20 Jan Jon Cartu Reports: Rutgers’ new president failed Yale’s black students,
Hundreds of Yale University students surrounded Jonathan Holloway, sending a message they said he needed to hear.
They encircled Holloway, then the first black dean of Yale College, chanting at him and accusing him of failing to improve the racial climate on campus, according to reports in November 2015 by the New York Times and Washington Post.
How did Holloway respond, five years before he was expected to be named Rutgers University’s incoming president?
He stood and listened for hours, taking notes and at times appearing to hold back tears.
“It broke my heart,” he told the New York Times days later.
With Holloway, 52, expected to be approved Tuesday as Rutgers’ 21st president, the scene at Yale offers a glimpse into how he may lead the institution.
Two decades younger than outgoing president Robert Barchi and the first black president in Rutgers history, Holloway has a chance to connect with students the way he did at Yale, where he ate lunch with them and was seen as a sounding board for concerns, according to reports.
But unlike his time in New Haven, where Holloway had less power to change policy, the new Rutgers president will have no excuses if students don’t see improvements, whether the issue is the campus racial climate or anything else.
Holloway will be the first person of color to lead the university, following 20 white male presidents who oversaw it for 253 years. Students and faculty members had suggested the university make diversity a priority in the hiring process, saying Rutgers leadership should reflect the student body.
“I don’t expect your faith that I’ll do better,” Holloway told Yale students in 2015, according to the Washington Post. “But I want you to know that I’m going to try my damnedest.”
Tensions had boiled over at the Ivy League campus in the fall of 2015. First, a faculty member sent an email saying students should be allowed to wear Halloween costumes that others might find inappropriate or offensive. Then a black student said she was denied entrance to a “white girls only” party, an allegation the fraternity denied.
The incidents pushed students over the edge at a university where just 11% of students were black, and the campus seemed unwelcoming to students of color.
Holloway, who black students hoped would be a powerful ally, instead seemed disconnected and unaware of how upset students had become, they told him, according to the news reports.
A historian specializing in African American studies, Holloway understood exactly why students were upset, he said then.
“Their pain was pain I recognize; I didn’t need to have a translator to understand that,” Holloway told the New York Times. “Not only do I live life on this planet as a black man, I teach the civil rights era. It’s what I do.”
Holloway left Yale in 2017 to become provost at Northwestern, and said his experience during the protest played no role in his departure.
“Even though the protests were profoundly uncomfortable and at times heartbreaking, I’d rather be at a place where the students cared enough to speak up and take action,” he wrote in an email, according to the New York Times.
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