After 26 years of working with Yale’s libraries, Oct. 23 would have been just another day on the job for Bernard Rogers. But standing outside the Sealy G. Mudd library with his friend James Jones that fall afternoon, Rogers took $20 from Jones as repayment for a debt and lent him his car key for a few hours.
There was only one problem.
A Mudd library manager spotted the $20 bill changing hands and was concerned a drug transaction had taken place. Several hours later, the manager informed Rogers’ supervisors, who then called the police.
The police determined that no drug activity was involved, and the library administration deemed the issue resolved.
But Local 34 union leaders are now asking University Librarian Alice Prochaska to apologize for what they called an incidence of racial profiling. Dissatisfied with “inaction” and “silence” on the part of Yale’s human resources department, the union said Prochaska is in a position to rescind discipline charges against Rogers related to the incident, to initiate a dialogue about race in the library and to institute sensitivity training for the Mudd library manager who reported Rogers on Oct. 23.
Prochaska issued a statement to Rogers on Tuesday saying she is deeply sorry for the turmoil he endured as a result of the incident, but said the reported suspicion was an honest mistake — not a case of racial profiling.
“The library takes the issue of diversity and fairness very seriously and is absolutely intent that all people in the workplace should feel comfortable and should not be subject to prejudice,” she said. “I am very sad that the incident happened and I was very sorry to learn that this person who was suspected had been caused embarrassment and frustration.”
Local 34 member Richard Horne, who is also a union steward for the Social Sciences Library’s employees, said the union has filed multiple grievances with the University’s human resources department. On Oct. 26, Rogers skipped work in order to cope with anger and asthma attacks that Horne said stemmed from the incident, and the next week Rogers missed a day of work because his car had broken down.
His superiors, however, “really showed no mercy toward him” when he mentioned the trauma he suffered follwing Oct. 23, Horne said. Because Rogers had previously missed a couple days of work, Horne said, his superiors issued a written reprimand which brought Rogers one step closer to losing his job.
“I said to Diane Turner, ‘To me, this looks like a casebook incident of racial profiling,’” Horne said. “And she did not respond to me. She just said nothing. And there was silence for a long time. Maybe they think this was a liability issue and they were told not to respond, but that is only prolonging Bernard’s agony here.” Turner is the assistant University librarian for human resources, staff training and security
Prochaska said she will deliver a reply to the union Thursday and is still considering the many implications of the situation. She also made it clear that her message to Rogers yesterday, while sympathetic, was not an apology. She said she personally knew the individual who reported the incident and was “absolutely satisfied” that racial motivations were not involved.
“What is there to apologize for? The union, as far as I can tell, has no reason to allege racial profiling other than the fact that the person who was suspected was African-American and the person who reported the suspicion was white,” she said. “That’s not a justified logical leap and it involves an unpleasant accusation.”
Local 34 spokesman Evan Cobb said he found it interesting that the Oct. 23 incident coincided with recent displays of homophobia and racism on Yale’s campus. It was humiliating for Rogers to be led out of the workplace by policemen in front of his co-workers and library patrons, Horne said, and it is even more disturbing that Turner had not informed Prochaska of the incident.
“I think the University has a very publicly stated commitment to combating racism, particularly in its workforce,” Cobb said. “Dealing with this properly would be in accordance with how the University operates, and that’s part of why we’re so hopeful [that] the University will cooperate in the ways suggested [to them]”
On Monday, over 100 Local 34 union members and students rallied in front of Sterling Memorial Library to press Prochaska for an apology and management training reform, a press release issued by the union stated. Local 34 leaders met with Prochaska prior to the rally, Cobb said, where they disagreed over the question of racial profiling and left without reaching any decisions regarding the sensitivity training of Yale employees.
“The problem with this case is if it was two white men talking to each other and exchanging money it wouldn’t have been a problem,” Cobb said. “This is indicative of a need on our campus and workplace in particular to have a dialogue about race.”
In a press release, Local 34 President Laura Smith said it was a “serious problem” that “structures exist in the library in which the University librarian would not hear about such an egregious case of racial profiling until nearly a full month after it took place.”
But Prochaska said no one should apologize for the four-week gap, since library administrators considered the issue closed after a police report exonerating Rogers was released to the public. It wasn’t until the issue “escalated,” she said, that she knew of the incident at all because usually only serious matters reach her desk.
The union is not seeking to punish the individual who reported suspicious activity, Cobb said, but is instead calling for the human resources department to review its sensitivity training program and for the manager who spotted Rogers to undergo such training again.
“In terms of punishment, I don’t think we’re going anywhere in that direction — this is more indicative of a lack of preparation,” he said.
Prochaska said the library’s diversity council has already responded to the union’s demands for dialogue and training.
The council, composed of library employees and supervisors from a range of backgrounds, has worked very hard since August 2005 to promote cultural sensitivity, she said.
In her six and a half years as University librarian, Prochaska said she has not heard of an instance of racial profiling or allegations of racial profiling that turned out to be untrue. A “small percentage” of University employees in annual staff surveys, however, have reported feeling as if they were treated unfairly in comparison to other employees, she said.
Although Prochaska said Rogers was upset by the Oct. 23 incident when he was accused by a policeman of dealing drugs, Horne and Cobb said Rogers’ grievances extended beyond the single incident to the subsequent lack of acknowledgment from the human resources department.
In their contract, the union and the University both acknowledge that internal resolution of disputes is the best method of recourse, Horne said, but after receiving no replies to their grievances over the Oct. 23 incident from human resources officials, the union decided to turn to Prochaska to resolve the issue.
In response to grievances filed by the union, human resources department officials recommended that Rogers file a complaint of racial discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, Horne said. But the commission has 180 days to investigate and file a ruling, a strategy which currently pales in comparison to a potentially quick resolution by Prochaska, he said.
But whether Prochaska will accede to the union’s demands is still unclear. In an interview, the University librarian said she had not heard of a union press release publicizing their demands for an apology and dialogue, and was concerned that the union’s allegations of racial profiling was disrupting the privacy of the individuals involved and polarizing related discussion.
“When you believe passionately that racial prejudice is a bad thing, you must not make people feel that it exists where it doesn’t exist,” she said. “What you want to do is work with the union to ensure that a case like this doesn’t escalate … I would express disappointment that conflict is being portrayed here. Incidents like this tend to just create more prejudice when it’s inflated.”
Local 34 represents the clerical and technical workers of Yale University.