Two years after Salovey establishes DEI plans, students question staying power of Belonging at Yale Initiative
With Salovey’s five-year DEI plan underway, students interviewed by the News questioned whether Yale’s ambitions to advocate for a sense of school belonging are being fulfilled.
Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer
Once a month, around 40 faculty and administrative leaders log into a Zoom call to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion at Yale.
The monthly call is key to the Belonging at Yale Initiative, University President Peter Salovey’s latest push to foster an inclusive University community. The initiative, which released its annual report in December, is set to begin its third year of development in a 5-year plan, with the stated goal of creating an environment in which all community members can “freely participate in the vibrant life of a scholarly community.” Amid such ambitious goals to tackle issues of inclusivity, students interviewed by the News voiced mixed feelings about how far DEI has come at Yale, and whether such changes go far enough.
Joaquin Estevez ’24, who is majoring in mechanical engineering, told the News that it “gets really difficult to find any sort of diversity” in faculty hiring within higher level STEM courses. Estevez called for the recruitment of diverse faculty working in STEM fields, whom he believes can support students of color who don’t feel represented enough in their classrooms.
“At the Af-Am House, we were connecting Black faculty with students as a sort of mixer,” Estevez said. “And at that mixer, it was mostly humanities professors. There wasn’t anyone really in any sort of STEM field.”
Belonging at Yale’s annual report, released this December, highlights increases in diversity among Yale faculty, supported by the $85 million Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative. Among the ladder faculty who began at Yale in the fall 2022 semester, 21 percent come from underrepresented backgrounds. Only over a decade earlier, just 6 percent of faculty came from such backgrounds.
However, as of the most recent data available on the Yale faculty website, only 6 percent of ladder faculty in engineering and applied sciences come from underrepresented racial minority backgrounds. According to Secretary and Vice President for University Life Kimberly Goff-Crews, STEM focused schools, departments and deans, as well as the Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative, are “working intensively to recruit underrepresented faculty.”
Estevez also called for the University to hire more Black professors and professors who attended HBCUs, as these individuals “bring in a lot of perspective” that a student could not otherwise receive. Goff-Crews told the News that Yale is reaching out to HBCUs to “discuss possible partnerships that benefit both sides.”
As for staff, Yale has made efforts to promote diverse employees to senior leadership. The Emerge program at Yale, which attempts to encourage retention among mid-level staff and prepare them for senior leadership at the University, has launched two cohorts of 40 participants since last April. The News previously reported that administrators were looking to make changes to their overall managerial training programs based on conclusions drawn during Emerge’s first cycle.
Last month, Salovey also promised to take diversity into consideration when hiring at the “highest ranks” of University leadership.
Aranyo Ray ’25 said that when he sees individuals who have “still persevered and not been privileged enough when they went to university but are now in top positions at a place like Yale, it gives [him] hope.”
According to Jack Callahan, who serves as the University’s senior vice president for operations, the two University-wide initiatives that administrators have implemented to support DEI among staff this past year have involved recruiting and education. Callahan said an expanded recruiting team and an outside consultant, as well as the addition of a new head of talent acquisition, Janet Gipson, have made DEI-focused hiring more feasible. Staff training programs have begun to address new topics such as unconscious bias and conflict resolution.
Two other central goals of the Belonging at Yale Initiative, according to Goff-Crews, are to improve “intentionality” within University communication about their values and to learn through conversations with inter-department leadership.
Some students expressed their lack of confidence in University leadership’s efforts to communicate to the wider Yale community.
“In my opinion, Yale does a surprisingly good job at listening to graduate and professional student concerns,” Nick Fisk GRD ’23, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, told the News. “They do a far poorer job at signaling to those giving those concerns that they have been heard, however.”
In response, Goff-Crews told the News that Yale’s leaders seek student views in formal and informal ways, such as through meetings with elected student leaders and in informal conversations across campus.
By requiring each unit — academic and administrative — to create its own DEI report, University leaders seek to push transparency in such efforts. According to senior administrators, the goal was to give deans and administrators agency over their own DEI plan in order to prevent them from feeling as though a plan had been simply imposed.
Goff-Crews said that having each of the units identify and implement their own strategies was pivotal to “making things move.” Salovey added that he hoped to develop reporting metrics that could assess the progression of DEI across departments. Students involved in these DEI efforts, however, face a critical challenge.
According to Fisk, many of the students most passionate about DEI commitments have the “least time and most demands” for implementation. They cited how such work has been shifted onto the plates of students, especially those of underrepresented minority backgrounds, and places an immense burden on them to solve such issues. On a case-by-case basis, they said, this can lead to a general hesitancy for students to commit time to DEI work.
Overall, Goff-Crews anticipated that Yale’s DEI initiatives would become more of a “relay marathon,” progressing in segments every five years. This means Yale will continue to promote DEI far past 2026 — when Salovey’s original plan for Belonging at Yale is set to expire.
But Fisk noted that many graduate and professional students can feel frustrated over such slow progress.
“Change, especially in an institution like Yale, can be frustratingly slow—slow enough to barely see motion during our time here,” Fisk wrote in an email to the News.
Fisk brought up the example of a committee to revise Yale ID guidelines that was formed following a high-profile incident in which a Black student had the cops called on her in 2018. Only this year — five years after the events — will Yale adopt revised guidelines, they said, still calling it a “genuine improvement.”
“One thing to remember well is that this is a long term process,” Goff-Crews told the News. “We talk about [the plans] as being a marathon, not a sprint.”
A University survey showed that approximately 46 percent of faculty who identify as a member of an underrepresented minority feel a sense of belonging at Yale. That number rises to 60 percent for those who do not identify as an underrepresented minority. Only 54 percent of minority faculty members “would recommend Yale” as a place to study or work.
Correction 2/1: The article was updated to reflect Goff-Crew’s correct title.