Yale Daily News

In a Thursday announcement, University President Peter Salovey detailed progress made over the past year on the University’s diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives. In particular, Yale has grown admissions programs geared at diversifying the student population, and the commission examining the University’s historical connection to slavery has continued work.

Salovey’s announcement detailed what the University has done since his announcement last October of the Belonging at Yale initiative, which is meant to advance the issues of racial equity and inclusion on Yale’s campus. He broke down nine areas in which Yale is working to improve equity and inclusion, including “increasing the diversity among top staff leaders” and “shoring up financial aid for all students with need.” According to the announcement, which came in the form of a campus-wide email, 150 University employees have spent the last year working on this issue.

“Addressing systemic racism, inequality, and injustice is crucial to improving the world today and for future generations,” Salovey wrote in the email. “We have much to do, and together, we will continue to make progress.”

In the first section of the announcement, titled “Understanding Yale’s History,” Salovey drew attention to the continued study of Yale’s historical ties to racism. The Yale and Slavery Working Group, which Salovey established last year, has been studying the University’s connection with slavery under the direction of history professor David Blight, and has joined the Universities Studying Slavery group, which includes around 80 other institutions across the country engaged in similar work.

In February, the working group released its initial findings, which noted that Yale used enslaved persons to build Connecticut Hall and trained ministers who went on to own enslaved persons. 

Salovey also reaffirmed Yale’s support of the New Haven community, and added that Yale is continuing its study of differential police response within the Yale Police Department. The email states that as part of new YPD policy, a mental health professional may be sent in response to a call as opposed to a police officer.

However, not all students were pleased with the announcement.

Callie Benson-Williams ’23, the executive director of Black Students for Disarmament at Yale told the News that the “section about policing is very short and very vague.”

“He’s not in any way responding to what we’re talking about: why the YPD exists at all … why they have jurisdiction in New Haven or any consideration of the fact that New Haven citizens have no recourse against the officers despite being able to be arrested by them,” Benson-Williams said.

She noted that while the decision to incorporate mental health professionals into police response is “a good step forward,” the notion that police officers are called to respond to medical or mental health issues is “crazy.”

Benson-Williams pointed out that the University’s progress on policing has been slow, as it has been more than two years since the YPD was involved in a shooting of an unarmed couple — which touched off conversations on campus about the role of the police department —  and “there still hasn’t been any change.”

“I’m yet to see any concrete change in the way that YPD exists and functions,” she said. 

Beyond policing, Salovey said in his announcement that the University has seen some of its clearest progress in the hiring of a more diverse tenure-track faculty, with 15 percent of new tenure-track faculty coming from “underrepresented groups” as opposed to seven percent in 2014.

“The excellence of our faculty defines Yale,” Salovey wrote. “Our future depends on being able to recruit and retain exceptional educators, scholars, and researchers who bring diverse experiences, expertise, and viewpoints.”

Salovey added that the commitment to diversity in hiring is also being translated to staff leaders, where the University is prioritizing hiring and promoting people from historically underrepresented groups. Kristen Beyers, the director of community and inclusion at the Yale School of Management, said that the University’s commitment to staff diversity is one of the most important parts of the recent announcement. 

“I am happy to see there is progress around developing and retaining under-represented staff, with the newly created staff leadership initiative,” Beyers wrote in an email to the News. “We need to accelerate the development of diverse talent across the university.”

Salovey also noted that the University has prioritized increasing the diversity of student backgrounds, and in the last five years has nearly doubled the number of Eli Whitney students that matriculate each year and has more than doubled the numbers of students who participate in the First-Year Scholars at Yale summer program. 

On Wednesday, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions’ hosted an essay-writing Zoom workshop for Indigenous high school seniors.

Over the last year, the University has also pushed to increase academic research on issues of racism, justice and equality. 

In an email to the News, Lily Sutton, DEI council co-chair and director of student affairs for the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs, wrote that the Jackson Institute views diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging as “fundamental to our values and core mission.”

“It’s incredibly important to us to understand and support the diversity of perspectives and experiences of our entire community, and DEIB initiatives are a critical part of this commitment,” she wrote to the News.

In the Jackson Institute specifically, Sutton told the News that they have recently launched the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council which is made up of faculty, students and alumni and chaired by director of the Jackson Institute, Jim Levinsohn. 

Jackson and all other graduate and professional schools plan to share a summary of their full DEI plans with the University by November.

Michele Nearon, senior associate dean for graduate student development and diversity, described the Graduate School’s diversity plan in an email to the News. The plan focuses primarily on recruitment, progress and retention and professional development. 

“The DEI&B strategic plan for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will be instrumental in addressing one primary goal as set forth by [Graduate School] Dean Cooley, namely, ‘To continue to diversify the student body and create a welcoming, inclusive and supportive climate that fosters student success,’” Nearon wrote.

Larry Gladney, FAS dean of diversity and faculty development and physics professor, could not provide specifics on the FAS’ diversity initiatives, since they are currently being “worked out by the implementation team.”

Instead, he said that a number of principles are guiding their actions on this issue, including mentoring for faculty “from a fresh perspective and based on evidence of what works best to build inclusivity and equity. “

Gladney also noted that the action taken by the FAS on diversity and inclusion will be guided by measurable targets and metrics.

“The various constituent communities within FAS (e.g. departments) will have to define what they want to do and, while there will certainly be central help for them to carry out what they want, they will have to be accountable to themselves for progress,” Gladney wrote in an email to the News. “The emphasis is on changes in culture, not simply changes in policies.”

According to Gladney, the FAS submitted its preliminary self-unit plans and self-assessment in May, when it was first due. They plan to submit a completed, revised plan on Oct. 29. 

There are 22 units at the University.

Philip Mousavizadeh covers Woodbridge Hall, the President's Office. He previously covered the Jackson Institute. He is a sophomore in Trumbull College studying Ethics, Politics, and Economics