Yale students explore the university’s links to eugenics
Three Yale students spoke on a panel discussion Wednesday about Yale’s relationship with eugenics.
Dora Guo, illustration editor
On Wednesday, three students presented their research on Yale’s relationship with eugenics at the conference The Legacies of Eugenics in New England: Part 1 hosted by the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University.
The Yale student moderators were José Garcia ’22, Sidney Velasquez ’24, and Dora Guo ’23, an illustration editor for the news. They conducted their research with fellow students Tallulah Keeley-Leclaire ’22 and Emily Xu ’24. The associate professor of ethnicity, race and migration and the American studies professor Daniel HoSang, who supervised the students, also spoke at the event. HoSang made initial comments, followed by comments from each of the three students.
HoSang introduced eugenics as a concept promoted by colonial, elite white men. It is the idea of the “biological and hereditary superiority of the white man over the black man,” he said in his comments.
Guo said that eugenics includes “better breeding techniques” aimed at preventing racial minorities, adding that while the ideas tarnish the concepts on which America was founded, various people at Yale were early pioneers of the eugenic belief was.
According to the group’s presentation, the American Eugenics Society was founded on the Yale campus at 185 Church St. on the east end of New Haven Green in 1926. Guo added that the American Eugenics Society is “particularly close to the offices of former Yale President James Angell, Yale psychobiologist Robert Yerkes and Yale economist Irving Fisher.”
The project’s student leaders argued that although the term “eugenics” does not exist in practice today, the issue is rooted in the founding of Yale. Their results emerged from analysis of primary sources from the beincke library, the yale divinity school, and the yale school of medicine. In addition, they spoke to various archivists and dealt with students from various universities.
In her part of the project, Guo analyzed a letter from Yerkes to his friend and eugenicist Charles Gould.
“Exploring the eugenics legacy at Yale made me think of Yale’s motto ‘Lux Et Veritas’ – light and truth,” said Guo. “It is easy for us to point a finger at the past and condemn Yale’s history as exclusive and problematic, but the more rigorous and important form of research asks how we all continue to play a role in these constructions of ‘truth.’ to play. Teachers and students today have to profoundly question the history of our university and our disciplines. We need to have discussions about the lasting effects of eugenics. “
Describing how the students’ research project first began as an idea he proposed to his major lectures, HoSang stated that he believed that students interested in psychology, environmental sciences, economics, medicine, and anthropology should learn about eugenics should research, because their subject areas also influenced the study. HoSang added that he was so inspired by the eugenics summer work that he will hold a eugenics research seminar in the spring of 2022.
Other speakers discussed places other than Yale with ties to eugenics, including Harvard University. Many declared that more college campus communities need to learn from the history of eugenics enshrined in the founding of their universities to combat systemic racism, sexism, and inequality.
Wednesday’s event is part of an ongoing series on the history of eugenics, largely hosted by Harvard to celebrate the anti-centenary of the Second International Eugenics Congress in 1921.