As Yale alums, we have watched recent events in New Haven with concern and dismay. The current student protests may have been provoked by a controversy over Halloween costumes, but they have much deeper roots in Yale’s history and culture, and they have made it clear to us that institutional racism continues to be a powerful force at Yale, as it was when we were students.
We are writing to you to express our support for the students and faculty, particularly students and faculty of color, who are speaking up and urging action to combat racism at Yale. We encourage you to work with them to move the university forward so it can become the truly welcoming, inclusive, and vibrant intellectual community we hope with all our hearts it can be.
We want, too, to question those, especially those in the Yale community, who have waved the banner of free speech as a weapon against protesting students. Those students are, in fact, exercising their right to free speech. If one of the great accomplishments of our founders was to enshrine freedom of speech in the First Amendment, one of their great failures was to build our nation and its institutions within a framework of slavery and racism. It thus behooves us all, and in particular institutions like Yale, which have such deep roots and wide reach in American history and culture, to refuse false hierarchies between freedom of speech and racism. We must make sure voices are heard at the same time as past and present injustices are addressed.
Today’s racial climate is not just Yale’s failure; it is a national failure, which we can never do enough to remediate, and yet which we must ceaselessly try to remediate. But Yale can take a stand - indeed, can take the lead - in these efforts, and we urge you to lead the university’s students, faculty, staff, and alums in collaborating to do so.