Yale employee’s racial remark elicits hardened response

David Ahn ’03 told a Korean American Students of Yale meeting Tuesday night that he has accepted the apology of a dining hall manager who made a comment Ahn believed was offensive. He said he hopes the incident will promote dialogue to dispel “cultural ignorance” at Yale.

In an e-mail to KASY Tuesday, Ahn described the Jan. 15 incident, which occurred when the three-person dining hall management team for Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges met with the Morse College Council to discuss the feasibility of several ideas for themed food nights. Ahn said that when he suggested a Korean theme, manager Brian Frantz replied, “What would that be? Dogs and kimchi?”

“I was obviously offended, but I was too shocked to react,” Ahn wrote in the e-mail. “Apparently, so were the thirty other people in the room. After some nervous laughter, the meeting continued.”

Ahn said he went to speak with Morse Master Frank Keil the following day, and Keil then approached Frantz and informed him that several people were offended by the comment.

Frantz then contacted Ahn, and in a meeting that lasted almost an hour, Frantz apologized to Ahn, who accepted the apology after explaining why he took offense. Frantz then submitted a formal letter of apology to both Morse College and KASY. Ahn said he is in the process of filing a report with Frantz’s superior, ensuring that the incident will go on Frantz’s record.

Frantz said he was “very dismayed” upon learning that the comment had offended people.

“It was a classic foot-in-mouth situation. The remark was clearly inappropriate, but there was absolutely no malicious intent,” Frantz said.

Keil said he believed the incident had been handled in an appropriate manner, and Ahn concurred.

Yale University Dining Services manager David Davidson and Department of Human Resource Services representative Kara Tavella both declined to comment on the incident.

Ahn said he was convinced that the comment was a mistake, but still felt it was necessary to address the issue with KASY. He said Korean-American students should be aware that this type of incident can occur at Yale.

“In the back of your head you should have an idea of how you would respond,” Ahn said. “Obviously my reaction wasn’t good enough because the manager who made the remark didn’t know I was offended.”

Members of KASY discussed how to respond to this incident and promote cultural understanding.

“Our mission statement to strengthen our cultural awareness is still a real mission. I think we should be more aware of making other people more aware of our culture,” Daniel Jang ’03 said. “The cultural insensitivity is there because of ignorance.”

While KASY members shared similar stories of what Ahn labeled “cultural ignorance,” no one raised their hands when asked if they had ever been the victims of racism at Yale. Ahn said he had never experienced “vile racism” at Yale.

“I believe this is a rare occurrence at Yale, and the likelihood of it happening again is slim to none,” Ahn wrote in the e-mail.

Keil agreed that the incident was unusual.

“It is my impression that incidents of racism are very rare at Yale and that they run counter to everything this University stands for,” Keil said.

Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said it is difficult to determine if racism in general is a problem at Yale.

“Some people perceive that it is, some people don’t. From my long view, people seem to respect each other’s differences much more now than they have in the past,” Trachtenberg said. “If people feel that they’ve been victims of racist actions it’s something that we have to pay very close attention to.”

Ahn said he has found Yale to generally be an accepting environment, but “cultural ignorance is to be expected.”

“I think people go to great efforts to try to find out about other people, but some just don’t care,” Ahn said.

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