At rally, students call for tolerance

The a cappella group Shades summed up the mood best at Wednesday’s “Rally Against Hate” when it sang “We Shall Overcome.”

An hour before the rally — which came on the heels of recent controversy on campus about several students’ blackface Halloween costumes and slurs found spray-painted on University buildings — only a few dozen students stood by the wall outside Pierson College that just last week was defaced with the words “nigger school.”

Students protest at Wednesday’s “Rally Against Hate” in Woolsey Hall, which was followed by a nighttime vigil on Cross Campus.
Nick Bayless
Students protest at Wednesday’s “Rally Against Hate” in Woolsey Hall, which was followed by a nighttime vigil on Cross Campus.

But as the crowd marched towards Woolsey Hall bearing signs and shouting anti-bigotry slogans, intrigued bystanders joined its ranks.

By the time the last shout of “No justice, no peace” reverberated around the Woolsey Hall rotunda, some 200 students of various races had encircled a lone microphone. For the next hour, a fluid crowd of passersby listened to the frustrations of students, the regrets of University administrators and the confusion of a campus wrestling with questions of acceptance and intolerance.

“The things that were said last week aren’t the reason we’re here,” Joshua Williams ’08 said, referencing the Pierson graffiti and a similar-looking inscription of “drama fags” discovered on the wall of the University Theatre last week. “They’re part of it, but they’re not the whole reason.”

Over the past five years, rally organizers and speakers said, Yale’s campus has played host to myriad episodes of intolerance and racism. Lining the marchers’ path from Pierson to Woolsey, dozens of simple white signs — featuring student reactions to past incidents of discrimination — put that history on display.

But it was the appearance of hate speech on campus walls last week that precipitated Wednesday’s rally, students and organizers said.

“I know that waking up and finding racist graffiti or homophobic slogans spray-painted to the walls of a residential college is not the educational experience you came to Yale to have,” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said in a prepared speech delivered to the crowd. “And yet in the past two weeks, we’ve had to deal with such experiences here at Yale. To those of you who were offended, hurt, disgusted, alienated by these events, I am deeply sorry.”

Among the speakers were three members of the class of 2011. For the freshmen who spoke, the events of the past two weeks called into question their former perception of Yale as an accepting and tolerant institution.

Ivuoma Onyeador ’11 said she was shocked this semester to find that racism existed — and was largely ignored — on Yale’s campus. Onyeador said she is hoping for “a swift change from the administration” and said she thinks Yale should add a cultural studies curriculum to its graduation requirements.

Luciano Coster ’11 said he has felt the impact of racial profiling personally this year. Coster cited an episode in which a security officer suspected him of being a thief for waiting near a college entryway and asked him to leave.

Timeica Bethel ’11 also demanded action from University administrators in the form of enhanced cultural education. She if the University does not take on this obligation, it will be left to students such as her.

“Blackface is not OK, racism is not OK, homophobia is not OK,” she said. “And if I have to spend my four years at Yale educating people at Yale about why these things are not OK, I will do that … I did not come to Yale to fight racism and bigotry, but I will not run away from it.”

As the rally drew to a close, members of the Coalition for Campus Unity — a group that addresses bigotry on campus — took the floor and laid out a series of long-term changes they want University officials to implement.

CCU officials said they hope administrators will institutionalize this year’s freshman reading requirement, expand the ethnic counselor program, implement a cultural-studies requirement and expand curricular focus beyond “Western,” primarily white, historical figures.

University administrators who spoke at the rally underscored the need for patience in crafting a sustainable University response to the perceived culture of racism on campus. The administrators asked students to reach out to one another to form a tighter community in light of the incidents.

Calling last week’s incidents of hate speech and discrimination “disgusting,” Salovey said he hopes members of the Yale community can work together to prevent the recurrence of such events in the future.

Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry said he has created a document that outlines an appropriate response protocol for victims of discrimination. That document, Gentry said, will be made available to each residential college “pending final approval.”

Gentry also said he hopes a new University-wide protocol for hate-crime response will be ready by the spring term.

Recent attempts by the Yale administration to encourage campus dialogue on race include requiring incoming freshmen to read “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum before arriving in New Haven in the fall.

The book, which addresses the possible benefits of race-based self-segregation among youth, served as a foundation for small group discussions following Tatum’s keynote address during freshman orientation.

Organizers said they were generally pleased with turnout for the rally, given its timing in the middle of the day and students’ other commitments.

Some students passing by the rally said they were unaware that the event was taking place, while others correctly identified it as the “Rally for Change” but said they were otherwise occupied with classes or meetings and could not attend the rally.

Not all students agreed with organizers that a rally is the most effective way to address the issue.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m anti-bigot,” said one Morse sophomore who asked to remain anonymous. “But the kids who put that s— on Pierson, they’re not going to be [at the rally].”

But for rally organizers, that was beside the point.

“We’re here fighting this, and that’s important for Yale,” Williams said. “That’s part of the history of Yale that we want to see — people who say we don’t tolerate this in our community, who say we can be a better community.”

A vigil at which members of the Yale community spoke about their experiences with discrimination was held at 10 p.m. Wednesday on Cross Campus.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    "At rally, students call for tolerance"

    Oh, now, there's a surprise.

    Tim of Angle, SM '78

  • Anonymous

    "CCU officials said they hope administrators will institutionalize this year’s freshman reading requirement,"

    Oh please no.

  • Anonymous

    Wow YDN, tolerance,actually, was not the call. Tolerance is merely: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own.
    There’s been plenty of tolerance at Yale: Tolerance of ignorance, tolerance of bigotry and tolerance of hate. We’ve had enough. We demand solidarity, education and community.

    As a freshman, promised a sense of community at Yale and the freedom to learn and grow as student it really shouldn’t be my responsibility to tell people why things like racism and homophobia are wrong. Dean Salovey already said

    We are all offended by these deplorable acts. There is no place for them at Yale or anywhere else. Yale College is a community based on mutual respect…

    But this,unfortunately, has not been the case. Come on Yale. Really? We've got to do better and sending campus-wide e-mails is not enough.

  • Anonymous

    To the third poster, why don't you be more direct with what you're demanding? You're not demanding solidaity, education, and community, you're demanding the solidarity, education, and community of a particular worldview. After all, why can't we all be a community that stands in solidarity of free speech, and engage in the education of our members to the fact that things like blackface, and a community of live and let live, ascribing little focus on acts like this?

    You don't just want community, you want a community of people who think like you do (which is convenient for you because you're the only one who doesn't have to do any work to change and you reap the reward of having your worldview realized at the expense of other worldviews; you want others to work for your goal). I'm not saying wanting this kind of community is a bad thing, just be honest about it. Don't just say "I want community," say "I want a community that thinks like I already think."

  • Anonymous

    A community that doesn't tolerate hate and bigotry - what an outrageous claim! Really, when did this become too much to ask? And once again, the organizers of the rally were some of the same people responsible for the conversations in many residential colleges - conversations where people can talk about things like blackface, etc - if they choose to come. I find it odd though that so many of the people who say that we should be talking (which we are) insead of protesting are also the same people who won't come to talk in these conversations. And this is how change is supposed to come about . . . how convincing.