In the past week, there has been much discussion about the series of violent and intimidating acts committed at Yale, the administration’s response to these incidents, and the actions of a group called Concerned Students at Yale. As an active member of CSY, I would like to clarify what our purpose is, explain our actions, describe our interaction with the administration, and address some of the concerns and misunderstandings that have been voiced regarding our group.
First, we are not an anti-war group. While some of us oppose the war, I myself have supported military intervention in Iraq. We are anti-discrimination and anti-hate crime. And we would be equally disgusted by the targeting of pro-war protesters. Second, Stephen Fair ’04 wrote in an article yesterday that CSY is “dominated by the Muslim Students Association and those affiliated with it” (“Intimidating exactly the wrong people,” 4/16). This is entirely false. CSY is an organization of individuals, not a coalition of groups. And of the 70 students that marched to Woodbridge Hall last Friday morning, less than five were Muslim. Third, CSY does not assume that all members of any group agree with us or that we speak on behalf of the Yale student body. CSY includes students of various religious, racial and political persuasions. We wish to speak with our peers, not for them.
In a meeting with members of the administration on Friday, CSY identified several areas of concern. Since then, we have recognized that some aspects of our initial demands were unreasonable, but we remain confident that our overarching concerns are valid.
We said that the entire Yale community, including students in the graduate and professional schools, faculty, workers, and parents, should be informed about the alleged acts of violence and intimidation. I think we can all agree that Dean Brodhead’s initial e-mail did not convey the gravity of these incidents, though he still maintains the tone was appropriate. Further, his message was sent only to “the students of Yale College” — not to students at the professional and graduate schools, who are as vulnerable as the rest of us, and not to faculty and parents who also have the right to be informed.
The message that President Levin e-mailed to the Yale community on Friday, which he composed only after meeting with concerned students, was an important and necessary first step. And we appreciate the measures that the administration and police have taken to inform the student body about the incidents.
CSY also insisted that the administration and police conduct aggressive investigations, and regularly update students who had been threatened about the status of those inquiries. And certainly, this should be done in a way that does not compromise the investigations. Since Dean Brodhead did not seem in his e-mail to appreciate the severity of these incidents, we were concerned that the University would not support the investigations with enough rigor. Two days after a poster with a threatening message was placed on the front door of the Afro-American Cultural Center, a University official mentioned that the University was aiding the police in its investigation of the crime. That was news to the staff at the Afro-American Cultural Center. So we asked that the administration keep the Center and other relevant parties informed of its involvement in the investigation and it has obliged.
Regarding prosecution of the perpetrators, CSY merely wants to ensure that those found guilty are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, a phrase uttered often but practiced less regularly. No slaps on the wrist, nothing short of a punishment proportionate to the crime — whatever that may be. Why would students assume that the administration would pursue anything less?
Many of the groups and individuals targeted in these incidents lack faith in the administration with good reason, and these fears were compounded after they read Dean Brodhead’s e-mail.
Not too long ago, a group of students formed a separate group called Concerned Black Students at Yale following a series of incidents in which black students and residents of New Haven experienced discrimination. In one incident, a black undergraduate student was detained by police for 45 minutes outside Alchemy, a club on College Street, and then released without explanation. In another, a black law student who was quietly studying in a room at the Law School was asked by an administrator to show some form of identification, because he didn’t look like he belonged there. And there have been many reports of inappropriate behavior by police toward black residents of New Haven.
A member of Concerned Black Students at Yale submitted materials documenting some of these incidents to the administration and never received a response. In truth, the lack of faith that many concerned students have in the administration runs much deeper than this. Many of the students who gathered at the Afro-American Cultural Center last Thursday night to discuss the incidents were disappointed but not surprised by the tone of Dean Brodhead’s e-mail; they had seen the administration demonstrate a similar attitude toward other, less publicized matters and this time they were determined to change things.
The goals of Concerned Students at Yale do indeed go beyond the resolution of these seven incidents. Many racial and ethnic minority students feel as if they are constantly fighting an uphill battle against the administration for even the smallest requests having to do with funding for the cultural centers and their programs and relevant academic issues. CSY wants to facilitate a process whereby students from minority communities can regularly meet with administrators to discuss concrete and meaningful initiatives intended to create a more diverse, understanding, and safe community.
We want to break down the racial and cultural barriers that divide this campus — barriers people are often reluctant to confront. We are not assuming the answers to most of the questions we ask are simple or immediately feasible. We are proposing that the administration demonstrate a greater willingness to engage us on these issues in a meaningful way.
Yale is generally a tolerant atmosphere, but the recent incidents, especially the two hate crimes, were not isolated and their significance is not transient. They are extreme manifestations of pervasive, though not malicious, cultural misunderstandings on our campus. It’s about time for all of us to participate in a constructive and informed dialogue on issues of race and culture.
Shagran Hassan is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. He is the political action co-chairman of the South Asian Society.