To the Editor:
I am a resident of Helen Hadley Hall who, several weeks ago, signed the petition to the Graduate Housing office that was circulated by Asian graduate students living in the building. As presented on the petition, their concerns seemed valid to me, and I naively thought my signature might lead to improved communication and greater student involvement in graduate housing policy decisions. However, I was shocked and terrified to see this petition movement mature last week into a full-fledged GESO rally outside my window, accusing Graduate Housing staff of racism and the diminution of human dignity. In the future I think I will be more careful about the petitions I sign.
Helen Hadley Hall is a famously suboptimal facility. To quote Patrick Pinnell’s guide to the architecture of the Yale campus, “The building’s blandness was no doubt calculated; as Yale’s first women’s dormitory built explicitly for that use, its presence on campus was not uniformly welcomed.” In its modern capacity as a graduate student dormitory it has been known by such nicknames as “Smelling Badly” and “Helen Hadley Hell.” Yes, the 35 students on each floor are forced to share a kitchen and bathrooms, and the rent we are charged for our tiny rooms is rather high, but these problems are faced by Asian and non-Asian students alike.
As an American white male, perhaps I am just inherently insensitive to the needs and concerns of other populations, but I was profoundly bothered by the manner and tone of this campaign, which saw television news crews, city aldermen, and GESO organizers descend upon Helen Hadley Hall with little first-hand knowledge of the people and problems in question. In the several years I’ve lived in Hadley I’ve come to count the Graduate Housing staff in the building as friends, and they tell me they feel they have been publicly humiliated and vilified, with no recourse to respond. I will freely admit that there are problems of communication between students and staff in this building, but racism is something I do not see. It is the unsupported allegation of racism that is the greater injustice in my view.
Philip Marshall FES ’08
April 5, 2005