Treatment of Rogers reveals institutional racism

We and other members of the Coalition for Campus Unity were deeply upset to learn last week of the treatment of Local 34 member Bernard Rogers — a Yale employee for the past 26 years — by his supervisors and co-workers at Mudd Library.

As reported in the News last week by Lea Yu, Mr. Rogers, who is black, was outside the library with a friend who gave him money to pay back a loan. He was seen by a library manager who, making the assumption that the exchange was a drug deal, then reported the incident to his supervisors, who then called the police. The police then walked Rogers through his workplace to a room where they proceeded to interrogate him about the incident, and refused to believe his story until confirmed by his friend, who returned later. The supervisors then brushed it all off as a simple “misunderstanding.”

Why were his supervisors — who Rogers has worked with for a number of years — unable and unwilling to address this matter with him directly? Why was their first reaction to call in the police, and to do so in such a humiliating and degrading manner? To Mr. Rogers and to us, what happened was nothing less than a textbook example of racial profiling, and a manifestation of the institutional racism present at Yale University.

Being able to name the Rogers incident, the wall of Pierson, the Halloween incident, the many instances of “racial humor” in Yale publications and the continued dearth of tenured people of color in the faculty, as symptoms of this institutional racism, is vital if we’re to move toward a greater understanding of how racism and bigotry work at Yale. These are not isolated incidents. The way this university has treated and continues to treat its workers, faculty and its students is at the core of why bigotry continues to fester in so many corners of our community, and why it continues to hurt so deeply.

Rogers’s experience of this must be heard and taken seriously, as Frances Kelley urged us in Friday’s edition of the News to do when hearing the experiences of students of color in these pages. He reported suffering humiliation, shame and psychological trauma after the profiling, needing to skip work for a day “in order to cope with anger and asthma attacks that … stemmed from the incident” — and his supervisors then used this to discipline and punish him for attendance, rather than working toward an understanding and acknowledging his hurt.

All that University Librarian Alice Prochaska could say in the wake of learning of these events was, “What is there to apologize for?” and continue to insist that there was no racial profiling.

When someone says you’ve hurt them, we need to take that experience for what it is and say we’re sorry, and mean it. To “mean it,” we have to apologize, but more importantly we need to redress what caused the hurt in the first place. Prochaska and this University have proven their unwillingness to do either.

Meanwhile, why have top administrators been completely silent about this incident, about accusations lodged by someone who has worked here for 26 years? They have also historically dragged their feet in the wake of student complaints, but the difference in responses to this incident, in comparison with how they responded to the graffiti, is nonetheless striking to us. But it’s also not striking considering incidents of this nature happen to workers and students at Yale all the time and are not reported or actively not dealt with.

We need to stand up and speak out when any member of our community — student, faculty, staff or administrator — asks that their experience of racism, sexism, homophobia or classism be addressed fairly. We stand in solidarity with Rogers and urge our university to do the right thing: Apologize, and take real steps to prevent recurrences and begin to dismantle the racism at work in this institution. This will also require a fundamental shift in how the University treats its workers on the whole — whose efforts to gain more just wages and benefits through their union have been in the past vigorously opposed in ways deeply disrespectful not just of their service but of their humanity.

Hugh Baran and Thomas Meyer are members of the Coalition for Campus Unity. Baran is a junior in Davenport College. Meyer is a freshman in Pierson College.


  • Anonymous

    You're joking…right? No, of course not. …

  • Anonymous

    While I agree there is something about this incident that is troubling, there's also aspects of this editorial that are troubling.

    First is the fact that the contents of the conversation between the manager supervisor are not available. We do not know if the conversation was something like

    "I think I saw a drug deal" "Why's that?" "I saw two people exchanging money and something small." "Why do you think it was a drug deal and not something else?" "Well… they were black." "Oh, why didn't you say that at the beginning, of course that's what it is."

    This would be classic racial profiling, but it doesn't seem very realistic. A more realistic version might go something like

    "I think I saw a drug deal. Rogers and another man I don't know were outside exchanging money and other things." "Are you absolutely sure?" "Yes, I'm sure." "Do you understand the seriousness of making this allegation?" "I do." "And you still wish to make it?" "I do."

    Or it could be anywhere in between, we honestly can't know. Another thing that we don't know are the policies for how to handle allegations like that. If a supervisor is required to turn any suspicion over to the police, no questions asked, his hands are tied by policy. Whether or not this is a wise policy is certainly a question up for debate, but this policy (a reasonable one) is unknown because neither the News nor Baran and Mayer provided it). If the policy is similar to one I described, where a supervisor is required to immediately turn the matter over to the police, then it isn't an instance of racial profiling. At worse, it is an instance of poor or mistaken judgement or even individual prejudice on the part of the manager, nothing institutional.

    Baran and Meyer are right to insist that these incidents take place in a context and should be considered within that context, but I hardly thing the appropriate context would be spray paint and halloween costumes. The appropriate context would be (gasp) how have other incidents in the library been handled. Obviously we wouldn't hear about the ones where the rules are accurately enforced on white employees (they aren't newsworthy), but if it turns out that there are roughly proportional rates of reporting for white employees and black employees, the case for racial profiling is seriously weakened. And if we give the manager the small benefit of the doubt that he would have reported a similar suspicion if he saw two white men engaged in the activity (nothing has come to light that suggests he wouldn't, again we don't know), there is no case for racial profiling whatsoever. So yes there is a context, but it's not the one Baran and Meyer think. We should look at the trend of how staff incidents similar to this have been handled, we should look at the policies for dealing with this particular incident ("Why were his supervisors — who Rogers has worked with for a number of years — unable and unwilling to address this matter with him directly?" Maybe because policy restrictions made his supervisors unable and unwilling to address this matter with ANYONE directly). Racial profiling is certainly a possibility, but how anyone could make that jump without considering the things I've mentioned is beyond me. It seems more like a case of cherrypicking incidents, taking them out of context, putting them in an artificial context. Rather than concluding from this incident that there is institutional racism, it was assumed that there was institutional racism from the beginning, and they let that truth inform how they interpreted this event.

    I want to be fair to Baran and Meyer, so if at the time of writing this article they actually did know the contents of the conversation between the manager and supervisor, how this incident compares to similar incidents, what exactly are the policy requirements for dealing with this incident, and whether there is reason to believe the manager would have handled a similar case by two white men any differently (to say "he was white himself" doesn't meet this burden), I would love more clarification.

    Yale cannot be held responsible for the conduct of the police, for to call the police about a manner is to turn over handling the manner to them. So if the police inappropriately handled the situation (were they Yale police? again we don't know) and if the supervisor perfectly followed the policy in calling the police (a policy which requires calling the police as soon as the suspicion is even mentioned, no questions asked; hardly a racist policy), then a simple "misunderstanding" is exactly what happened. Again, in order to know this, we would need to understand the event in context. But spray paint and Halloween masks isn't that context.

    That the supervisors "brushed it off" is also questionable, considering that the News reported the library issuing a letter to Rogers expressing that they were very sorry for the hurt and confusion. I'm not saying Baran and Meyer's conclusion isn't correct, I'm just saying it shouldn't be as quickly jumped to as it was. What does it say that in order to paint the university as they do, they choose to leave out this detail rather than address it?

    As for the claim that there is a dearth of tenured people of color, this claim should also be taken in context. But not the context of spray paint and Halloween costumes, the context of the tenure system. One aspect of the tenure system is that removing a tenured professor is second only to removing a member of the United States Supreme Court. The turnover rate for tenured professors is very slow. It is not as if it is possible to correct this error quickly simply because only a few tenure positions come up each year. It would take many years of deliberate work before this process could even begin to show results. The important thing is whether Yale is working on that painfully slow task.

    The way to tell is through looking at hiring data over the past several years (which is extremely vulnerable to variance since it is a small data set). Has there been growth over the past say 10 or 15 years, keeping in mind that this growth would be extremely slow at best. For female professors the percentage has slowly climbed (we ain't there yet, but we're getting there at a reasonable rate). What would help jumpstart the process is 2 new residential colleges, which would create an unusually large opportunity for hiring new minority faculty for a short period of time. Since the tenure system means that faculty turnover is slow, we should not expect the dearth of minority professors to be corrected in a short period of time. The best we can hope for is that Yale is on the right track in this slow process, something that can only be determined by looking not only at the number of minority faculty, but also at how that number has changed over time. This is the appropriate context to look at this fact in, not spray paint and Halloween. But Baran and Meyer don't provide this context, so taking the dearth as a "symptom" (things Baran and Meyer don't like are not only wrong, they are pathological) is more problematic than they would blithely have us believe.

    What's also amazing is how we must take these things as symptoms if we want to move to a greater understanding of how racism and bigotry work at Yale. However, two sentences later, it seems as if their understanding is already complete since they can draw causal connections between past actions and present circumstances. That Baran and Meyer can go from needing greater understanding to being able to perfectly connect the causal dots in less than a paragraph is a sign that maybe something disingenuous is going on. Maybe the same disingenuousness that says that the appropriate context to understand staff incidents is not through examining other staff incidents and policies, but rather instances of graffiti and undergraduate Halloween costumes.

    Baran and Meyer get it right when they say "Rogers’s experience of this must be heard and taken seriously." However, taking it seriously is exactly what Baran and Meyer don't do when they ignore the real context and instead provide a false context. Baran and Meyer didn't conclude that there was institutional racism from these incidents, they already believed it, and they used this incident to confirm what they already knew beforehand.

    The emotions Rogers experienced are very real. It is unfortunate that they were so much that he had to take a day off for his health. However, the extent to which he attempted to articulate these concerns to his employers is not stated by the YDN or by Baran and Meyer. Is it that he tried discussing with his employers his taking a day off before the fact and they were not receptive, or is it that he just didn't show up and then explained after the fact? We don't know, and this is a critical piece of information for judging the appropriateness of the university. Rogers would have had a responsibility to at least inform his employers of his intentions ahead of time, and if he did not, then he was at least partially at fault. To jump to an indictment of the university without having this information available is irresponsible. I'm not saying Baran and Meyer are incorrect in their assessment, I'm saying they are negligent in not providing key pieces of information that are paramount in supporting the conclusions they are drawing.

    "All that University Librarian Alice Prochaska could say in the wake of learning of these events was, “What is there to apologize for?” and continue to insist that there was no racial profiling" is a flat out lie, considering the YDN reports that she herself expressed her regret over the incident to Rogers directly. It would be one thing to say that this gesture was inadequate, but to pretend it didn't happen is another altogether. One must wonder why Baran and Meyer deliberately makes this claim when it would be shown false by looking just a few paragraphs before in the original news article? Never mind that the burden of proving racial profiling has not been met by a long shot (to do so would require examining the appropriate context, not the artificial spray paint and Halloween costumes context Baran and Meyer prefer).

    They assert that "When someone says you’ve hurt them, we need to take that experience for what it is and say we’re sorry, and mean it. To “mean it,” we have to apologize, but more importantly we need to redress what caused the hurt in the first place. " No. Redressing what caused the hurt is not necessary when the hurt is an unavoidable consequence of doing the right thing. Some members on campus were hurt by the idea of a hate speech vigil… they were hurt because they felt it cheapened other, more serious events. Does this mean that the vigil should not have happened or that its organizers should apologize for it? Not at all. It would be appropriate to express regret that their actions caused negative feelings (even though they aren't even willing to do that) . To express regret that there were negative consequences to a necessary action and to apologize for that action are entirely different. To apologize is to admit wrongdoing. I apologize when I have done something wrong, I express sincere regret when I have done something that is not wrong but still bothers someone. I do not redress the things I have not done wrong. Prochaska did express regret for the negative consequences of an action where she did not believe there was any wrong doing, and thus nothing to redress. The charge of racial profiling has not been proven by a long shot. How does this incident compare with other, similar incidents? What was the content of the conversation between the manager and the supervisor? Did the supervisor enforce policy impartially? We can't determine racial profiling until we know the answers to these three things, and so far we know none of them. But at least we know that spray painting graffiti is bad, as if that were helpful.

    Until we do know the answers to those three questions, Rogers is certainly owed an apology, but by the manager who falsely accused him, and possibly the police. Perhaps he does deserve an apology by the University (I'm not ruling it out), but not until it is established that this situation was mishandled by the university, and that burden hasn't been met by either the YDN or Baran and Meyer.

    Baran and Meyer are right on when they complain that this particular incident hasn't been resolved yet. The human resources department really did drop the ball on this one, and that is regrettable. However, Prochaska maintains that she knows the person making the allegation well enough to know that race is not a motivating factor. Plenty of people have constructed narratives of the manager's thought processes, and exactly no one has given her the benefit of the doubt. A white mistakenly accuses a black, it must be because the white person is a racist? While it is true that that probably does happen in a number of cases, the only thing that people are going on in this particular case is that the white person is white and the black person is black. People who actually know the manager maintain that she wouldn't let race could her judgement, but we can be objective; we don't have any biases like actually knowing about the manager. When can see clearly that when a white accuses a black, it is always because the white is racist. White people are incapable of making innocent, honest mistakes. If it is the case that this was just an honest mistake, there is no need to apologize for racism. I'm more inclined to believe someone who knows the person rather than a constructed narrative by someone who doesn't know anything about the situation other than that the person making the mistake is white and the victim of that mistake is black.

    Until more evidence comes to light, the public should be in support of Rogers getting an apology from the manager and from the human resources department for being sloppy, not racist. Just because someone perceives that he has been a victim of racism doesn't mean that he actually has. Treating claims like this fairly, as Baran and Meyer would have us do, mean looking at all the evidence, not just the evidence that supports our suspicions, and being open to the possibility that what was felt as racism was really an honest mistake and/or bureaucratic sloppiness.

    Too often "solidarity" means blindly accepting the words of one party and rejecting anything that contradicts that party. Sympathizing with Rogers does not mean being free from the responsibility of finding all the facts and then placing blame appropriately. In this case, the burden of proving racism has not yet been met (it is still certainly possible). What happened to Rogers is absolutely horrible, but that doesn't mean it's indicative of monolithic racism when a more likely explanation (remember Okham's razor) is that is a boneheaded mistake and a falling through the cracks of the bureaucracy. Sometimes things fall through the cracks not because people are black, but just people make mistakes and sometimes the mistake accidentally coincides with a situation where a black person is the victim.

    I'm not defending the University; I'm committed to the common sense realization that none of us know what happened well enough to be able to pass a judgement that is anything more than a guess or an opportunity to practice reciting the narratives that we already believed about this university before even hearing about this incident.

    Baran and Meyer's article is perhaps one of the sloppiest pieces of writing to appear in the YDN in a very long time. Graffiti and Halloween costumes don't help us understand whether Rogers suffered racism. The idea that it does is both absurd and self serving. If Yale does have inherent racism (a very real probability), people are going to be less likely to believe it because allegations like this one are absolutely ridiculous.

  • Anonymous

    the previous comment is the best comprehensive examination of all the factors in this alleged "racism" i have read. bravo!

  • Anonymous

    7:25 -- quite a tome, but I, for one, appreciate your writing it. It is true that Baran and Meyer don't seem to understand context. It seems that they have aggregated several incidents and then used the sum total to represent "institutional racism." This is an unbelievable claim. Spray-paint? 1 student, maybe not from Yale. Blackface? A couple of students, one of whom offered a public apologia in this very newspaper, and ultimately conceded some wrongdoing, though by no means intentional, and by no means indicative of the student body at large. Not enough minority professors tenured? Come off it! It's far too early to claim systemic bias in this regard, and the fine number of talented minority professors will ultimately resolve this issue. And publications? There is a fine line between humor and hatred, I suppose, and in some instances the less sensitive publications may straddle this line. But you know they wanted the humor side, they erred and they apologized. Let us not conflate insensitivity with racism; playing off stereotypes is not necessarily funny, but certainly not an indication of subscription to said stereotypes. And still, we're only dealing with a small number of student editors. And in the case of Rogers, I will defer to what 7:25 explained.

    I wish we were privy to the untamed process of extrapolation undertaken by the authors of this op/ed through which a few incidents among a few people, some of them arguably indicative of prejudice, were able to represent the revelation of "institutional racism." That is not mathematical, for sure, nor is it logical. If only the others aimed for the satirical…

  • Anonymous

    something is very off about the way the rogers case was handled.

  • Anonymous

    The one thing that's become very clear from all of this is that people at Yale really hate being called out on their prejudices.

  • Anonymous

    The analysis of "7:25" is remarkably thorough, thoughtful, and insightful. I commend the poster for thinking all that through and sharing it. Perhaps it could be published itself in the print version of this paper if the author cares to come forward?

  • Anonymous

    Something about the tone of this editorial is so disturbing and its conclusions so predetermined that it recalls the infamous GESO and UOC of the past years. The CCU, apparently, is steaming full-force towards the mantle of "angriest, most self-righteous liberal organization at Yale."

    By setting up an "us versus them" dichotomy with the Yale administration and accusing the school of "institutional racism" when most impartial observers would agree that nothing could be further from the truth, the CCU is cheapening the serious subject matter in which it professes to be interested.

    After a few polarizing rallies (and possible a strike or two), it will undermine its own position, become a laughingstock, and be forced to take a sabbatical as it thinks up a new acronym with which to cloak an old message: "F--- Yale, for any reason!"

  • Anonymous

    What does that mean the "infamous GESO and UOC of the past years?" Thankfully there were groups like the UOC and GESO to point out how much we still have to go. The reactions here are a perfect example of what is meant by institutional racism: complete refusal to admit that anything is wrong, complete refusal to understand that many people are made uncomfortable with what is going on, complete inability to find any blame in one's own actions. pathetic.

  • Anonymous

    Without dealing with any of the other allegations made by 7:25 I would like to provide a little information about tenure. The point which I believe Baran and Meyers were trying to make was not that we should remove white academics from their jobs. Rather, they were discussing a lack of diversity in the academy that is widely documented. Yale and other prestigious institutions claim that they have increased diversity over the last 30 years. What they have done is to massively increase the amount of adjunct and temporary positions, and fill these positions with a much more diverse population. What they have not done is to increase the amount of tenure and TENURE TRACK positions in tandem. Because of this, people of color and especially women of color have only had access to bad paying, unsecure jobs which provide them with ZERO academic freedom (as they can be summarily fired for any reason). As well, the numbers (which anyone can easily research) show that tenure track spots (the tenure spots of the future) are severely lacking in diversity. The final result of this is a two tiered system in the academy with no the people of color remaining for the time being in the lower tier. Yale must increase its tenured faculty and provide spots for people of color.

  • Anonymous

    "When someone says you’ve hurt them, we need to take that experience for what it is and say we’re sorry, and mean it."

    For two Yale students to actually believe this — to the point of submitting such a fallacy for publication — is unthinkable. Just because someone says you hurt them doesn't mean you a) actually hurt them or b) you need to apologize.

  • Anonymous

    To 10:59:

    Who gets to decide when emotions are valid? How can one person tell another person that they have not actually been hurt? What does it mean when we can't trust each other enough to take each others' feelings and experiences seriously?
    It is possible to hurt other people without meaning to. This is especially true in the context of internalized racism, classism, sexism etc.

    In response to some of what 7:25 wrote:
    I think its important to realize that the union, Local 34, has a set grievance procedure, and that when they met with the university librarian, they had investigated what happened and also know what the policies are. The reason why this is indicative of broader structural problems, is that it did not stop with the manager, but also other supervisors and human resources showed incredibly poor judgment. It seems like you are speculating on every possible excuse for this not being racism.

    Frances Kelley
    TD' 08

  • Anonymous

    I think 7:25 would appreciate the explanation of the status of tenure that one of the previous posters made. This is the kind of explanation 7:25 would be looking for, rather than a simple statement of fact. 7:25 doesn't render a verdict either way on the issue of minority faculty, he simply says where we should look before making the verdict. The point is that we can't draw some of the conclusions that we draw from the evidence we have been given, not that the conclusions are wrong.

    I think it comes down to the fact that we're Yalies. We don't want to just be told the conclusions, we want to be walked through the logical process. It's not enough that Ward 34 has investigated the incident and knows the relevant policies. We want to know them, too, and they haven't been given to us. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing 7:25 wants to see the evidence himself, that he's slow just to take someone's word for it (although he seriously could've chilled out a bit). Allegations of racism are a big thing, and when it's a big thing, you don't just want to take someone else's word for it, you want to be able to judge for yourself. If 7:25 is speculating on every possible excuse for this not being racism, it's because he doesn't necessarily think racism should be the default mode of interpretation. I think it's a reasonable request that if we're going to be told that something should be interpreted as racism, that we should get the opportunity to look at the all facts ourselves. 7:25 wasn't looking for excuses, he was looking for the opportunity to judge for himself rather than being told how he should think. If Ward 34 knows what the relevant policies are, why can't one of them tell us? Rather than being told that this was racist, why can't we be shown how this is racist? My favorite quote misattributed to Mark Twain captures the essence of what 7:25 wants: "Don't tell me, show me!" It wasn't his goal to excuse racism, it was his goal to try to get a more clear picture of what happened.

    I don't have any problem labeling racism for what it is, but that doesn't mean I'm going to shirk my responsibilities to make sure that my conclusions are well supported by the facts. I think this is the point, Frances. Simply having Ward 34 do the investigation isn't enough. We're Yalies, we want to be walked through all the evidence that Ward 34 found before we'll accept their conclusions. Although, 7:25, try to take a more civil tone next time?