Payne Whitney Gymnasium front-desk supervisors have been instructing student desk attendants to racially profile visitors seeking to purchase $5 guest passes to use at the Lanman Center basketball courts, several student attendants said.
Gym officials instituted a policy last week designed to limit the sale of guest passes to local visitors in response to complaints of overcrowding and inappropriate use of facilities. But the student desk attendants, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they have felt uncomfortable enforcing the policy because their supervisors have steered them to be more skeptical of black and Latino visitors than white ones.
One desk attendant, who asked to be identified only as a male freshman, said that last Friday he was forced by his supervisor to deny access to the basketball courts to a member and his guest, a black man who regularly plays basketball at the gym on Fridays. But an hour later, he said, a white couple came in and asked to buy a guest pass to play basketball and his supervisor, Sandy Peterson, intervened and told him to allow the white couple to purchase the pass.
“I talked to my supervisor after the incident,” he said. “I asked her if our policy had changed and she said that the couple didn’t look like ‘street people.’ She didn’t give me a straight answer and it was clear that was the reason she was letting one couple in and not the other.”
When approached by the News on Monday night, Peterson, a black woman who regularly works at the front desk, declined to comment.
Another student desk attendant said he, along with his coworkers, has noticed that supervisors often choose to deny access to visitors who fit a specific profile: black and Latino men aged 14 to 25.
The policy, instituted due to the lack of available space at the gym during peak hours, was designed to restrict access to facilities only to paying gym members and Yale students, PWG director Ed Mockus said.
“We’re over-programmed because we are trying to accommodate club, varsity and IM sports,” Mockus said. “We only have one basketball court from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. and we’ve received complaints from members that there are too many people on the court.”
Gym staff have found “every type of person” using the facilities illegally, and all of these people have been asked to leave, Mockus said.
“It’s easy to mark this problem as a racial issue,” he said. “Are we really racially profiling because we exclude non-members?”
The enforcement of the policy, through which attendants say supervisors casually encourage student attendants to racially profile visitors, is unclear and uneven, the student attendants said.
“If we’re going to have this new policy, there should be signs around the gym explaining the policy as it applies to everyone,” a third student desk attendant said. “Although the policy states that guests can’t play basketball, supervisors have definitely been checking some people more thoroughly and these people have often been offended.”
Although the gym’s guest policy states that members only bring guests whom they know and plan to accompany throughout their entire time at the gym, Yale students often are approached by unknown visitors wishing to use the facilities, Mockus said.
Prior to the new policy, student desk attendants regularly allowed all visitors to enter the gym to play basketball if they had a member or student sponsor their visit. Problems arose, the student desk attendants said, because individual visitors often would let their friends enter the gym through backdoor emergency exits after purchasing one guest pass. Sometimes, these groups numbered up to 15 people, the attendants said.
This has been increasingly worrisome in the past few weeks, the desk attendant said, as there have been a number of thefts and fights among visitors at the basketball courts. The new policy was instituted as a safety measure in response to recent problems on the courts, Mockus said.
“If someone comes in and asks for a guest pass, we ask this person to answer two questions: ‘Do you know the person you’re sponsoring?’ and ‘What will do you do in the building?'” Mockus said.
If visitors say they intend to play basketball, desk attendants said they have been instructed to explain the policy and refuse to sell a guest pass.
“I think the problem is the people enforcing the rules,” the male freshman attendant said. “In order not to deny access to our normal members based on the new guest rules, which are very vague, it’s becoming an issue of keeping certain types of people out of the gym.”
Over the past three weeks, there have been more than 15 thefts at the gym, a situation that is currently being explored by Yale Police and has led gym staff to be more vigilant than normal, Mockus said.
“The police have even asked us to ask members who don’t stay with their guests inside the gym to leave,” Mockus said.
The director said members have complained about the overcrowding of the gym, which is a private facility, and as a result, the gym is trying to solve this problem.
“We become the mean guy just because we’re trying to follow University policies,” Mockus said.
Yale maintains a policy against discrimination on account of race and color.
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