Graffiti, hate speech elicit Univ. response

Following outrage from the University community in response to racist graffiti found outside Pierson College on Tuesday, College deans have said they have begun laying out specific plans to prevent similar incidents in the future — including the possible creation of a new multicultural office.

Dining hall staff discovered graffiti early Tuesday reading “Nigger School” spray-painted on a wall outside the York Street gate to Pierson College. The incident came on the heels of several reports of racist and homophobic incidents on campus, including students wearing blackface costumes on Halloween and homophobic slurs painted on other college property.

In e-mails to Yale undergraduates Thursday morning and early Friday morning, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Afro-American Cultural Center Director Pamela George, respectively, outlined the steps they plan to take in response to the incidents, including the development of an administrative office to address multicultural issues.

Salovey’s e-mail informed students of these episodes and reiterated the University’s commitment to fostering a community of tolerance and respect.

“We are all offended by these deplorable acts,” Salovey wrote. “There is no place for them at Yale or anywhere else. Yale College is a community based on mutual respect, and so I call on all of us to see these incidents as opportunities to reach out.”

In addition to the new office, George’s e-mail, sent to the black undergraduate community at 1 a.m. on Friday, mentioned a joint vigil-rally on Wednesday in protest of perceived racism at Yale and more explicit guidelines for reporting complaints of racial harassment and hate speech.

The Yale Police Department is currently investigating the vandalism but have no significant leads on the case.

Students interviewed expressed disgust that such an incident could occur at Yale.

Justin Chukumba ’10, treasurer of the Black Student Alliance at Yale, said the graffiti was offensive, regardless of how its message is interpreted.

“I didn’t really know what the motivation was,” he said. “I don’t know if they were trying to say there were too many black people at the school, whether they were mocking the school, or whether they were saying there weren’t enough black people at the school. Using the word was offensive enough for me.”

Some students said the Pierson graffiti is evidence of a subtle culture of racism at Yale. The Pierson graffiti episode is only the latest in a series of racially charged incidents, they said.

Adzua Agyapon ’11 said she is not particularly surprised, considering recent similar incidents at other universities.

“I suppose it’s not impossible, given all of the things that have happened at Columbia [University],” Agyapon said. “It’s really telling how present racism is that it’s happening at all of these Ivy League Schools.”

In September, a Columbia bathroom stall was vandalized with racist graffiti attacking Muslims. In October, a noose was discovered hanging on the office door of a black professor, and last week, a Jewish professor found a swastika painted on her office door.

One sophomore, who asked to remain anonymous, said he does not think Yale students are responsible for the graffiti.

“It’s not a problem within our school,” he said. “It’s people from the community who have the wrong impression of our school.”

The student said he does not think the incident has generated much of a stir on campus, other than eliciting e-mails from school administrators and leaders of campus minority groups.

“I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal within our school,” the student said.

In his e-mail to students, Salovey advocated small-group discussions as a way for students to process the intense emotions surrounding racially charged situations.

“Small-group discussions are often an effective way to deal with the intense feelings aroused by these kinds of situations, and so we are asking your masters and deans to engage in such conversations with the students of each residential college,” he said in the e-mail.

Thursday evening, Davenport College Master Richard Schottenfeld sent an e-mail to the students of his residential college, announcing a Monday night meeting to discuss the incident and its implications.

Many students interviewed said Salovey’s encouragement of small-group discussion is a good starting place, but that faculty and administration should be taking on a larger role in fostering campus dialogue on issues of tolerance.

Josh Williams ’08, ethnic counselor and chair of the Coalition for Campus Unity, said while he agrees with Salovey that small discussions would be effective, such discussions are only the first step and other actions will become necessary to improve the situation.

But one junior who wished to remain anonymous said she does not agree with Salovey’s decision to address the Halloween blackface incident in the same e-mail as the Pierson graffiti.

“My first reaction was, truthfully, that blackface in a Halloween costume, unintentionally a reference to the blackface of olden times, is incongruously related to the world of racist graffiti,” she said.

But Czessie Francois ’11 said she and her peers have mixed opinions about whether the Pierson graffiti incident was truly isolated or whether it reflected a more significant undercurrent of racism at Yale.

I think it’s probably a greater cultural issue, something working underneath the surface, which should probably be addressed,” Francois said.

The rally on Wednesday will include a march from Pierson College to Woolsey Rotunda beginning at noon. The vigil will take place on Cross Campus at 10 p.m.

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