Only 11 months after hateful graffiti was found on Yale buildings, prompting a sustained outcry from students and administrators, it remains to be seen whether a similar cycle will begin anew.
Early Tuesday morning, the phrase “WHITE GUILT” was found scrawled in black and white graffiti across the back of Dwight Hall and on buildings at two local independent schools. Dwight Hall is the home of Yale’s umbrella community service organization.
While the inflammatory words were promptly removed from all locations, if last year is any indication, the controversy they began may be longer-lived. The Yale Police Department has launched a formal investigation, and on campus, administrators, faculty and students will meet Monday to discuss and consider a formal response.
But in a break with past response to simialr incidents of graffiti, this time around, the phrase has caused little more than a ripple.
The YPD has no evidence that the perpetrator was a Yale student, YPD spokesman Lt. Steven Woznyk said. The act’s brazenness, administrators said, indicates that it was probably not perpetrated by a member of the Yale community.
Last spring, after a racial epithet and a homophobic slur were found on campus buildings, the University held four panels with faculty members examining hatred from different academic standpoints.
Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway GRD ’95, who spoke at the panels in the spring, said the earlier incidents were “pure hate speech,” but the graffiti discovered Tuesday was much more “bizarre.”
“I wouldn’t call [it] hate speech,” Holloway said. “I would call it, at best, stupidity.”
The University’s response to the earlier incidents was beneficial, said Acting Yale College Dean Joseph Gordon GRD ’78, but its effects were inherently limited.
“No one involved was ever under the illusion that our efforts could do away forever with hate speech,” he wrote in an e-mail to the News. “It’s a continuing obligation for us all to keep examining what brings these hateful acts about and to try to respond to them by not letting ourselves become discouraged.”
On Monday, the Intercultural Affairs Council, which was established to “support an inclusive and diverse campus environment,” according to its Web site, will convene with its full 24-person membership for the first time and discuss the incidents, said Pamela George, an assistant dean of Yale College and the director of the Afro-American cultural center.
Kirk Hooks, special assistant to the dean of student affairs and facilitator of the upcoming meeting, said he hopes it will be possible to involve all students on campus in discussions about diversity, particularly non-minority students who may be hesitant to enter into such conversations.
“We want to improve the atmosphere of dialogue around this incident and its implications so students feel more willing to talk frankly,” Hooks said.
Still, Hooks added, it may be difficult for students to know how to react without more information about the vandals.
“The anonymity of the act causes an emotional sabotage,” he said.
Hooks added that because students have not responded to the incident with special concern, the administration does not perceive a need for immediate action.
“It does not appear that among the students there is a high level of alarm,” he said. “It is not something that we want to immediately respond to until we have a better grasp of what is behind it.”
Interviews with over a dozen students Wednesday evening corroborated Hooks’s analysis. Many students interviewed said they saw the incident as mild compared to what happened last year, in large part because the message left no indication as to the intentions of the culprit.
“This graffiti doesn’t seem to evoke the same emotion as last year’s acts of vandalism, which were much more shocking,” Danielle Kolitz ’11 said.
Kolitz added that she does not think a major administrative response was necessary because the graffiti did not seem to have significant implications for the Yale community.
Kevin Beckford ’11 said he thinks, after all that happened last year, students are coming to view such incidents as the status quo.
“I’m wondering if students are becoming desensitized to this type of thing,” Beckford said.
Still, members of some cultural organizations said they were not taking the graffiti lightly.
In a statement e-mailed to the News, Jamilah Prince-Stewart ’09, president of the Black Student Alliance At Yale characterized the group’s reaction as anything but unconcerned.
“The Black Student Alliance at Yale stands in solidarity with Dwight Hall and vehemently condemns the offensive, ignorant, and racially charged acts of vandalism,” she said in the statement.
Nearly identical graffiti was found at two local private schools, Hamden Hall Country Day School in Hamden and the Foote School in New Haven.
At Hamden Hall, the “white guilt” phrase was spray painted on a wall and on the side of a bus. Both scrawlings were promptly removed on Tuesday morning, according to Jim Hunter, the school’s facilities director.
Foote School faculty arriving around 7:30 a.m. discovered the vandalism, school spokeswoman Charlotte Murphy said. The school plans to use the incident as a jumping off point for class discussions, she said.
“We met with the kids and we said we don’t know who did it but we are going to try and find out,” Murphy said. “Certainly there will be discussion because this is an educational institution. The worst thing you do in this situation is pretend it is not there when it is pretty obvious.”
Police have so far have made no progress in uncovering the identity of the vandals.
“Investigators continue to analyze the letters in an effort to substantiate whether the same person or persons were responsible for the mischief,” Woznyk said. “At this point in the investigation there is no indication as to who might have been responsible for these incidents.”
Because similar graffitied phrases were discovered at two neighboring schools, Holloway said this week’s incident was different in nature from the earlier incidents at Yale.
“The events of last year and prior to that were all part of one very disturbing set of sequences,” Holloway said. “This one is continuing not quite in the same vein, but it’s still unsettling all the same.”