Responding to recent accusations of racial profiling at Payne Whitney Gymnasium, gym administrators have clarified the policy to all workers and emphasized the University’s commitment to non-discrimination.
Several student desk attendants had expressed concerns that their supervisors were encouraging them to racially profile visitors seeking to purchase guest passes to use the Lanman Center basketball courts, although administrators said some of these concerns reflected miscommunication between the workers and their supervisors. Gym officials issued a guest pass policy update late last week requiring desk attendants to ask all members and students with guests whether they personally know the guests, what activities the visitors plan to do and if they are aware that they must accompany their guests throughout the entire visit. The revised policy has been posted in the gym lobby.
Administrators have begun meeting with student desk attendants and their supervisors to explain the gym’s policy of zero tolerance for discrimination and have made themselves available to answer their questions, Director of Athletics Tom Beckett said.
“People who supervise operations at Payne Whitney have met and will continue to meet with everyone involved with operations at the gym,” Beckett said. “We want to make sure people understand our policies.”
Beckett said student workers understand the importance of questioning guests and do not find the policies unreasonable.
“Knowing Yale students, as bright as they are, they are going to understand that and have an appreciation for that,” Beckett said.
Supervisors have gone over the gym’s guest rules with student desk attendants and asked them to sign a form verifying that they understand the policy, several student workers said.
“We’ve been given a more formal list of rules and regulations,” student desk attendant Rachelle Orozco ’07 said. “We have a set of questions to ask all guests, so the policy is made very clear.”
Last week, a student desk attendant, who asked to be identified only as a male freshman, alleged racial profiling by his supervisor, who he said asked him to deny access to the basketball courts to a black guest but allow a white couple to purchase a guest pass one hour later. But the black man was denied access to the gym because of the supervisor’s knowledge of his history at the gym, Associate Director for Sport and Recreation Athletics Larry Matthews said.
The man had previously used the gym on an unauthorized basis and the supervisor felt compelled to deny him access, Matthews said. But in alleging racial profiling, the student desk attendant was unaware of the man’s history at the gym, Beckett said.
“The supervisor was the one that made the call,” Beckett said. “This was a misunderstanding and we’re working to explain in as much detail as we can to the people involved what took place to make sure they know that we’re not making decisions of denying access based on any form of discrimination.”
The gym’s guest policies were designed in part to deal with overcrowding, Matthews said. Accommodating varsity, intramural and club sports, the gym is under pressure to cater to students and its paying members during peak hours. On weekday afternoons, there is usually only one basketball court available in the Lanman Center, which has forced front-desk attendants to limit the sales of guest passes for basketball at those times, Matthews said.
“Payne Whitney is a very heavily-scheduled building,” Matthews said. “We’re always juggling groups, especially in the winter, when we get over 3,500 people per day on peak days.”
Gyms at other Ivy League schools have experienced similar overcrowding problems. Cornell University’s gym is very busy and frequently only allows its 23,000 students and university staff to use the open basketball courts, said Andrea Dutcher, Cornell’s director of recreational services. In response to both space concerns and issues of liability for non-members, Cornell instituted a guest policy 10 years ago, in which visitors without a school ID card must purchase a guest pass.
At Columbia, only students, alumni and employees can enter the gym with an ID card, which must be swiped before every visit, and can bring up to two guests per visit for a fee, Columbia Associate Athletic Director Patricia Malizia said.