “I’m especially thrilled to work with Yale students, I know we have a lot to teach each other.”

Kelley will join the English and African American studies departments as a postdoctoral associate in the early summer, and she will begin an appointment as an assistant professor next fall. Her research focuses on African American literature and art’s influence on Black geographies, and she mentioned the Yale University Art Gallery as a resource on campus that she intends to utilize.

These explorations will be considered in the course Kelley will teach in Spring 2022: a first-year seminar in African American studies entitled “Counterarchives: Black Historical Fictions.” The course will discuss contemporary Black historical fiction and “the possibilities and limits of reading literature as alternative archives, or counter narratives, of Black history.” Kelley mentioned that poems about the Amistad revolt are on the course’s syllabus, and that it is a “really important part of history” that the Amistad trials took place in New Haven.

For Howard, who is coming to Yale from an assistant professorship at Boston College and a fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin, the nature of the “cluster hire” in African American studies is especially exciting, as it will allow for a source of community and support while navigating the tenure process.

Not all hires occur in cluster form, which is when a large amount of hires are completed around the same time in one area of study. According to Lofton, when the hiring committee “saw the size and excellence of the applicant pool,” they worked to ensure that they could hire a larger number of faculty.

Howard, whose research focuses on the intersection of Black Studies and the environment, is eager to continue the tradition of African American studies scholarship at Yale.

“The old guard of scholars is now retiring, and I’m really excited about carrying forward a stellar tradition in African American studies,” he said. “I look forward to contributing my own chapter to that history.”

Howard added that resources such as the Beinecke Library and a more robust doctoral program in African American literature, as well as interdisciplinary programs in English and other departments, make the move especially enjoyable.

“We’ll be joining a host of amazing colleagues and a lineage of celebrated scholars of black literature at Yale,” Mitchell, a current lecturer in history and literature at Harvard, wrote to the News. “… Given Yale’s commitment to the humanities, I’m excited to work with undergrads and grad students here.”

Mitchell — who will be an assistant professor in English and the humanities program, with a secondary appointment in the African American studies department — said that he is excited to come to Yale at the same time as Jonathan Howard and Elleza Kelley and that he is eager to work alongside current Yale faculty members. 

Mitchell added that when he begins in July, it will be “a joy” to engage with the James Weldon Johnson Memorial collection and with Beinecke curators. He called the collection a “treasure trove of Black Renaissance resources,” which is what his research primarily focuses on. He wrote that the Renaissance is “crucial for black self-awareness in the West,” and that it is crucial to study it now in a time of “renewed reflection on black life, literature, and politics.”

This fall, Mitchell will teach English 127: “Readings in American Literature” and a senior seminar in English cross listed with humanities and African American studies entitled “Fictions of the Harlem Vogue: Novels, Short Stories, and Novellas of the ‘Harlem Renaissance.’” In the spring, Mitchell will teach another course on Jamaican-born poet Claude McKay, as well as a Directed Studies seminar. Mitchell is currently working on a biography of Mckay for Yale University Press.

While Mitchell, Howard and Kelley will begin in the summer, Dean of Diversity and Faculty Development in the FAS Larry Gladney said the hiring for this year is “far from done.”

“Overall, we expect a successful year with many searches completing and the prospects of a diverse and excellent cohort of new faculty are quite good,” Gladney wrote in an email to the News. “Yale is taking great advantage of its ability to out-compete many of its peers in a year which has been stressful for all of higher education.”

The African American studies program began in 1969 and was the first undergraduate degree-granting program of its kind in the Ivy League. In 2000, it was promoted to the status of interdisciplinary department.

Madison Hahamy | madison.hahamy@yale.edu 

Zaporah Price | zaporah.price@yale.edu 

Correction, April 16: A previous version of the article stated that Mitchell will come to Yale from Boston College and Howard from Harvard. In fact, Mitchell is at Harvard, and Howard is at Boston College. The story has been updated.

Correction, April 18: The article has been updated to correct the spelling of Goff’s name — it is Phillip, not Philip.

Correction, April 24: This story now reflects that Mitchell was hired jointly in the English and Humanities departments, with a secondary appointment — not a joint appointment — in African American studies.

Correction, April 26: The headline and lede of the story have been updated to reflect that the hires were not all made by the African American studies department, but rather in conjunction with the humanities and English departments. Mitchell, for example, was hired in the humanities and English departments with a secondary appointment in the African American studies department.

Madison Hahamy is a junior from Chicago, Illinois majoring in English and in Human Rights. She previously wrote for the Yale Daily News and served as Senior Editor for The New Journal.