In its coverage of the wrongful allegations made against Local 34 member Bernard Rogers, the News was right to emphasize that Bernard has worked at Yale for 26 years. Some of the managers and supervisors who lead the work of the library have known Bernard for most or all of that time and yet, when what turned out to be spurious allegations were made against him by another manager, their immediate response was to believe the worst and call the police rather than to respectfully and directly speak with Bernard about what was going on.
Race, as students, faculty and staff on campus know from recent events, is not an easy subject. A number of hurtful actions on our campus have forced into public discussion our attitudes about race and our willingness to challenge our assumptions and our practices. We need strong leadership at all levels of the university in order to move these discussions into action and create real change in our day-to-day relationships at Yale.
What happened to Bernard Rogers is a clear example of racial profiling: A manager reported seeing Bernard talking and exchanging money with another black man and assumed that she had witnessed a drug deal, not the return of a $20 loan and the passing of a car key. Despite Bernard’s 26 years of service to the University and library, the police were called in to question him. And so it is with great disappointment that the members of Local 34 read Wednesday morning that University Librarian Alice Prochaska has “sympathy,” but not apology, to offer Bernard Rogers. It is easy to have sympathy for the problem of racism; the question is of who will take leadership and responsibility for solving the problems racism creates on this campus.
This is the opportunity for Prochaska and Yale to demonstrate that kind of leadership. We call upon Prochaska and all Yale’s leaders to recognize that wrongs have been committed, to accept responsibility for them and then, most importantly, to commit to preventing such harm from happening again.
In our union we have long struggled to achieve equality and fairness for all people working on the Yale campus and living in our community, regardless of race or gender or any of the criteria that too often divide us. In America today, our great diversity all too often deteriorates into division and is used against us. We urge the University and its officials to lead us on another path and to take every step they can to restore Bernard’s — and Yale’s — dignity and reputation.
Laura Smith is the president of Local 34.