Hundreds of Yale College students surrounded their dean on Thursday, demanding that he take a position on recent incidents of alleged institutional racism.
“It's painful for me, as someone who has vested interest in supporting you, to hear what you have just told me, but I am glad you did,” said Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, who is black, according to the Yale Daily News. “It is clear that what I’ve been trying to do quietly and behind the scene has not been enough, and I acknowledge that.”
The undergraduate liberal arts college of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, has recently been rocked by two controversies that students say showcase the campus's persistent problems with race. Neither Holloway nor the university's press office returned a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Last Friday, an official at one of the university's 12 residential colleges sent a mass email to students in which she questioned the need to criticize racist Halloween costumes after another university official asked students not to wear blackface or appropriate Native American symbols.
"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?" Erika Christakis, the associate master of Silliman College, wrote in her email. "If you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended."
Christakis did not return a request for comment. Her entire message is available here.
That same night, a number of women claimed they were denied access to a party at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity because of the color of their skin.
Neema Githere, a sophomore, wrote on Facebook that one of the fraternity brothers said the event was for "White Girls Only."
Githere did not immediately respond to a request for comment and the university has reportedly opened an investigation into the allegations.
However, Grant Mueller, the president of Yale's SAE chapter, wrote a column for the Yale Daily News in which he denied Githere's allegations. In an email to BuzzFeed News, he said he was distressed by the reaction of some students to what he said were "categorically false" claims.
"I think it's unfair to call my African-American brothers 'Uncle Tom's' for standing with their brothers," Mueller wrote in his email. "I think it's unfair to have a classmate spit at my feet and tell me to 'check my privilege.' I find that deeply upsetting."
Mueller added that the fraternity "value[s] diversity unequivocally at our chapter and take[s] pride in it." He said SAE would "engage in many discussion with cultural houses on campus to further promote the causes of marginalized women."
On Wednesday night, students gathered at the university's Afro-American Cultural Center to discuss the incidents. According to the Yale Daily News, several black women told the assembled crowd they did not feel safe on campus. Christakis reportedly attended the forum, but left without answering questions.
At the forum, many students also reportedly criticized the university administration's response. Until Holloway's impromptu comments on Thursday, not a single high-ranking university official had made a statement on the incidents.
Yale has recently launched a $50-million initiative to hire more minority faculty members.
Nicolás Medina Mora is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Nicolás Medina Mora at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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