Last week, the words “Race War Now” appeared on a wall in the African American Studies department.
Thursday afternoon, Lisa Monroe, senior administrator of the African American Studies department, received a complaint about graffiti discovered in a second floor bathroom of the department’s building at 81 Wall St. Yale Police began an investigation, and department chair Jonathan Holloway GRD ’95 issued a statement to the department explaining the situation and reassuring professors and staff that the offense was likely a “one-time act of stupidity.” Students interviewed said the incident serves as a reminder to the Yale community that issues of racial prejudice are far from resolved.
“This is important. This is a real thing, [but] we want to keep it in scale,” Holloway told the News on Saturday. “This was a stupid and small act, [not a] stupid and big act.”
Yale Police did not respond to requests for comment about the status of the investigation.
On Friday morning, University President Salovey and Holloway sent a joint email to the department condemning the act, especially in the context of the upcoming inauguration festivities, which they said aimed to celebrate “all of Yale in its great diversity.”
Holloway told the News that he and his department were thankful that Salovey took the time to issue this statement during this busy weekend and to express zero tolerance for this kind of crime. She added the graffiti may have been placed overnight. There had been a problem with the building’s lock system, and students and custodians had reported on a few occasions that the building’s card reader remained green-lit past the building’s 5 p.m. closing time, he said.
Moving forward, the main goal is “to make sure the building is secure when it’s supposed to be secure” so that those who have access to the building after hours can be tracked by the card reading system, Holloway said.
“The world in which we live isn’t free of this stuff, no matter what people like to say, and those who work in African American Studies understand this,” Holloway said. “There are too many examples of this kind of stuff, [although] refreshingly few on this campus.”
Although incidents of racially charged graffiti have occurred on campus before — most recently in May when the Slifka Center was threatened with arson — Holloway only recalled one other incident that directly involved him. Years ago, he said, before the University had installed card-activated lock systems, a window at the former African American Studies building was smashed with a snowball. Holloway said he did not perceive the incident to be racially motivated, but Yale Police investigated the possibility.
Nia Holston ’14, an African American Studies major, called the recent episode of graffiti “deplorable” and disappointing.
Still, she said this is not the first incident of racially motivated graffiti that she has heard about at Yale. She cited the appearance of the words “Nigger School” in 2007 on the York Street gate to Pierson College as another and perhaps more severe instance of racial hatred.
Holston said she appreciated Yale’s immediate yet measured responses to the situation, and added that she and her fellow students and faculty within the African American Studies department are committed to ensuring that incidents like these happen with decreasing frequency in the future.
“I hope that something good can come out of this,” Holston said.
Davynn Brown ’14, another African American Studies major, said that she was not surprised by the incident, as she is aware that racism exists on campus. But she said the use of the word “war” was jarring, since it reflected a very active sentiment.
There are 23 professors in the African American Studies department.