In a University-wide email Friday morning, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley and University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews announced the appointment of the directors, who will also serve as assistant deans of Yale College. Risë Nelson Burrow will assume the leadership of the Afro-American Cultural Center, Eileen Galvez will head La Casa Cultural, and Kelly Fayard will direct the Native American Cultural Center. All three will begin their directorships at the end of July. Saveena Dhall will continue in her position as director of the Asian American Cultural Center.
“These appointments come at a time of increased support for the centers, as recommendations made earlier this year by an invited consultation group go into effect,” the email said. “With all four centers now headed by full-time directors, they are well positioned for the work ahead.”
The cultural centers have received significant attention in the past year. In December, a committee of external consultants found that the cultural centers were underfunded and in poor physical condition. The centers’ leadership, the committee said, was also overextended and did not have adequate direction or oversight.
In March, Rodney Cohen announced that he would step down from from his post as director of the Af-Am House. His resignation came after weeks of protest from the center’s constituent students, including a petition signed by 147 students calling for his removal.
The new directors will operate under the supervision of Associate Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Student Engagement Burgwell Howard, who will also begin his tenure at Yale in the fall in a newly created position.
All three new directors have prior experience in diversity initiatives.
Burrow is currently director of Student Success Programs at Cornell University’s Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives. Galvez is assistant director of Illinois Wesleyan University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Fayard is a faculty representative for the Native American Student Association at Bowdoin College as well as an assistant professor of anthropology.
Howard said in an email that he hopes the new directors will draw upon their professional experience and work together as a team. Despite representing different cultures, the houses share many interests, he said.
“Given the many common issues and needs that underrepresented students share, it will be helpful to work collectively to support the community,” he said. “It is also true that students come to Yale with varying intersections of identities […] so it will behoove us to work together.”
Applications for the positions were reviewed by three separate search committees, each chaired by a faculty member and composed of graduate and undergraduate students, according to the email. American Studies professor Alicia Schmidt Camacho, who headed the search for the La Casa director, said in an email that her committee selected three candidates to bring to campus for interviews. Holloway made the final selection.
Camacho said her committee received approximately 80 applications. The committee gave precedence to candidates who could be effective advisers to students and extend La Casa’s reach beyond its usual constituency, she said.
“We were mindful that the student body is growing and is very diverse, and that the Center is a resource not just for Latina/o students but the University and New Haven,” she said. “The Center Director should also connect with students on matters related to gender equity, LGBTQ concerns, first generation college enrollment and immigration experience — all critical aspects of the student experience.”
(LGBT or GLBT is an initialism that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.)
All the new directors said in emails that they are excited to arrive on campus at a time when Yale has reaffirmed its commitment to the cultural centers.
Burrow said she researched the campus environment and recent developments with the centers before choosing to accept the position. She added that she is excited to build on the “strong legacy” of the Afro-American Cultural Center.
Fayard also cited the history of the Native American Cultural Center, adding that she has discussed both its past and future with students. Listening will be critical to her plans for the center, she said.
Galvez said she is excited by the prospect of working with a University that has committed to change.
“Change is something that I am invigorated by,” she said. “I am excited to be walking into a place that is open and willing to change as the students themselves evolve.”