Giving Thanks

by Alejandra Padín-Dujon

This speech was given at the renaming ceremony for the college formerly known as Calhoun on April 29, 2016. 

This is the part of any Yale event where we would usually thank our donors. We’d thank the people whose sacrifice and generosity have given us the bittersweet privilege of studying at this university—of standing right here today, together, on Cross Campus. At his speech yesterday in Battell Chapel, President Salovey pointed out that alumni donations to the tune of Charlie’s 250 million dollars help fund our education. But the problem is, we know why we’re here. And it’s not because we are beholden to corporate masters, past or present. You and I know that we survive and prosper because we are loved.

We are here because our parents loved us. They made countless sacrifices, worked countless hours, and drew strength from the past while planning for our future. We are here because our ancestors fought genocide, exploitation, murder, terror, and white liberalism. We are here because even before we were born, they loved us.

We are here because of a long, glorious tradition of POC and allied student activism that we celebrated last semester, and that the university can never be allowed to forget. We are here because our forbears carved out physical spaces for us in the form of the four cultural centers, because our Peer Liaisons fed us pan dulce, scallion pancakes, black-eyed peas, and blue corn mush. We are here because when we cried, our communities offered their shoulder, and because when we were happy, they danced with us, in our language, to our music. We are here because we can trace our lineage back through generations of Yale students of color who paved the way for our arrival. Today, tomorrow, and forever, we honor their legacy and continue their good work.

Finally, we are here because centuries ago, English settlers led by the Reverend John Davenport occupied the lands of the Quinnipiac and other Algonquian-speaking peoples. We are here because Elihu Yale profited shamelessly off of the British colonial project in India, and because many of our ancestors were enslaved to benefit and bring fame to the likes of John C. Calhoun. We are here and fed and provided for because of the labor of countless Black and brown residents of the City of New Haven, where Yale University is the single largest employer, and where our institution engages in a settler colonial project of its own. In short, we are here because of historical and ongoing injustice. It’s the perfume in the air that all Yale students breathe, and it is our motivation to fight back—to make things better—with the force of our own radical love.

President Salovey, alumni, Yale Corporation—we are grateful people. We are not selfish. We are painfully self-aware. But our gratitude and allegiance belong to those who love us, and to those whose sacrifice truly built this university. It does not belong to you.