Yale U struggles with a legacy of white men including its founder, a slave trader

by WorldTribune Staff, November 15, 2017

Why are Yale students known as Elis?

That question in the year 2017 can certainly be taken as rhetorical, but for history’s sake they are called Elis after the college’s namesake, Elihu Yale, a straight, white, wealthy male who profited greatly from trading slaves.

Elihu Yale

Earlier this month, the head of one of Yale University’s residential colleges caused a stir when he announced that portraits of the old white guys who preceded him that were on display in the college’s dining hall would be taken down.

In a Nov. 1 email to students, Pierson College head Stephen Davis wrote that the portraits, which were initially removed to make space for the college’s annual Halloween dance, would not immediately be put back up as customary, Fox News reported.

“In the context of campus-wide conversations about diversity and inclusion in public art and representation we’ve decided to leave the walls empty for the time being, in the hope that the blank walls will begin to prompt conversation on what it means to create common spaces where everyone has a sense of belonging and ownership,” Davis said in the email.

The white guys’ portraits would be relocated to the college’s Fellows Lounge and administrators would be “working to develop plaques/labels for them … to mark their historical context and significance,” Davis said.

Davis denied in a post on the college’s Facebook page that he intended to remove the portraits permanently from the dining hall, and claimed they would have been restored after an unspecified period of time, adding that his initial email and a Yale Daily News story about the portraits had generated “misperceptions” among students, staff and alumni.

Davis wrote his original plan for the portraits had been “complicated by some painting scheduled for the Fellows Lounge,” and announced that they would be restored to the dining hall “alongside the art produced by our community members.”

“With regard to our plans moving forward, I fully expect any proposals we make regarding the diversification of our public spaces to be inclusive of the portraits honoring my predecessors,” Davis added.

The same day, Yale College Dean Marvin Chun wrote in an email to the Yale Daily News that he believed the portraits of the former college heads should remain visible, “both for preserving the colleges’ histories and for honoring the intentions of alumni, fellows and friends who generously commissioned these portraits. The two goals of reflecting Yale’s community today and honoring its past are not mutually exclusive.”

So, Elis it is?

After all, they could just as easily have been called Dummers.

Per Wikipedia: “In 1999, the 350th anniversary of Elihu Yale’s birthday, American Heritage magazine rated him the ‘most overrated philanthropist’ in American history, arguing that the college that became Yale University was successful largely because of the generosity of a man named Jeremiah Dummer, but that the trustees of the school did not want it known by the name ‘Dummer College.’ ”

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