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Yale University Employs Many Strategies to Create a Sense of Belonging

January 2022
yale university campus

Note: This article highlights the experiences of one United Educators (UE) member and doesn’t represent UE risk management or legal advice. As of October 2023, several states have instituted laws that ban or restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at public institutions. Similar legislation is pending in other states. Please consult legal counsel to determine applicable law in your state and determine the extent to which DEI courses, offices, language, or initiatives are allowable at your institution.

Yale University’s goal is to create a community where students, staff, faculty, and alumni feel valued, engaged, and connected. Belonging at Yale is part of the university’s efforts to increase diversity, ensure equity, and enhance a sense of inclusion and belonging.

“If we want to be excellent, we’ve got to make sure that we not only have great people, a diverse group of faculty, students, and staff, but they also have the feeling that they’re connected and contribute in ways that are really meaningful,” says Kimberly Goff-Crews, Secretary and Vice President for University Life at Yale.

Yale’s efforts have paid off in many ways, including with the university recruiting more diverse faculty in recent years, she says. Recruitment of eminent faculty, including those from historically underrepresented groups, in the past year has been stronger than ever — 15% percent of new tenure-track faculty come from underrepresented groups, compared to 7% in 2014.

Yale has developed a five-year action plan for Belonging at Yale, based on input from the university community and recommendations of the President’s Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. Among the plan’s commitments:

  • Expand the number of courses examining race and antiracism issues.
  • Sponsor educational programs and events on issues of racism, including historical context, contemporary systemic racism and privilege, successful antiracist strategies, and allyship.
  • Attract and retain underrepresented minority faculty, focusing on faculty who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
  • Establish a staff leadership initiative that further develops the pipeline of staff who will bring excellence and diversity to Yale leadership.
  • Attract underrepresented minority students by expanding programs and growing resources for need-based financial aid, particularly in professional schools.
  • Study and revise Yale’s model for public safety, with a particular focus on policing and “fit-for-purpose” responses.
  • Launch examinations of Yale’s connections to slavery and interactions with Indigenous people.

In addition, Yale has included alumni in its plans.

Yale Involves Alumni

Including alumni in DEI efforts is invaluable but less common – perhaps because many institutions solely focus on responding to their campus communities, Goff-Crews says.

“Alumni leadership is very much at the table,” Goff-Crews says of Yale. “The things that we’re asking faculty leadership, student leadership, and staff leadership to do, we’re asking alumni leadership to do. We’re including them as key players in our conversation but also as key members of the community we hope to impact with the work.”

Yale believes its relationship with its alumni needs to adjust to the changing climate and increased level of diversity among its alumni.

“We also find that our alumni are very much involved in thinking about campus climate,” Goff-Crews says. “They are partners, they work with our students, they mentor our students, they do admissions work with us.”

Plus, students ultimately become alumni and Yale wants to improve students’ experience from the moment they come to campus as students to when they become alumni.

“It’s important to think about their lifelong relationship with the university,” Goff-Crews says.

Ensure Appropriate Police or Other Response

In its efforts to bolster the sense of safety and belonging at Yale, the university is examining when a police response is necessary and appropriate and when an alternative response is better.

Even before George Floyd was murdered in 2020, outside experts, 21CP Solutions, were brought in to assess Yale’s protocols. 21CP is an organization that helps cities and communities “deliver safe, effective, just, and constitutional public safety services.”

For the last few semesters, Yale has experimented with making sure police are truly the right people to dispatch to certain scenes, particularly those involving students. This “fit-for-purpose” protocol allows for options when responding to requests for assistance. If a specific call doesn’t require police assistance and could be solved in a way where there’s less potential for violence, that’s preferable. For example, a security guard or student-affairs professional might be more appropriate to respond to a situation such as a lockout or a wellness check.

More Strategies to Promote Belonging

Based on Yale’s experiences, Goff-Crews recommends institutions consider these strategies when working on creating a sense of belonging:

Make a Long-Term Commitment

Yale considers its efforts part of an ongoing process to develop a sense of belonging.

“This is a marathon and is not a sprint,” Goff-Crews says.

Each year, the university will examine how it stands related to its benchmarks. And every two to three years, the university will assess what it needs to change.

“This is not something where there’s going to be an end date,” Goff-Crews says. “We’re already making significant progress, but there are always going to be areas where we need to work because things change.”

Goals will be determined through input from the President, Cabinet (deans and vice presidents), and trustees.

Get Leadership’s Buy-In

A lot of Yale’s success is built on the deep commitment of its senior leaders, alumni leaders, and Board.

Recognize the Key to Success isn’t Money

Smaller institutions with fewer resources than Yale can have great success at creating a sense of belonging on campus.

“The focus should be on the process – the process of figuring out what the needs are, what the priorities are,” Goff-Crews says. “Then, prioritize the resources to address the issue. No matter what pot of money you’re working from, you still need to be clear about what you want to focus on, who’s going to do the work, and where you’re going to put your resources ─ human, financial, and social.”

Listening to students, faculty, staff, and alumni about what their needs are and being able to focus on addressing those needs is essential.

“A lot of these actions aren’t resolved by money,” she says. “This is actually about time, commitment, and action.”

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