As Yale starts a new fall semester, I pause to take stock of the YAA’s activities over the past year – a year once again fraught with uncertainty and marked by great challenge, but one also featuring much perseverance and progress. As in previous years, this pause includes reviewing the YAA’s efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and belonging.
I have previously provided updates about DEI and belonging. The last update was my January 2021 message. I encourage you to forward this and previous DEI updates to other alumni and ask them to let me know if they would like to receive future reports. If you are no longer interested in receiving these messages, please let me know and we will remove you from this list.
I begin by thanking you for your continued interest in and support of the YAA’s programs and offerings. We appreciate your thoughts, feedback, and remarkable work. I am particularly grateful for your interest in and encouragement about the YAA’s and Yale’s efforts to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
Fostering a Connected and Vibrant Community to Advance Yale’s Excellence
The Yale Corporation, President Salovey, and other university leaders have made advancing DEI a clear priority – from launching Belonging at Yale in 2018 and extending the Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative (FEDI) in 2019 to increasing financial aid and implementing best practices in policing.
In October 2020, President Salovey announced a number of activities that are “part of necessary efforts to mitigate racism in society, which will require continuous hard work on many fronts.” These activities are focused on six areas as part of a five-year plan, with 10 priorities indicated. The activities, areas, and priorities are summarized on the Belonging at Yale website and also at the end of this letter.
Work on the priorities is well underway and in addition to this April 2021 update, please note the following examples:
- Examine Yale and Slavery: Under the leadership of Prof. David Blight, the preliminary findings will be discussed this October at the annual conference of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. Prof. Blight will be in conversation with former Yale College Dean and current Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway and renowned poet, scholar, and current Andrew W. Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander. More information about this work may be found at the Yale and Slavery Research Project website.
- Invest in BIPOC Faculty: Through the FEDI program, there have been 119 ladder faculty appointed and supported.
- Reimagine Public Safety and Policing: Yale’s Department of Public Safety and the Committee on Policing have embraced the foundational themes of the 21CP Report; to date, more than 82% of the 88 recommendations in the March 2020 report by 21CP Solutions have been implemented or are underway. In addition, Yale Public Safety has implemented and is working on other policies and practices with input from Yale faculty and the Justice Collaboratory at the Yale Law School. Yale Public Safety has also adopted a Differential Response Program, which dispatches the most appropriate public safety resource – including the police when necessary – in response to calls for assistance. Differential response better integrates Yale’s public safety structure and resources, and it focuses police on responding to situations where their expertise and training are most applicable.
- Require DEI/Belonging Unit Plans: Yale’s schools and administrative divisions are developing five-year action plans for DEI and belonging, due this fall. The plans will include specific attention to the experiences of staff, faculty, alumni, and students of color, and will address professional development, education, and training in DEI and belonging. Planning is tailored to the needs of the school or division but oriented toward a common set of six priority areas, allowing for alignment and prioritization. Yale is unique among our peers and other institutions in including alumni needs and interests in the planning process.
- Yale has also reviewed policies, reporting processes, resources, and staffing to prevent and address discrimination and harassment. An outcome of this review is a new Policy Against Discrimination and Harassment, which sets out, in one place, the definitions of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation applicable to all students, faculty, and staff. This work also: clarified the means for providing support, informal resolution, and investigation, where appropriate; added, and continues to add, staff to Student Accessibility Services and the Office of Institutional Equity and Accessibility, which handle accommodations for students and employees, respectively; and launched a new website that gathers information and resources regarding accessibility at Yale for students, faculty, staff, and visitors.
DEI Programs Advance the YAA’s Mission
The YAA’s mission is to enhance and renew the lifelong Yale experience for all alumni. As the alumni body has grown more diverse, the YAA must find ways to cultivate a stronger sense of inclusion. Accordingly, the YAA Board of Governors has embraced DEI as a priority, seeking to promote learning and understanding of DEI issues, and emphasizing inclusion. This is evident in this year’s Excellence Awards winners. Several of these awards, given to alumni group efforts for excellence in their events, programs, and best practices, illustrated outstanding DEI initiatives.
The YAA Board of Governors’ commitment to cultivating inclusion among alumni leaders is also evident in the new members of the YAA Board of Governors, who reflect the alumni body’s diversity and enthusiasm for Yale.
Working with volunteers, the YAA continues to support and encourage community-building activities for Yale College classes, Yale regional clubs, and existing and nascent shared interest groups. This partnership resulted in the appended – and astounding – list of programs this year that have celebrated the depth and breadth of our diverse, rich community. (See below for more on YAA and YAA affiliate events discussing, celebrating, and commemorating DEI issues and efforts.) Thank you to the alumni volunteers and YAA staff who worked so hard to bring these events to life!
Additionally, there are YAA-produced programs I’d like to highlight:
- Our second biennial conference “IMPACT 2: Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” The IMPACT 2 recordings are on our website and also on the YAA YouTube channel playlist. If you haven’t viewed any of the recordings, I encourage you to add your view to the more than 26,000 views! Here are some highlights, including keynote remarks by Michael Curry ’78 MDiv, 27th presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church.
- Conversations with “Daughters of the Movement,” with daughters of Harry and Julie Belafonte, Diahann Carroll, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Bill Lynch, Al Sharpton, Malcolm X, and the granddaughter of Percy Sutton, moderated by Yale Associate Professor of African American Studies, History, and American Studies Crystal Feimster. This was a follow-up to the not-to-be-missed Yale Alumni Academy’s series honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and “African American Civil Rights: From Reconstruction to Right Now.”
- The alumni leaders’ Assembly and Convocation 2020-21 sessions, with speakers and topics showcasing the talents, expertise, and diversity in our alumni community, including Arts in Conversation: Genevieve Gaignard ’14 MFA, a Conversation on Digital Accessibility for Social Media with Yale’s Michelle Morgan; and Authors in Conversation: Deesha Philyaw ’93 (“The Secret Lives of Church Ladies”) and Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (“The Undocumented Americans”).
- With limitations on in-person gatherings, A Year of Service beyond the traditional Yale Day of Service, with sessions ranging from “Public Health Considerations in Indigenous Communities: Research, Advocacy, and Activism” to “Equity and Access in the Healthcare Industry,” “Increasing Education Access in Underserved Youth Communities,” and “First-Gen Students at Yale: Changemakers and Community Builders.” All videos can be viewed on our service showcase channel on Vimeo.
I hope you will join me in continuing to learn more, understand more, and acknowledge and discuss more often the matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion that will shape our university and our alumni association in the future.
Thank you for all that you do to make this a better Yale and a more inclusive alumni association. I hope this message finds you and yours safe and well, and I look forward to continuing this journey together with you in the days, months, and years to come.