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.

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