Karen Lin, Photo Editor

On April 1, Assistant Dean of Yale College Risë Nelson will leave her role as Director of the African American Cultural House to take the inaugural role of Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Yale University Library. 

Nelson began her role at the AfAm house in 2015, and she presided over initiatives such as the House’s 50th Anniversary and the creation of Black graduation. She will now transition to her new role at the Yale University Library, presiding over DEI initiatives throughout Yale’s library system. 

“I have been here almost seven years,” Nelson said. “And I think it’s time. I think that I have done with our students and alumni and others some extraordinary work together. And I think at this point, it is time for me to move on.”

The change in position was announced in separate emails to the House and to Yale College Dean’s Office colleagues on March 1. Both emails included a message from Dean Nelson, and the email to YCDO colleagues include a message from Yale College Dean Marvin Chun.

Chun told the News that Nelson’s new role is “a terrific opportunity… and a promotion.”

“She was an outstanding Director of the AfAm house, and she’s an outstanding assistant dean of Yale College,” Chun told the News. “She really understands the importance of diversity and inclusion and belonging and has really been very effective and innovative in offering programs for the House, but that are very open to the broader community, to basically just really promote an appreciation for Black history and our Black students and our alumni.”

Chun specifically cited the programming Nelson created that connected the House and the New Haven community. Nelson said that House works with up to 12,000 or more people, and ensuring that people stay connected to each other and to the resources at Yale and in New Haven was a large part of her role.

Nelson, a self-described “townie,” was raised in New Haven. In her announcement of her new role, she said that growing up, out of all of Yale, she only ever felt comfortable at the House.

“Even as a teen, I knew that the House was for ‘us,’” Nelson wrote. “So being appointed Director of the House in 2015 was surreal. It still is.”

In her role with both the House and the Dean’s Office, Nelson worked to create programs in support of underrepresented students, including the House’s History Keepers Program — a collaboration with Yale Library and the Smithsonian that helps students gain experience in archival and academic work while preserving Yale’s Black histories. 

Nelson said she developed the program during a particular “period of campus unrest” from 2015 to 2016, to help students “learn about and grapple with these really complicated histories” surrounding the House and Black Yale.

“She’s an important voice and not just for the college but for the broader University,” Chun said. “She offers very important wisdom and important perspectives and expertise. So the fact that she’s staying at Yale is huge.”

Nelson said that in her new role at Yale University Library,  she will work on diversifying the library’s collections, archives and resources, along with ensuring that those resources are “accessible to our community,” including students, New Haven residents and anyone who might be visiting Yale.

She said the role will also include “staff recruitment and retention,” along with new professional development initiatives that will help staff learn more about DEI.

“To fully support Yale’s educational mission, we must also strive to make our collections as discoverable and accessible as possible to research communities at Yale and beyond, and particularly to communities whose heritage may be represented in the collections,” University Librarian Barbara Rockenbach wrote in a message about DEI released July 2021.

In that message, Rockenbach said that she looks forward to working with the new director — at that point not yet hired — to “develop and implement DEI strategies throughout the university library system.”

In leaving her role with the House, Nelson said she is confident that students will “be able to pick things up,” as they have been integral to the House’s daily life throughout its history. 

But Nelson also noted that more recent students haven’t seen the House in its “hay-day” due to the pandemic. Nelson said that pre-pandemic, the House was always active, saying that “there wasn’t a dull moment.” 

“I think I’m going to need to bring folks in over the next few months, even after I officially stepped into my library role, to help our students kind of understand these backgrounds,” Nelson said.

Nelson added that in her new role, she is looking forward to having better boundaries around her work schedule and being able to “share time with [her] family.”

Chun told the News that the process for selecting a new House director will be just like any other cultural center and will include the creation of a committee of faculty, students and staff members that will recommend applicants to Chun. He added that a national job posting has already been released.

Nelson will give her farewell remarks at the Afro-American Cultural Center’s 50th anniversary, which will be held from April 29 to May 1.

Lucy Hodgman contributed reporting.

Dante Motley is public editor for the News. He was previously managing editor, and prior to that he covered Black communities at Yale and in New Haven. He has also served as an Associate Editor for the YDN Magazine and worked on "The Yalie" podcast. Dante is a senior in Grace Hopper College majoring in anthropology.