By Sheryl Estrada
Hours after the resignation of University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe on Monday morning due to the mismanagement of racial issues on the school’s campuses, thousands of students at Yale University joined together for what they called a “March of Resilience” against racial insensitivity.
Two recent race-related incidents on campus brought to the forefront discrimination, which many Black students say they experience. Students from different backgrounds and cultures began the march at the African American Cultural Center, passed by the other cultural centers and fraternity houses and ended in the center of campus.
“Really what’s at question here is the racial climate on campus,” said Eshe Sherley, a senior at Yale, told WTNH. “[Sigma Alpha Epsilon] is just one part of that. We could dispute what happened on that night forever, but what I think what’s important is that there is a consensus that [SAE] is not a safe space for us and the university needs to take that seriously.”
Sofia Petros-Gouin, a Columbia University freshman, visited friends at Yale University on Oct. 30 and went to a Halloween party at SAE’s house. She said that a white member of the fraternity turned away Black and Latina women at the door.
“He held his hand up to their faces and said, ‘No, we’re only looking for white girls,’” she said.
The following day, on Facebook, Yale student Neema Githere supported Petros-Gouin’s claim as she and her friends had a similar experience last year. Other students began to share experiences as well.
SAE, which has previously been accused of having racist traditions, denied the incident occurred.
The same week, Erika Christakis, a faculty member and an administrator at a student residence, sent an email to students shunning a previous Intercultural Affairs Council’s email that was sent out asking students to be considerate of the cultural implications of Halloween costumes.
I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?… Nicholas [Christakis] says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.
Nicholas Christakis is her husband and a faculty member who works in the same residential building.
In response, students penned an open letter to Christakis:
In your email, you ask students to “look away” if costumes are offensive, as if the degradation of our cultures and people, and the violence that grows out of it is something that we can ignore. We were told to meet the offensive parties head on, without suggesting any modes or means to facilitate these discussions to promote understanding. Giving “room” for students to be “obnoxious” or “offensive,” as you suggest, is only inviting ridicule and violence onto ourselves and our communities, and ultimately comes at the expense of room in which marginalized students can feel safe.
In blog post, Aaron Z. Lewis, a senior at Yale, said the recent demonstrations are about more than the latest two racial incidents on campus.
“They’re about real experiences with racism on this campus that have gone unacknowledged for far too long,” he wrote. “The university sells itself as a welcoming and inclusive place for people of all backgrounds. Unfortunately, it often isn’t.”
On Thursday, President of Yale Peter Salovey, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and other administration members met with 50 students “primarily of color” for four hours on the top floor of the president’s residence.
The Washington Post reported that Salovey told the students, “We failed you. I think we have to be a better university. I think we have to do a better job.”
Salovey sent a message on Friday to the Yale community regarding the meeting:
We heard deeply personal accounts from a number of students who are in great distress. The experiences they shared went beyond the incidents of the last few days. Their concerns and cries for help made clear that some students find life on our campus profoundly difficult. I have heard and I acknowledge the pain these students expressed … This conversation left me deeply troubled, and has caused me to realize that we must act to create at Yale greater inclusion, healing, mutual respect, and understanding.
Salovey said the student body would hear from him again before Thanksgiving about solutions.
Holloway, the first Black dean of Yale College, also penned a message addressing the incident on Thursday, in which students encircled him outside of the main library and asked why he had been silent in the light of the events in the past week on campus.
I write too late for too many of you, I freely admit, to make it clear that I heard every word that was spoken and I watched every tear that was shed, whether on Cross Campus or in Woodbridge Hall … This week’s conversations don’t affect only some of us; they affect and include us all … I hold us all, including myself, accountable to give what we seek: respect.
Both Wolfe and the chancellor of the flagship UM campus R. Bowen Loftin resigned from their posts at an extreme point: growing protests by Black students including a hunger strike, the threat of a walkout by faculty and a boycott by the football team.
The university has a predominantly white student body, 77 percent, while just 7 percent is Black.
Were the university’s top white male leaders disconnected from the experiences of Black students on campus? Or, did they simply choose not to recognize the plight of students experiencing discrimination?
“I take full responsibility for this frustration and … inaction,” Wolfe said. That answers the questions.
The student body at Yale is 47 percent white, 16 percent Asian, 10 percent Latino and 7 percent Black.
However, the racial isolation that Black students experience at UM in the Midwest is similar to the experiences of Black students at Yale, located in New Haven, Conn. There has been a long-running debate on campus regarding a residential college at the university named in honor of John C. Calhoun, a member of the Yale class of 1804. He was a 19th-century South Carolina politician as well as outspoken white supremacist.
Perhaps Salovey will now be proactive in working against racial insensitivity on campus. Wolfe’s leadership at UM is an example of what not to do.