The a cappella group Shades summed up the mood best at Wednesday’s “Rally Against Hate” when it sang “We Shall Overcome.”

An hour before the rally — which came on the heels of recent controversy on campus about several students’ blackface Halloween costumes and slurs found spray-painted on University buildings — only a few dozen students stood by the wall outside Pierson College that just last week was defaced with the words “nigger school.”

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But as the crowd marched towards Woolsey Hall bearing signs and shouting anti-bigotry slogans, intrigued bystanders joined its ranks.

By the time the last shout of “No justice, no peace” reverberated around the Woolsey Hall rotunda, some 200 students of various races had encircled a lone microphone. For the next hour, a fluid crowd of passersby listened to the frustrations of students, the regrets of University administrators and the confusion of a campus wrestling with questions of acceptance and intolerance.

“The things that were said last week aren’t the reason we’re here,” Joshua Williams ’08 said, referencing the Pierson graffiti and a similar-looking inscription of “drama fags” discovered on the wall of the University Theatre last week. “They’re part of it, but they’re not the whole reason.”

Over the past five years, rally organizers and speakers said, Yale’s campus has played host to myriad episodes of intolerance and racism. Lining the marchers’ path from Pierson to Woolsey, dozens of simple white signs — featuring student reactions to past incidents of discrimination — put that history on display.

But it was the appearance of hate speech on campus walls last week that precipitated Wednesday’s rally, students and organizers said.

“I know that waking up and finding racist graffiti or homophobic slogans spray-painted to the walls of a residential college is not the educational experience you came to Yale to have,” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said in a prepared speech delivered to the crowd. “And yet in the past two weeks, we’ve had to deal with such experiences here at Yale. To those of you who were offended, hurt, disgusted, alienated by these events, I am deeply sorry.”

Among the speakers were three members of the class of 2011. For the freshmen who spoke, the events of the past two weeks called into question their former perception of Yale as an accepting and tolerant institution.

Ivuoma Onyeador ’11 said she was shocked this semester to find that racism existed — and was largely ignored — on Yale’s campus. Onyeador said she is hoping for “a swift change from the administration” and said she thinks Yale should add a cultural studies curriculum to its graduation requirements.

Luciano Coster ’11 said he has felt the impact of racial profiling personally this year. Coster cited an episode in which a security officer suspected him of being a thief for waiting near a college entryway and asked him to leave.

Timeica Bethel ’11 also demanded action from University administrators in the form of enhanced cultural education. She if the University does not take on this obligation, it will be left to students such as her.

“Blackface is not OK, racism is not OK, homophobia is not OK,” she said. “And if I have to spend my four years at Yale educating people at Yale about why these things are not OK, I will do that … I did not come to Yale to fight racism and bigotry, but I will not run away from it.”

As the rally drew to a close, members of the Coalition for Campus Unity — a group that addresses bigotry on campus — took the floor and laid out a series of long-term changes they want University officials to implement.

CCU officials said they hope administrators will institutionalize this year’s freshman reading requirement, expand the ethnic counselor program, implement a cultural-studies requirement and expand curricular focus beyond “Western,” primarily white, historical figures.

University administrators who spoke at the rally underscored the need for patience in crafting a sustainable University response to the perceived culture of racism on campus. The administrators asked students to reach out to one another to form a tighter community in light of the incidents.

Calling last week’s incidents of hate speech and discrimination “disgusting,” Salovey said he hopes members of the Yale community can work together to prevent the recurrence of such events in the future.

Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry said he has created a document that outlines an appropriate response protocol for victims of discrimination. That document, Gentry said, will be made available to each residential college “pending final approval.”

Gentry also said he hopes a new University-wide protocol for hate-crime response will be ready by the spring term.

Recent attempts by the Yale administration to encourage campus dialogue on race include requiring incoming freshmen to read “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum before arriving in New Haven in the fall.

The book, which addresses the possible benefits of race-based self-segregation among youth, served as a foundation for small group discussions following Tatum’s keynote address during freshman orientation.

Organizers said they were generally pleased with turnout for the rally, given its timing in the middle of the day and students’ other commitments.

Some students passing by the rally said they were unaware that the event was taking place, while others correctly identified it as the “Rally for Change” but said they were otherwise occupied with classes or meetings and could not attend the rally.

Not all students agreed with organizers that a rally is the most effective way to address the issue.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m anti-bigot,” said one Morse sophomore who asked to remain anonymous. “But the kids who put that s— on Pierson, they’re not going to be [at the rally].”

But for rally organizers, that was beside the point.

“We’re here fighting this, and that’s important for Yale,” Williams said. “That’s part of the history of Yale that we want to see — people who say we don’t tolerate this in our community, who say we can be a better community.”

A vigil at which members of the Yale community spoke about their experiences with discrimination was held at 10 p.m. Wednesday on Cross Campus.