Zoraya Hightower is a Burlington City Councilor and the Executive Director of the Peace and Justice center in Vermont. In these roles she leads economic, environmental, and racial justice education and initiatives. A graduate of the Yale School of Environment, Zoraya has been working on environmental issues across the globe for 10 years.

2013-2016: Yale School of Environment

Zoraya completed a Masters of Environmental Management focused on energy policy analysis and business sustainability.

2016-2021: Resonance

Zoraya worked on environmental issues across the globe as a project manager and analyst before becoming Resonance's innovation manager, where she led projects across all sectors.

2020-Present: Burlington City Council

Zoraya serves as a city councillor to help make Vermont's Queen city greener, more equitable, and more inclusive.

2021: Running for the Yale Corporation

2021-Present: Peace & Justice Center

Zoraya is the Executive Director of the Peace and Justice Center of Vermont, where she works to advocate for economic, social, and racial justice.

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Why are you running for the Yale Corporation?

I am running for the Yale Corporation because I believe we are at a critical inflection point. The University has the opportunity to be a leader in the global transition to a new 100% clean energy economy. From world-class education and research, to rapidly building a zero-emission campus, to implementing a first of its kind ethical investment strategy, Yale can continue to show how a world-class university can lead in our fight against climate change. But this goal can only be achieved if we take a hard look at the current governance structures and endowment management strategies. I look forward to working with the board to build a more financially and ecologically sustainable Yale, one that embraces inclusive governance structures, ethical endowment management, and bold climate action.

How will increasing democratic engagement improve the ethical management of Yale’s endowment?

The Board of Trustees makes decisions that affect all Yale students and alumni, and that’s exactly why all alumni should be able to participate in the Board elections. Right now, Yale College graduates can only vote once they have been alumni for five years. As alumni, the University should welcome our participation and continued engagement, starting from the moment we graduate. A Board of Trustees that looks more like the Yale alumni community will only lead to a more diverse, vibrant and resilient Yale. As fiduciaries, the board has a responsibility to set an investment strategy that will achieve these goals. I look forward to using my experience building coalitions and working across the climate community to drive ethical management of the Yale endowment.

What makes you the right candidate for the Corporation?

The Yale Corporation makes decisions that directly impact current and future Yale students, and yet no one on the current Board of Trustees has been a student at Yale since 2002. This disconnect between the Corporation and one of the University’s most important assets, its students, leads to decisions that are not always reflective of the current zeitgeist of the student body and young alumni. As a young graduate who has spent the last 10 years building coalitions at the state and federal levels to advance bold, transformational climate policy, I will bring a new perspective to the Board of Trustees. Bringing young alumni voices into University governance structures is not a new idea. Princeton, Brown, and Cornell all hold seats on their Boards of Trustees for young alumni or current students as a matter of good governance. Yale Forward is partnered with The Boarding School, a non-profit that trains young people to be effective and successful board members within organizations that affect their lives. By learning directly from trustees at other institutions, I feel confident that I’ll be ready to make a positive impact on the Corporation from day one.



Yale Graduate Student Union

I stand behind Local 33 as student workers work towards securing a fair and equitable contract. I urge Yale administrators to recognize its graduate students, research assistants, and teaching assistants as employees, and to recognize Local 33 as the representative body of those employees. Uplifting student voices and concerns, including through governance structures that formalize an institutional role for student and alumni representatives, is a shared priority of Local 33 and Yale Forward. If elected to the Corporation, I will listen to and advocate for Local 33 members and the broader concerns of students and student workers across campus.

Yale’s Holdings of Puerto Rican Debt

Yale University should not derive profit from predatory loans collected at the expense of the financial security of the Government of Puerto Rico or the health of the Puerto Rican people. Puerto Rico’s unincorporated status as a colonial territory of the United States has left it unable to legally default on its loans, a privilege otherwise extended to all U.S. States, and has resulted in a lack of access to much of the same financial assistance afforded to Americans living in the States. The fight for economic justice in Puerto Rico is intertwined with their fight for environmental and climate justice. Puerto Rico’s economic hardship has been made substantially worse by Hurricanes Maria and Irma, and the subsequent failure of the federal government to mobilize disaster aid.

Yale's Relationship with New Haven

New Haven residents and workers provide the essential services that keep Yale’s lights on, streets swept, and students fed. Yale’s success as an institution is the result of the hard work not only of its faculty and students, but also of its support staff and the City of New Haven. Just as the city of New Haven supports Yale, so too should Yale support its New Haven neighbors. And yet, as city taxes have increased to cover a budget deficit and funding to public education has stayed flat, Yale has not meaningfully increased its voluntary contribution, which it pays in lieu of city property tax. Yale has a responsibility to be a good neighbor and partner with the city to ensure adequate funding to cover essential services. It is time to reevaluate Yale’s exemption from city property taxes, which dates back to before the founding of the United States and initially only covered University property valued up to $500.

Police Brutality, the Yale Police Department, and Racial Justice

The ongoing perpetration of violence by police departments and others against people of color, and particularly Black men, is a symptom of centuries of racial injustice in the United States. I mourn the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the many more whose murders did not receive national media attention. I protest the innumerable assaults of unarmed people of color in our communities, especially Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon, who were shot by officers of the Yale and Hamden Police Departments last year. I stand with organizations and individuals across the country calling for an end to this violence and for drastic reform to our police departments, including the Yale Police Department. I stand in particular with Yale student and alumni groups and New Haven community groups: Yale Black Alumni Association, Black Students Alliance at Yale, Yale Black Men’s Union, Yale Black Women’s Coalition, New Haven Citywide Youth Coalition, and Black Lives Matter New Haven. Yale is the funder and manager of the Yale Police Department, and bears responsibility in the ongoing crisis of over-policing and brutality against communities of color. Only 40% of private university campus police departments have armed officers, and I stand with Black Students for Disarmament at Yale in calling to disarm the YPD. Savings associated with this change should be redirected to alternative community programs administered by the City of New Haven. Disarming the YPD and redirecting funds to alternative community programs will not happen overnight. In the interim, Yale should immediately enforce the 8 Can’t Wait proposals that are proven to decrease police violence. Specifically, Yale currently does not: 1. Require officers to exhaust all alternatives before shooting; 2. Require bystanding officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers; 3. Have a use-of-force continuum restricting severe police weapons to extreme situations; or 4. Require comprehensive reporting every time officers use force or threaten to use force. Yale has a responsibility to actively participate in dismantling the racial injustices that permeate our institutions. As a first step, Yale should commit to improving faculty diversity, hiring more New Haven residents, providing more support to the City of New Haven, increasing funding for Yale’s cultural centers, and recognizing Indigenous People’s Day. Race and racism are interwoven in every aspect of our society. Yale is not immune, as we have seen in recent years with the renaming of Calhoun College, named after the pro-slavery 19th century politician John Calhoun. Yale University was founded on the backs of Black slaves: Elihu Yale, the University’s namesake and original benefactor, was a slave trader. The consequences of this intergenerational oppression continue to permeate our lives today, and it is our responsibility to grapple with and overturn these injustices. Black lives matter.


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