Following reports of several incidents of intimidation and harassment, students and community members presented Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead with a deluge of criticisms, opinions and proposals at two forums this weekend.
The forums followed increasing student outrage last week at reports of intimidation and harassment against anti-war protesters and minority students. The week culminated in the occupation of Woodbridge Hall Friday by protesters upset with the administration’s handling of the allegations. Yale officials subsequently scheduled a forum Sunday night to provide a venue for student concerns.
As Brodhead listened, the students and Yale community members who filled Dwight Hall Friday afternoon and SSS 114 Sunday evening snatched at the chance to speak directly to the administration.
Friday’s more informal gathering, organized by the Yale University Chaplain’s Office, drew a smaller crowd. After a short statement, Brodhead sat in the audience and listened to the people who chose to speak.
“I came to hear, not to speak,” he said.
But at Sunday’s forum, Brodhead fielded questions from students. Many audience members belonged to Concerned Black Students at Yale, the new group that helped organize Friday’s protest at Woodbridge Hall.
Brodhead reiterated his assessment of the events as “disturbing to a very high degree,” but emphasized the impossibility of guaranteeing anyone a conflict-free world in education.”
“I don’t believe that any student on campus has the right to take a student and silence them, or to take a student’s expression and silence it,” he said.
Speakers at the forum criticized the University on topics ranging from the administration’s handling of the recent allegations to the percentage of minority faculty members in the college.
Thomas Frampton ’06 drew applause when he asked Brodhead why the administration sent a letter to parents of Yale College students about the GESO strike but has not sent a similar letter about the recent allegations.
Brodhead said the administration is always cautious about sending letters to parents about events under investigation, and he hesitated to predict the outcome of the investigations.
“Don’t ask me to tell you if these people will be expelled,” he said.
But expulsion was clearly on the minds of many of those present at Friday’s forum. English professor Nigel Alderman also elicited applause when he urged the administration to seriously consider expulsion as a punishment for the alleged incidents.
“I would hope that when the investigations are continued and brought to ExComm, that they are punished with extreme rigor,” he said.
The Yale College Executive Committee, or ExComm, is the University’s internal disciplinary body.
The perceived nature of Friday’s protests was also a topic of discussion. Protester Shagran Hassan ’04, who said he supported the war in Iraq, hastened to clarify that the protests were not anti-war, but anti-hate crime.
“When the war ends, hate crimes directed against minorities continue,” he said.
Students proposed possible methods of easing racial and ethnic tensions on campus, such as diversity education for freshmen during pre-orientation or the creation of a committee to deal with such issues. But while he said he would consider the formation of a committee, Brodhead cautioned against automatically turning to committees as the answer to problems.
When an audience member asked Brodhead for his own concrete suggestions, Brodhead emphasized that some of the best solutions are not concrete at all, but can come from “just talking.”
“We can’t solve these problems with only the students who are in this room,” he said. “It has to be a question of including the larger community.”
Many students said they ended the evening feeling that concrete answers were missing from Sunday night’s dialogue.
“I think this only represents a good start,” Hassan said. “A lot of students still feel he didn’t answer them directly or specifically.”
Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg, who attended the forum, said she was pleased with the outcome.
“My hope is that it was a productive conversation,” she said. “Concerns were heard, and were taken seriously.”
Moderator Shelita Stewart ’04, a member of Concerned Black Students at Yale, said future forums for discussion with Brodhead would be scheduled.