Yale students have come forward to share their experiences of racism on the university’s campus after a fraternity was accused of implementing a ‘white girls only’ policy at a house party.
Sophomore Neema Githere took to Facebook last week to accuse a Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) brother of turning away a group of girls because of their race.
That incident led to a forum at the school’s Afro American Cultural Center where female students described the discrimination, antagonism and sexual advances they had endured from white men on campus.
Others have echoed Githere’s sentiments, re-iterating their belief that the alleged incident was not isolated, but that racism and misogyny is ingrained in Yale’s fraternities.
One student, Briana Burroughs, a junior, revealed the abuse she had experienced – from strangers, acquaintances and even those she now considers friends – while a student at the Ivy League school.
‘I’ve been harassed in dining halls, at fraternity houses and on New Haven streets by Yale fraternity members and male athletes,’ she revealed in a column for the Yale Daily News.
She added insults – ranging from ‘charity case’ to ‘ghetto Black b****’ – were thrown at her when she was alone and ‘at my most vulnerable’.
‘Fear paralyzed me as their discussions of my black body and hair turned into taunts and fondling,’ she added. ‘Every incident included jeering, pointing, and some included spanking and screaming.’
Burroughs added even when she became the institutional service co-ordinator of Dwight Hall, a social action organization at Yale, she defended the athletes and fraternity brothers to the administration and anyone who had written them off as ‘inherently racist, sexist or outright evil’.
‘Beyond hours of angry tears or passing flares, I haven’t done much to expose the misogyny and racism within fraternities at Yale,’ she said.
‘The stories of harassment that women of color choose to share will continue to be discounted, ignored and trivialized.’
So now, she is calling for action and urging those who denounce racist and misogynistic behavior to declare it.
‘If you do not condone racism and misogyny, especially in fraternities, say it.’
Burroughs wrote on the subject after Githere revealed the racist remarks a fraternity member apparently made at a party over the Halloween weekend.
She wrote: ‘I’d just like to take a moment to give a shoutout to the member of Yale’s SAE chapter who turned away a group of girls from their party last night, explaining that admittance was on a ‘White Girls Only’ basis; and a belated shoutout to the SAE member who turned me and my friends away for the same reason last year. God bless the USA’
Her post attracted comments from other students, who reported similar experiences.
The fraternity denied the allegations, but has been banned from campus activities until next year for violating the university’s sexual misconduct policy.
And the national Sigma Alpha Epsilon organization said it is investigating the allegations.
But the incident ignited a furor on campus, which further escalated on Thursday when dozens of students encircled a Yale University official and screamed at him for sending an email encouraging them to ignore those dressed in racist or offensive costumes for Halloween.
Nicholas Christakis, the master of Silliman College at Yale, was surrounded by angry students on Thursday after telling students to allow others to exercise free speech by wearing what they wanted on Halloween.
He was shouted down as he tried to explain why he believed students should be able to wear what they want, with one young woman filmed as she launched into an emotional expletive-ridden rant and told him to ‘shut the f*** up’.
She shouted: ‘Be quiet! In your position as master it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students that live in Silliman. You have not done that.
‘By sending out that email, that goes against your position as master, do you understand that?’
According to the Yale Daily News, Christakis apologized for ‘causing pain’ but defended his statement.
‘I apologize for causing pain, but I am not sorry for the statement,’ he said.
‘I stand behind free speech. I defend the right for people to speak their minds.’
The email in question, sent by associate master Christakis’ wife Erika, the associate master, said: ‘I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation.
‘I don’t, actually, trust myself to foist my Halloweenish standards and motives on others. I can’t defend them anymore than you could defend yours.
‘Nicholas 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.’
However, the email quickly inflamed those who felt the comments marginalized a large number of students at Yale.
Jencey Paz branded the officials ‘deplorable’ and said the email has deeply affected some of her classmates.
Writing in the Yale Herald, she said: ‘Being the Master of Silliman is a position of power. To use it to marginalize so much of the student body is deplorable.
‘This email and the subsequent reaction to it have interrupted their lives. I have friends who are not going to class, who are not doing their homework, who are losing sleep, who are skipping meals, and who are having breakdowns. I feel drained.’
Some officials have spoken to help students who feel the campus is not welcoming to black and minority students.
Jonathan Holloway, the first black dean of a residential college at Yale, met with hundreds of students and listened to their stories.
‘It’s not easy to hear your stories,’ he said, according to the Washington Post. ‘Not because I disagree with them or because I don’t understand them. I do.’
He added: ‘It’s difficult to know that someone who’s vested with the responsibility to take care of everybody, that you felt the need to tell me that. It’s painful for me, but I’m glad you did.’
Later that evening, Yale University’s president Peter Salovey, acknowledged that the school had failed its minority students, the Post reported.
At a closed door meeting, he told a group of more than 40 students: ‘We failed you.’
He added: ‘I think we have to be a better university. I think we have to do a better job.’