Yale’s chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity has denied allegations that brothers racially discriminated against students of color during a party held Friday at the fraternity’s off-campus house.
On Oct. 31, the day after the party in question, Neema Githere ’18 posted a status on her personal Facebook profile recounting the experience of a group of women of color which she said were denied entrance to SAE on Friday on the basis of race. Though Githere was not part of that group herself and was not in attendance Friday, she noted in the post that a similar incident had happened to her last year and invited others who had been discriminated against by SAE to comment with their stories. Since it was published, her post has received over 600 likes and almost 100 shares.
“I’d just like to take a moment to give a shoutout to the member of Yale’s SAE chapter who turned away a group of girls from their party last night, explaining that admittance was on a ‘White Girls Only’ basis,” her post read.
Members of SAE have categorically denied the accusations. Yale SAE President Grant Mueller ’17 said he has been in contact with Yale administrators and representatives from SAE’s national organization about the incident to repudiate charges that SAE members engaged in racist behavior when deciding whom to admit to the party.
“Obviously I was shocked and flabbergasted [at the idea] that anyone in SAE would even have these words come from their mouths,” Mueller said. “It’s just kind of upsetting for me because we try to be so incredibly accepting and take pride in our diversity.”
Mueller said he was notified of Githere’s post around 8 p.m. on Saturday and immediately contacted Dean of Student Engagement Burgwell Howard, as well as his residential college dean, in order to address the complaints. Howard already knew about the post, Mueller said. Mueller and Howard met on Saturday night and spoke on the phone the next afternoon.
Githere’s statement has drawn attention from beyond Yale’s campus. Mueller said a representative from the national chapter reached out to him via email, asking for details about the event. He added that The Huffington Post has contacted him about the allegations, but said he did not know whether SAE’s national organization would provide a spokesman for the chapter.
Mueller added that he and other SAE brothers plan on attending a forum at the Afro-American Cultural Center this afternoon, where attendees will discuss the weekend’s events in relation to larger discussions about an inclusive campus culture.
The administration has also been in contact with the students involved in the alleged events outlined in the Facebook post. Emails provided to the News show that on Sunday morning at 10 a.m., Howard emailed a Yale student he had heard was present for the events outlined in Githere’s post requesting more details about the alleged incident. Howard said he had been contacted by the student’s residential college dean about the events and wanted to gather as much information as possible.
“You should be aware that I have been contacted by the chapter president, and he is anxious to understand exactly what you and your friend experienced,” Howard wrote to the student, who asked to remain anonymous in order to preserve privacy. “He has received some mixed reports from his membership who may have been staffing the door that evening, so he would like to hear to accounting from you and your friend to see what actions may need to taken with his members.”
The student was with two friends in the crowd in front of the house on Friday evening, hoping to enter the party, but brothers were “standing directly in the door frame and picking people one at a time from the crowd clumped right near the door,” according to the student’s email to Howard.
It was then, the student said, that one friend — who is a woman of color — heard a brother say “White girls only,” directed at another woman of color who was trying to enter.
“After the comment, we left, and I never plan on returning to SAE,” the student wrote to Howard.
That same afternoon, Howard emailed the friend who had overheard the conversation, asking for the friend’s account of the events.
Neither Howard nor the student’s friend could be reached for comment Sunday evening.
As of late Sunday night, five people of color had commented on Githere’s status sharing similar encounters they have had at SAE, recounting experiences ranging from being questioned about whether they went to Yale to being told they could only enter if brothers could individually touch the partygoer’s hair.
Ivonne Gonzales ’16, who is Latina, expressed anger and disbelief on Githere’s thread that incidents such as these are “still happening,” citing a similar experience of hers.
Gonzales told the News that in spring 2014, she and her friends — about half of whom were visiting from other universities — were asked for their Yale IDs upon approaching SAE. After learning that some of them did not attend Yale, Gonzales said brothers at the door asked to see their passports. But she said various explanations — including an apology from the SAE president — led her to believe that the altercation was a misunderstanding, so she did not expect to hear of a similar incident later.
“I was surprised because I thought my story was a misunderstanding,” she said. “I’m upset it’s a recurring issue, and maybe it’s time for them to have a conversation about all this,” she said.
In an interview with the News Sunday night, Githere said an SAE member has told her in the past that admittance to parties is more based on attractiveness than race. She declined to comment further on Friday night’s events.
According to SAE members interviewed, the fraternity has a policy to let in any Yale student until the house becomes too crowded, at which point students attempting to enter have to have a member let them in personally. Mueller said asking for Yale ID at the door is standard practice and that Yale Police has explicitly instructed the fraternity to only admit Yale students.
Akinyi Ochieng ’15, who commented on the post sharing an instance of racial discrimination she experienced two years ago at SAE, said that regardless of what happened Friday night, the fraternity’s members should address the complaints rather than deny them.
“Instead of denying the experiences of people of color such as myself or Neema [Githere], I would hope that the brothers of SAE could say instead, ‘From our knowledge, this did not happen, but to make sure that this never happens, we will make it clear that there is no room for hate or discrimination in our house,’” she told the News.
The Yale chapter of SAE was founded in 1988.
Daniela Brighenti contributed reporting.
Clarification, Nov. 2, 2015: A previous version of this article did not contextualize the incident that occurred between Gonzales and members of SAE in spring 2014.