Statement by Dean Greg Sterling on the university’s Yale and slavery efforts

February 16, 2024

Yale Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling issued the following statement today.


Slavery is our country’s original sin. It is a stain on our history, a moral offense that has never been fully faced and for which there has never been adequate apology. I am more than pleased that Yale, through the work announced earlier today, has taken determined action to come to grips with our ties to slavery. While some efforts have been made previously, there has never been as full and straightforward an account of Yale’s associations with slavery, and the racism that underlay them, as that announced today.

I want to personally thank President Salovey for commissioning the study of Yale and slavery, and Professor David Blight and the Yale and Slavery Research Project for producing the book Yale and Slavery: A History. I also thank all the members of the Yale and Slavery Working Group for the difficult research they undertook. Their ranks include numerous people who are connected to the Divinity School: Willie James Jennings, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies; Ken Minkema, Executive Editor of the Jonathan Edwards Center at YDS; Lynn Sullivan-Harmon, YDS Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging; Michael Morand ’93 M.Div., the Director of Community Engagement at the Beinecke Library; Christy Charnel ’22 M.Div., ’23 S.T.M., research team member; and Wyatt Reynolds ’21 M.A.R., also a member of the research team.

As I told Professor Blight, I knew I needed to read the Yale and Slavery book, but I was not eager to do so. I knew parts would be painful to face. But those are parts of our history that we must face if we are to bring resolution to festering injustices of the past, and if we are to become a better community and country. We must acknowledge past wrongs. To use biblical language, we must confess our sins and atone for them.

Yale and Slavery: A History and the many efforts around it tell a story that is not only about Yale’s historical roles in slavery, but about New Haven’s, Connecticut’s, and New England’s as well. It is neither an attack nor a defense of Yale but, rather, a vitally needed research project that has significant implications for all of us.

Like the university of which we are part, Yale Divinity School must face our associations with slavery and the racism that supported them. We have started to do this. We issued a statement and apology in December of 2021 as part of our own work to come to grips with our past. The following month, we laid out in more detail what we were doing to fulfill our community’s commitment to racial justice and inclusion, including, for example, setting aside $20 million for social justice scholarships.

More recently, YDS has taken additional steps, including but not limited to the following:

  • Enhanced support for our Black Church Studies program, and the elevation of the program as a priority in our current fundraising campaign
  • The creation of a portrait of the Rev. Rena Karefa-Smart ’45 B.D., the first Black woman graduate of YDS, and the decision to commission a portrait of the Rev. Alexander Crummell ’23 M.A., who studied at YDS in the 1840s but was not allowed to matriculate because of racist laws and practices
  • Propelled by the tireless advocacy of YDS students, success in the drive to grant posthumous degrees to Rev. Crummell and the Rev. James Pennington, who attended classes in the 1830s but, like Crummell, was not allowed to officially enroll
  • Successful efforts to enhance the diversity of the faculty, staff, and student population
  • With the Rev. William Barber, establishment of the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy at YDS, whose mission includes work for racial justice
  • A strong statement of inclusivity in the design of our landmark Living Village, accomplished in part through our hiring the same architectural design firm that created the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia.

We recognize that these efforts remain inadequate to address the injustices of racism, and we commit ourselves to working to expand our efforts in the future. I invite all in the wider Yale and New Haven communities, and beyond, to join us.

With gratitude for the work accomplished and optimism about the tasks ahead,

Greg Sterling

February 16, 2024