Salovey unveils new plans for equity, belonging at Yale

President Peter Salovey on Oct. 14 announced nine actions to enhance diversity, promote equity on campus, and foster an environment of universal respect.
Harkness Tower

(Illustration by Eri Griffin)

President Peter Salovey on Oct. 14 announced nine actions to enhance diversity, promote equity on campus, and foster an environment in which all community members feel welcome, included, and respected.

The initial commitments, which represent the next phase of the Belonging at Yale initiative, include a project to study Yale’s historical intersections with slavery, additional mentoring for new faculty, a new multidisciplinary Center for Law and Racial Justice, more funding for student financial aid, and a new program to encourage diversity in Yale’s senior leadership.

In addition to creating a more equitable and welcoming Yale, these steps also aim to address racism and its long-term impacts. 

As members of a great research university, we recognize that we have a responsibility to use our individual expertise and the intellectual capacity of our institution to address longstanding challenges and injustices in our society and to continue advancing our university in ways that are essential to its excellence,” Salovey said in a letter to the community.

The new programs and actions reflect recommendations made by the President’s Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (PDF), which was appointed earlier this year to advise the president on high-level priorities for fostering an environment in which, as Salovey said at the time, “belonging is second nature to us.” The committee was co-chaired by Kimberly Goff-Crews, university secretary and vice president for university life, and Dr. Gary Desir, vice provost for faculty development and diversity, the Paul B. Beeson Professor of Medicine, and chair of the Department of Internal Medicine. 

Among the initiatives, Yale will:

  • Examine the university’s own historic entanglements and associations with slavery through a project coordinated by David Blight, Sterling Professor of History and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. Blight will reach out to scholars in the Department of African American Studies, the Department of History, and other units. The project, which Blight and his colleagues will aim to complete by the end of the 2021 calendar year, will be made public for “discussion, remembrance, and learning.”
  • Assess ongoing initiatives — university-wide and within specific units — seeking to create an inclusive and respectful environment. The Office of the Provost, in consultation with the Office of the Secretary and Vice President for University Life, will create a method for assessing existing challenges and identifying improvements, and the university will share the results with the community, part of a presidential commitment to transparency in tracking Yale’s progress. All schools and units will be required to have diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and belonging plans, and various university offices will be involved in guiding this process and developing a rubric to evaluate progress. 
  • Increase financial aid and prioritize it in university fundraising goals, including financial aid for professional students in typically less remunerative fields, such as nursing, public health, the environment, divinity, and the arts. In addition, the university will assess the effectiveness of other programs that provide pathways for those from less-advantaged backgrounds to study and succeed at Yale. The Yale College Dean’s Office will explore an expansion of the Eli Whitney Students Program for nontraditional students, pathways for transfer students from community colleges to attend Yale, and other pipeline and academic preparation programs, including First-Year Scholars at Yale. Salovey emphasized that the university will also “staunchly defend” its undergraduate admissions policy against a recent U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit that would “reverse the progress that we have made toward a more diverse student body.”
  • Create a Center for Law and Racial Justice to be housed in the Law School and led by James Forman Jr., the Skelly Wright Professor of Law. The center will serve as a hub for campus-wide, multidisciplinary teaching, study, and policy work on racial justice issues. “Inside out” classrooms will “enable students to learn by doing,” Salovey said, and research at the center will be shared with the public. This new center, and Yale’s existing Justice Collaboratory, Program on Ethnicity, Race & MigrationDepartment of African American StudiesCenter for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational MigrationGilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, and other emerging centers will be complemented by the relocation to New Haven of the Center for Policing Equity, founded by new Yale faculty member and criminal justice expert Phillip Goff. Vice Provost Desir will help to ensure and prioritize collaborative projects among the various centers and programs.
  • Reaffirm its expanded commitment to the Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative (FEDI). Deans and department chairs will evaluate current mentoring programs for instructional, research, and ladder-track faculty to ensure that faculty have mentors who will advocate for them in their careers and help them create plans for advancement. Provost Scott Strobel and Desir will oversee these mentoring assessment and enhancement efforts. Mentoring and career support, as well as fellowships, will also be made available to postdoctoral scholars. To expand the pipeline of future faculty members, Yale’s professional schools will enhance outreach and recruiting at historically Black, minority-serving, and tribal colleges and universities, a practice already adopted by the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
  • Transform policing and public safety. Salovey has asked Senior Vice President for Operations Jack Callahan, Kerwin Charles, the Indra K. Nooyi Dean of the School of Management, Lauren Zucker, associate vice president for New Haven Affairs and University Properties, and Goff-Crews to work closely with Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins to advise on the implementation of recommendations in an assessment of the Yale Police Department and public safety operations by the consulting firm 21CP Solutions. Salovey and this task force will confer with campus experts on policing and racial justice regarding campus public safety practices. Yale Police have recently adopted new scenario-based training in de-escalation techniques and use-of-force reduction, and the university is now discouraging a police response to calls that would be better addressed by, for example, mental health, student life, or counseling professionals.
  •  Launch a Staff Leadership Initiative to promote diversity in senior leadership by identifying qualified staff members and equipping them to assume high-level positions. As part of this effort, which will be developed with School of Management expertise, each dean or unit leader will nominate early- and mid-career staff for leadership training and career advancement. These candidates will also receive mentorship and have opportunities to work on a project with a university leader.
  • The Yale Alumni Association (YAA) will make DEI and belonging key themes in its programming to promote understanding and inspire action and service. The YAA will work with alumni shared-identity groups to build strong connections with student organizations, campus leaders, and university centers and offices. Mentoring and networking programs will be expanded to facilitate alumni support for first-generation and low-income students and to provide role models of alumni leadership to students. In addition, the YAA will arrange conversations among alumni from diverse backgrounds to encourage learning and foster understanding through the sharing of personal stories, and will develop connections with students and recent graduates from historically underrepresented groups to explore their interest in alumni leadership service and ensure their voices are heard.
  • Expand outreach to local minority-owned businesses to increase the diversity of contractors, vendors, and business professionals who provide goods and services to Yale. Susannah Gobbi, chief procurement officer, and John Bollier, vice president for facilities and campus development, will lead this initiative in New Haven. Special attention will be paid to businesses suffering under the COVID-19 pandemic. Yale will continue to partner with the City of New Haven to promote economic development and to work with New Haven retailers in university-owned spaces that have been hit hard by the pandemic. In addition, Yale will increase funding, currently budgeted at $4 million a year, for New Haven Promise, a college scholarship program for New Haven students supported entirely by the university.

Goff-Crews, who leads Belonging at Yale, said the actions announced by Salovey are the first of many steps Yale is taking in the next phase of that effort, over the next three to five years. These actions will support goals outlined by the President’s Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

The President’s Committee recognized significant efforts by past generations of students, faculty, staff, and alumni,” she said. “There is still more to do to create a campus environment where everyone can learn, grow, and succeed. So the president asked this committee to create a set of high-level goals for the long term that the whole university can use to guide and shape our efforts.” 

Goff-Crews added that senior leaders will track and communicate progress at the institutional and local levels.

Following a 2019 external review, Salovey announced steps to strengthen support systems and structures for responding to complaints of discrimination and harassment. That same year, he announced a five-year extension of FEDI, which was started in 2015 to improve the excellence and diversity of Yale’s faculty, with an additional $85 million commitment. In the first five years of FEDI, Yale recruited 101 faculty members and supported 43 visiting fellows, 101 graduate students, and 25 post-baccalaureate students. 

In its recent report, the President’s Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging identified continuing these faculty diversity efforts as a top priority, said Desir.

Yale has made progress attracting members of underrepresented groups and women to the faculty,” he said. “Through sustained mentoring and other inclusive practices, we will do more in this next phase to support our faculty so they continue to feel Yale is the best place for them to be.” 

Committee member Charles Bailyn, the A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of Astronomy and Physics and head of Benjamin Franklin College, emphasized the importance of a campus culture of belonging as a precondition for a more diverse and excellent faculty.  “We need a better climate in order to create the diversity we want,” Bailyn said. “If the people we hire wanted to stay, things would improve. That is to say, you have to start with questions of inclusion and belonging, and that will lead to greater diversity, not the other way around. So we really need to push on the issues of belonging: It’s not just that the full range of faculty, students, staff, and alumni need to feel that they belong to Yale — everyone needs to feel that Yale belongs to them.” 


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