ROSS: Giving Yale a bad rap


Lux, veritas … and securitas?

Perhaps that should be the University’s new motto if the recent actions of the Yale Police Department and administrators are any indication. In their cancellation of a rap event at the Af-Am House, Yale administrators and police officials allowed tentative security concerns to trump all else and seemed to lack any willingness to work with the event’s organizers to find a middle ground between safety and free expression.

As the News reported on Monday, the Af-Am Center, WYBC and the undergraduate organization Middleman had invited nine area rappers, four of them Yale students, to perform at a showcase at the Af-Am House this past Saturday night. The event, which organizers started planning in February, seemed to be proceeding smoothly until Saturday, when Assistant YPD Chief Michael Patten called one of the organizers, Ifeanyi Awachie ’14, to tell her that the event’s request to use the House had been denied. Fifty minutes later, Af-Am Center Director and assistant Yale College Dean Rodney Cohen emailed organizers to tell them that the event had been cancelled “by order of the Yale Police.”

That was untrue. Patten told the News that police only recommended that the event be cancelled. So either Cohen made the decision to cancel and foisted responsibility onto the big, bad YPD or he interpreted their recommendation as an order that the police do not have the authority to give. Cohen did not respond to a request for comment for the News’ Monday story and did not answer the question in a comment for this column.

In his email to the News explaining the decision, Assistant Chief Patten first cited the fact that the event was advertised, free and open to the public — heaven forbid! — and the overcrowding and loitering it might cause. If you think this was the real reason for the cancellation, I’ve got a residential college to sell you. The real reason, as Awachie told me Patten made clear in his call to her, was increased gang activity in the city and the potential for violence at the event. The YPD judged the presence of four local rappers at an on-campus event so chaotic that it would spark a violent incident that the presence of Yale Security and police officers would be powerless to deter. Highly improbable? Yes. But not without reason.

One of the New Haven rappers scheduled to appear was shot at a rap showcase at Toad’s a year ago. But there were no official security personnel at Toad’s that night. Yale Security was already planning to monitor the Af-Am House showcase. According to Alan Sage ’14, Middleman’s president, YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins only found out about the planned event the day before — and was very unhappy that he had not been told about it sooner. Judging from his reaction, he did not trust Yale Security to be able to contain the violence that the local rappers and their entourages might unleash, and didn’t want to use YPD resources to do so. Police never suggested an alternative date, venue or that certain rappers should be uninvited. The YPD’s knee-jerk decision to quash an event trying to build bonds between Yale and New Haven speaks ill of its attempts to follow a model of community policing. We should expect better, and we usually receive it.

Still, the YPD’s officers’ primary mission is to provide a safe and secure campus environment. If they feel an event carries a chance for violence, they are not inclined to weigh that danger against any potential artistic merit. They may have exhibited poor judgment, but they were still only trying to do their job.

The same is not true for administrators such as Dean Cohen, whose job is to maintain Yale as a place where intellectual and artistic expression can be safely expressed. That means protecting it both from violence and from overzealous protection that turns into a form of censorship. Cohen seemed to be on board as late as March 19, when he let Awachie use his name to request Yale Security for the event. But when police came to him with the message that a rap showcase was too dangerous an art form for Yale University, he did not challenge them and stand up for the hard work of the students who organized the event or were planning to perform.

The event’s organizers are reasonable people. As Sage told me, they just wished that there had been more communication from the administration so that security concerns could have been addressed without needlessly indicting the whole event. Cohen said in an email to the News on Tuesday that “the decision to cancel this recent event is not a reflection on the New Haven community or its residents.” Actions speak louder than words, Dean.

Colin Ross is a senior in Berkeley College. His column runs on Wednesdays. Contact him at


  • The Anti-Yale

    “Actions speak louder than words, Dean.”

    “Nine area rapppers”? Is there just possibly a smidgeon of racism here too?

  • River_Tam

    > Patten told the News that police only recommended that the event be cancelled. So either Cohen made the decision to cancel and foisted responsibility onto the big, bad YPD or he interpreted their recommendation as an order that the police do not have the authority to give.

    My god, are you really outraged that he said “by order” instead of “by recommendation”? I have a feeling you’d still be writing this column.

    **It’s not about free expression**. This is an issue of campus safety and believe it or not, Yale has very broad powers when it comes to enforcing rules on its own campus. Sometimes they abuse them – it’s not clear they did in this case.

    The minute you step off campus, you can do what you want. The Af-Am house is in Yale’s jurisdiction and is subject to Yale administration. If you want, you can order all the concerts and events you want ANYWHERE ELSE IN NEW HAVEN. No one wanted to stop these artists from rapping – everyone wanted to prevent violence like the kind that happened at Toad’s a year ago.

    PS: You don’t think violence can break out when Yale Security is around or something?

  • eli1

    > The minute you step off campus, you can do what you want.

    …Except step foot inside a fraternity house. I feel as though its just a matter of time before the Yale admins feel the need to micromanage and regulate the lives of students both on and off campus. Scary stuff.

    • River_Tam

      Yup, I think that’s an overstep by the Yale administration, as I’ve written elsewhere.

  • tomago

    The race excuse and political correctness attitude is getting old…very old. People get shot at hip-hop events in New Haven. Period. Complain all you want, but police and university administrators don’t have the luxury of debating civil liberties when they have to explain to a parent or loved one why they were unable to prevent a tragedy.

    A few years ago, I mistakenly went into a local NH restaurant to meet someone, not knowing it was “hip-hop” night. I was told by three young men upon entering, “what are you doing here, this is our place” [expletives deleted], I was threatened by thugs. Do I wish the world was different? do the people that ultimately have the responsibility for the safety of others.

    It is my hope the writer “eli1″ lives many years complaining “Yale admins feel the need to micromanage and regulate the lives of students both on and off campus…”

    Part of having responsibility is taking heat for doing the safe thing. There were many times my now college-age children accused me of being unreasonable…they were right, but sometimes that’s just part of the job.

    “Scary stuff”? Not as scary as a funeral. If “eli1″ has an issue with Yale admins’ cultural intolerance, they should ask an EMT what they think of “hip-hop” nights.

  • lakia

    In reference to tomago’s satement:
    The first sentence says it all.

  • Sasquatch

    The danger and security concerns are a real issue, no one is doubting that. But it’s unfair to cancel an event the day of. (Morning of)
    People had been working hard to prepare for the show and a little more forethought from the administration could have solved any potential problems without having to pull the plug entirely.

  • The Anti-Yale


    You are talking through your armchair philosopher hat:

    MY cousin has worked at Toad’s Place for twenty years.

    The “race excuse” as you call it is definitely NOT overplayed here. If anything it is tiptoed around with obsessive political correctness. God forbid anyone should accurately describe what is going ion in New Haven: Racial warfare.

    A Dartmouth student who considered, then rejected, Yale as a first choice, recently asked me, “Is Yale still in the ghetto?”

    I laughed out loud at his naive accuracy.

    No slick PR manipulator for Yale would EVER admit that cultural reality: Yale IS in the ghetto. I know. It’s my birthplace and I’ve lived there half of my life. My family has lived there for 100 years.

    Hip hop glorifies thugsterism. Unfortunately, it is associated with a certain race as an art form.

    Kids today dress like pimps and trollopes and think it’s fashionable. Unfortunately the artists whose costumes they emulate are associated with a certain race.

    In the Green Mountains, recent bank-robberies captured on videotape reveal the so- called racial-neutral “hoodie” (in spite of Trayvon Martin’s fatal experience to the contrary) as the fashion -of choice for the art of armed theft, even in a milk-white state like Vermont.

    It is naive to call stereotyping a “race excuse”. It is cultural reality.

    Paul D. Keane

    M. Div. ’80, etc.