Levin addresses shaken medical school community

At a meeting to reflect on the murder of Annie Le GRD ’13 held Monday afternoon at the Yale School of Medicine, several members of the medical school community made it clear that they no longer feel safe on campus.

University President Richard Levin addressed a tense audience of roughly 550 students and faculty gathered at the Sterling Hall of Medicine, beginning by reiterating his condolences to Annie Le’s family and loved ones. When he opened the floor to questions from the community, concerns about safety and security quickly became the focus of discussion.

Discussing the range of emotions Le’s death has provoked, Chief Psychiatrist Lorraine Siggins, who spoke after Levin, urged listeners to draw on each other for strength.

“Sadness, loss, anger and distress can make us more irritable and brittle in a time when we should be supportive of each other,” she said.

Levin said he regrets the slow relay of information about developments in the case to the Yale community this past week, calling it a flaw in the University’s handling of the situation thus far. He said the e-mail he wrote to faculty and staff when Le’s body was discovered in the Amistad building Sunday night was sent as soon as it was possible to share the news without impeding the ongoing investigation.

Levin announced there will be a community meeting in Amistad the morning it opens. Although some “essential” researchers will return to Amistad tomorrow to continue their work, officials have not decided when the building will open up to the general public, he added.

Many among the audience spend their days in and around the Amistad Building, and some had even met or worked with Le. Several people raised specific concerns about their safety on the medical school campus, saying they had always felt uncomfortable walking the often-deserted streets between various research facilities and office centers, and now were more nervous than ever.

One woman earned nods of agreement from other audience members when she asked what could be done for scientists who work with animals, and are required to transport their subjects from building to building using underground culverts instead of coming up to street level.

“They’re these surreal, artificial, sci-fi tunnels,” she said, adding that these subways are usually empty.

The audience applauded another woman who brought up the lack of cell phone service in basement research facilities, many of which also do not have landline telephones. Previously a nuisance, this fact is unsettling now that Le’s body has been discovered in a basement, she said.

In response to these fears, Levin and Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith said the University has already increased security on campus in light of recent events. Officials are already looking into the possibility of improving cell phone reception or installing land line phones in areas with intermittent cell phone service, and are considering raising the presence of security personnel in a variety of areas and installing surveillance cameras in places that are deemed high-risk, Levin said.

Highsmith and Levin urged the audience to take advantage of resources that Yalies on central campus are aware of but do not always use: the blue phones and the 2Walk escort service. But Levin also warned against taking too many security measures.

“We don’t want to lock every door and let the social life of the school deteriorate,” he said. “What happened in Amistad was, in a certain sense, not preventable. No amount of hardware can overcome the darkness of the human soul when an evil person decides to do a terrible thing.”

Laurie Feldman, a project manager at the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation, works two blocks from the Amistad building. She said she has always felt nervous walking the streets near her office, and said she was surprised to hear Le’s death took place in a Yale building, in a place she would have considered safe.

Jeremy Jacox MED ’15 GRD ’15 said the “freak” occurrence of Le’s murder does not change how he feels about his safety in New Haven, pointing out that there are bad people everywhere.

“This shouldn’t make us feel less safe at Yale than any other campus,” he said. “It could have been Harvard or CalTech. It could have been anywhere.”

The meeting was originally scheduled to take place at the Hope Memorial Building, but was moved to the Harkness Auditorium to accommodate the unanticipated level of interest. Even still, the auditorium, which can house over 520 people, was filled well past capacity.

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