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.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    I don't understand why everyone assumes this graffiti came from within the community (at least that is how this article portrays the incident). While I have no evidence that it was an outsider who spray painted Pierson, it could have easily been a random citizen of New Haven or even a student from SCU or QPac. With that in mind, a multicultural office would not solve this issue. It is a nice idea to have this office but even if every member of the Yale community agrees that this incident was wrong, that would not stop someone from outside the Yale community from defacing Yale property with racist language. Three or four years ago someone spray painted the sidewalks outside of JE on York Street with racially insensitive graffiti. However, it seemed clear at the time that this was an isolated event that probably did not involve Yalies. To imply that there is some greater racial tension beneath the surface at Yale because of an isolated incident that may not have even been perpetrated by Yalies is an overreaction. We can all stand up against these deplorable acts but let’s not jump to the conclusion that Yale is all of a sudden having major issues.

  • Anonymous

    Umm why is everyone reacting as if the graffiti was done by a Yale student? Does it not occur to people that we live in a city of over 100,000 people?

  • Anonymous

    A multicultural office is a great idea! Why wasn't this proposed sooner??

  • Anonymous

    I am fascinated by these previous comments that seem convinced such acts could never be perpetrated by Yale students. How quickly we have forgotten the attack on Katherine Lo's suite in 2003.

    Is it possible this was done by non-Yalies? Sure. But to act as though there's no problems with hate and hate speech at Yale is deeply ignorant.

  • Anonymous

    I don't think it matters whether or not the graffiti was done by a Yale student -- did people not read the full article where it said that the dining hall worker heard Yale students in Davenport LAUGHING and using the N-word? THAT is the serious problem here. Reactions like that are unacceptable.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that the graffiti was probably not performed by a Yalie - probably. But that should not discourage Yalies from supporting the start of a long-overdue multicultural office. This incident is only one in a long series of events (including nooses on old campus! BEFORE the recent rash across the nation) that have happened on campus with racial undertones. It is time for Yalies to recognize that even though you personally may have elevated and modern personal values, not every member of our community does and that needs to be addressed both officially and unofficially with concern, honesty, and a sense of community that is greater than the minority of students who choose to express themselves in this deplorable manner. I cannot underscore enough the need for Yalies not to react dismissevely to these events and create an opportunity for even more offensive statements being made publicly and privately.

  • Anonymous

    I don't find that too terribly problematic. They could have been quoting a recent episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" or shunning Michael Richards or commenting farcically on the power of a word to inspire so much hatred, etc, rather than simply being intolerant imbeciles. I suspect that, given the PC police, these students were foolish insofar as they had their conversation publicly without censoring their language (who doesn't feel like a 4-year-old when saying "The N-word" ?). If they were more concerned with niceties, they ought to have spoken uncesored somewhere else. Nevertheless, their "reactions" are not inherently "unacceptable" out of context. Or would you outlaw the use of a word entirely? That sounds like empowerment of an idea that should be laughed into oblivion. E.g. racism.

  • Anonymous

    I definitely agree with the last commentator. Using the word "nigger" or any other word in a vacuum, or when simply quoting it from somewhere or telling a story about it should not be seen as inappropriate -- as opposed to calling someone a nigger with some sort of malicious intent. I remember last year, during an African American Lit seminar I was taking, a student and, most outrageously, the professor! saying "the N word" or simply the letter "n" when the word "nigger" came up while reading from the text. If that doesn't signal the triumph of senseless political correctness over intelligence and common sense, I don't know what does.

  • Anonymous

    I think that reason why the Dining Hall workers remembered that incident with students using the N word around them is because they find it inherently offensive and unnecessary. So yes, the students may have been discussing a book or telling a story (an idea i find highly implausible, but let's act like that might have been the case). But you must at all times be aware of your surroundings and the effect your words have on those around you; not because it is a law or a rule or even a societal expectation but because this is a community that you are priviledged to be a part of. There are very few spaces at yale that are literally private - And as part of a community, you should want, on your own volition, to contribute positively to the experience of those around you whether they are dining hall workers or young women in a courtyard or visitors to our campus. The comparison is unnecessary but i would offer the example of repeating the word 'b*tch' while the Dean's family walked by you; yes, you have every right to say the word 'b*tch' and you may be quoting a great author or telling a story - but i would hope that out of respect and a desire to strengthen our community you would respect the Dean's family just as those individuals should've respected the dining hall workers and everyone else by avoiding such divisive language.

  • Anonymous

    First, I agree that it's unlikely the students were involved in some sort of innocuous discussion. But, while I agree with the rest of above comment in theory, people must realize that it's a little bit hard to completely carry out in practice. First, because people have different comfort and sensitivity levels when it comes to words -- I personally know certain people who consider the word 'bitch' an awful insult and others who think it's barely vulgar and toss it around fairly carelessly. So, unless it's in a situation or around people (the Dean's family, a 6-year-old, the Pope) where it is really obvious that it would be inappropriate, a lot of times you never know when it's ok and when it's not.

    In the case of the word "nigger" specifically, surely you're not suggesting that by being "aware of our surroundings and the effects your words have on those around you" we might look around to see if there are any black people within earshot before choosing our language in discussing a funny Dave Chapelle skit or Amiri Baraka text. That seems like an awfully worse alternative. So, what's the other option? Not saying it at all, just in case? I'm not sure I would like to be in an environment where I have to use abbreviations and asterisks to refer to certain words just because someone might hear and someone might feel some discomfort.

  • Anonymous

    It appears the fourth person to post did not read "Anti-blackface columnists lacked rational argument" by Michael Wayne Harris
    Published Friday, November 9, 2007. As he points out, while it is acceptable to disagree with someone else's opinion, it is not acceptable to dismiss that opinion without providing a counter argument. For the sake of proper debate, please stop rebutting an opinion simply by calling it ignorant or the commentor ignorant. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    The violent loss of free expression
    Laura Hess
    Published Thursday, April 10, 2003

    Two weeks ago, Katherine Lo '05 hung an American flag upside-down outside her window, a symbol of distress and dissent with the U.S. government. She reported to the police that two Thursdays ago, several male students broke into her suite after midnight, armed with a two-by-four, and tried to enter her bedroom, the door of which, fortunately, was locked. According to Lo, they scrawled on her whiteboard a message violently calling for the killing of Iraqis and Muslims with threats specifically directed at women. It ended with the words, "I hate you, GO AMERICA."

    Lo has since taken down her flag and moved out of her suite, afraid for her safety.

    (I guess this was just another one of those isolated incidents, huh? The truth is that there is a history of bigotry on Yale's campus. Must we wait for it to rise to the level of violence again for our responses to be justified? By the way, those who broke into Kat Lo's room and left her violent threats were only placed on probation. Gee, thanks Yale.)

  • Anonymous

    IN RESPONSE TO: "we might look around to see if there are any black people within earshot before choosing our language in discussing a funny Dave Chapelle skit or Amiri Baraka text. That seems like an awfully worse alternative. So, what's the other option? Not saying it at all, just in case? I'm not sure I would like to be in an environment where I have to use abbreviations and asterisks to refer to certain words just because someone might hear and someone might feel some discomfort."

    Firstly, this word and words like it are not just offensive to "black people." I would say Im not sure why that is such a HUGE inconvenience not to scatter words with such hateful and incendiary denotations publicly. The problem is that while an individual or group of individuals might be using the word in a contextually appropriate way (and there are very few of those anyway), it is quite difficult for people in earshot to understand that your comments are innocent/conversational. Thus, out of consideration for your community, you have the option not to casually throw around words in public out of respect for people who are not a part of your profound intellectual discussion. What seems an inconvenience for one of us can easily be an experience-altering, hurtful and incisive moment for everyone else - so why go there.

  • Anonymous

    Yawn, it' time to GET A LIFE. There’s something a bit stale about rallying against “hate” for the ten thousandth time. When 99.9% of the students agree with you, it doesn’t take a lot of courage to rally against an almost non-existent enemy.
    Especially since the odds are about 50/50 that these grafitti were faked by some liberal anxious to rally the masses of the faithful. As the saying used to go back in the forties, if a totalitarian regime doesn’t have enemies, it has to invent them.
    To most adults this response is just another example of self induced PC and mushy headed thinking. Is this Yale or a Pre School?