Yale professor discusses future of race relations at 2017 ODK induction

Jonathan Holloway stresses importance of looking ahead during speech on Thursday


Jonathan Holloway speaks to audience in Lee Chapel on Thursday. Photo by Jake Sirota, ‘19.

Rachel Hicks

Dean of Yale College and the Edmund S. Morgan Professor of African American Studies, History, and American Studies Jonathan Holloway highlighted the importance of recognizing humanity during his Founder’s Day speech in Lee Chapel on Thursday.  

The future Northwestern University provost spoke on “The Price of Recognition: Race and Modern Making of the Modern University.”

Holloway began with a retelling of his recent visit to West Point Military Academy, where he came across a striking painting.

On a special campus tour, Holloway saw the only portrait of a black man in the academy. It featured primarily General Robert E. Lee, but also his horse Traveller. A black stable hand was tending to Lee’s horse in the background.

“The unnamed black figure[‘s]… work was crucial to Traveller’s health and well-being, and was therefore interwoven into Lee’s own narrative of success,” Holloway said.  

Holloway said the portrait was an example of the ways in which unrecognized black laborers, and the unacknowledged presence of many black figures, are nonetheless part of the nation’s history.

Holloway explained that most black children in history were not expected to aspire to greatness. Instead, they were expected to come to terms with mediocrity and the fact that their ideas were irrelevant, but their bodies were required.

In the 1960s, universities began accepting black students on the premise that they would add diversity to their campus, benefiting the white students in this way.

“There is simply much more to blackness than to make whiteness a little gray,” Holloway said.

San Francisco State University began the trend of making demands for African American Studies to be integrated into its curriculum.

In the past ten years, the nation has been struggling to come to terms with shocking acts of violence and international fears of war. The world of ideas were being weighed, and Holloway said it was an opportunity for different viewpoints, including black viewpoints, to be better considered.

In 2015, numerous uprisings began appearing on college campuses. Holloway focused on Missouri University’s Jonathan Butler, the graduate student who went on a hunger strike in the hopes of gaining a voice on campus. He addressed the administration’s lack of effort to promote a positive climate for black students.

Holloway said it is a problem that administrators tend to only react to positions of social power, so many black students resort to demonstrations to gain a voice.

Holloway stressed the importance of looking forward to the future, supporting Washington and Lee’s motto, “not unmindful of the future.” As he, a historian of African American studies, stood beside the portrait of General Lee on his left, the future most definitely looked more unified than ever before.

Holloway’s speech preceded the induction ceremony for Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK), the national leadership honor society for college students, faculty, staff and administrators that was founded in 1914 at Washington and Lee University. The induction included 22 undergraduate students, 16 law students and 6 honorary initiates.

“This afternoon really is about their commitment, their intelligence, and their determination,” Holloway said in celebration of the inductees.

ODK has its headquarters in Lexington and hosts more than 285 active circles, or chapters, at colleges and universities across the country.