This article has been updated to reflect the version that ran in print on Dec. 10.
After closing two investigations into recent racially charged campus controversies, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway announced in a collegewide email Wednesday that no disciplinary action will be taken against any student or student group involved.
One investigation, led by Dean of Student Engagement Burgwell Howard in conjunction with a representative from the Office for Equal Opportunity Programs, examined the circumstances surrounding an allegedly “white girls only” entrance policy to an Oct. 30 party at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house. The other focused on allegations that student demonstrators spat on attendees of a Nov. 6 William F. Buckley, Jr. conference about free speech. Although the Yale College Dean’s Office will not pursue any formal disciplinary action following either investigation, Holloway wrote that the campuswide significance of both events led him to share details of the investigations.
THE SAE INVESTIGATION
In his email, Holloway wrote that Howard’s investigation of SAE, which consisted of interviews with party guests and SAE members, found “no evidence of systematic discrimination against people of color.” Before the party became crowded, all students — including men and women of color — were admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. Still, as the evening continued, Holloway said, the party became crowded and admission became “restricted” and “subjective,” with hosts using “harsh language” with students seeking entry, according to student reports. Two students provided administrators with credible accounts of overhearing, or being told by either one or two SAE members, that admission was for “white girls only.” But no one else interviewed by the administration reported hearing the statement, and SAE members interviewed during the investigation also denied the allegation, according to Holloway’s email.
The SAE investigation came in response to a report made by Sofia Petros-Gouin, a Columbia University freshman who visited Yale that Friday and told the News in November that she witnessed a white fraternity member bar a group of predominantly black and Hispanic girls from entering the party. According to Petros-Gouin, a brother put his hand out in front of the group and said, “No, we’re only looking for white girls.” Petros-Gouin said the brother then singled out a blonde female, saying, “That’s what we’re looking for,” before allowing a group of white girls to enter. The next day, Neema Githere ’18 posted a status on Facebook condemning SAE for admitting party guests on a “white girls only” basis and citing a similar encounter that she said she and her friends had at SAE the year before. The status has gained 1,687 likes and has been shared 295 times since it was posted, setting off a campuswide conversation about SAE and the treatment of women of color on campus more generally.
Though the fraternity and its individual members will not face any disciplinary charges, Holloway said the investigation did find that SAE was responsible for creating a “chaotic environment” and that members sometimes behaved “disrespectfully and aggressively” toward students hoping to enter the party. This behavior, Holloway said, does not meet community standards of civic engagement and is especially problematic given the sanctions already placed on the fraternity as the result of an initiation ceremony held in February 2014 that violated the University’s sexual misconduct policies.
“Strictly speaking, SAE did not violate the terms of those sanctions, which banned the fraternity from hosting activities on campus, drawing on University resources and using the SAE name in connection with Yale University for two years,” Holloway wrote. “But I am extremely disappointed that the chapter has given me cause to write to the community a second time.”
Howard said fraternity leadership, members and staff from SAE’s national headquarters were fully cooperative with the investigation as soon as concerns were raised hours after the party.
“In my interviews … I found the vast majority of students highly credible — very much including the SAE members that I spoke with and the people voicing concerns,” Howard said in an email to the News. “I found most people truthful, and honestly seeking to help.”
Petros-Gouin and Githere did not return requests for comment Wednesday night.
Yale SAE President Grant Mueller ’17 told the News that the administration’s investigation found that several SAE brothers had responded “too aggressively” to the crowds of people outside the party. Mueller emphasized that people had been refused entry to the party because it was already overcrowded, and he said the brothers’ behavior at the door was in response to people who would not leave the doorstep. This led to a tense atmosphere, Mueller said. The doormen were rude but not racist, he added, and while he acknowledged that there was a chaotic environment, he said there is a difference between creating that environment and mishandling it.
“I’ll freely admit that there were probably several interactions that night at our door which were rude,” Mueller said. “We understand that’s a fault of our door policy, and we’re glad Dean Holloway brought it to our attention so we can fix it and make it better.”
Mueller said he and Howard communicated extensively throughout the course of the monthlong investigation, adding that Howard’s questions during the inquiry ranged from the specifics of SAE’s door policy to broader questions about Mueller’s personal experiences with the fraternity.
The three SAE members who acted as doormen that night, as well as numerous other party attendees and brothers, were also contacted, Mueller said.
One of the doormen, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue, said he met with Howard just before Thanksgiving break and recounted the entire night. He also answered Howard’s questions regarding the general nature of SAE’s parties and the structure of the fraternity.
Mueller said that in addition to improving its door policy, the Yale chapter of SAE has created a new position of diversity chair. Luc Ryan-Schreiber ’17, the inaugural diversity chair, said his responsibilities will include reaching out to Yale’s cultural centers and Office of LGBTQ Resources to forge relationships, as well as serving as a point of contact within the fraternity for anyone who may have concerns about SAE or Greek life in general.
The SAE national chapter, which conducted its own separate investigation, has also “not been able to validate” the allegations made against Yale’s chapter of the fraternity, according to SAE Associate Executive Director of Communications Brandon Weghorst. Weghorst said that while the organization found no conclusive evidence of improper behavior, it has implemented measures to ensure that brothers are following proper codes of conduct, including additional diversity and inclusion education as well as health and safety training.
But Akinyi Ochieng ’15 — who commented on Githere’s Facebook post sharing an instance of discrimination she said she experienced two years ago at SAE — said the issues surrounding SAE are not limited to the fraternity. They reflect attitudes that are present in varying degrees within many other Greek organizations and student groups on campus, she said, and it is important to address not only entry procedures but also dynamics within parties hosted by all student groups.
“I think all student groups, especially those that host social events, can reflect on what an ideal party looks like to them and create strategies to facilitate those types of environments,” Ochieng said. “I found the immediate denial of the ‘white girls only’ statement by the SAE president to be both hasty and dismissive without the necessary due diligence performed.”
THE BUCKLEY INVESTIGATION
Regarding the investigation into the behavior of student protesters at the Buckley conference, Holloway wrote that student demonstrators appeared to have acted according to the University’s guidelines for protest and free expression, which Howard read aloud to protesters who gathered outside at the end of the conference on Nov. 6. No one provided a direct account of students spitting on attendees to administrators, and no police reports were filed on this charge or as a result of the conference and subsequent developments, the email said.
Holloway’s email also referred to Edward Columbia ’18, the student who interrupted speaker Greg Lukianoff during the conference, although Holloway did not identify Columbia by name. Columbia entered the lecture hall during Lukianoff’s speech and began putting up signs that read “Stand with your sisters of color. Now, here. Always, everywhere,” and shouted at Lukianoff after the speaker made a joke that Columbia deemed offensive. Columbia was removed by a Yale police officer and will face consequences for violating Yale’s policy on free expression. Columbia told the News after the conference that YPD acted appropriately. According to Holloway’s email, “The event’s hosts were satisfied by the responsiveness of the Yale Police.”
But Buckley Program President Zach Young ’17 told the News that he and other student leaders of the organization were never contacted by the YCDO during the investigation. Young said he was not even aware that the investigation was taking place. Columbia also said he was not contacted during the course of the investigation and was unaware of it until Holloway’s email was released.
“This is not an acceptable investigation if we were not contacted. It’s problematic from a procedural point of view, since we have a different understanding of what took place,” Young said, adding that if he had been contacted by Holloway’s office, he could have given the administration the name of a student who told Young that he was spat on. “We also did not ask for an investigation.”
Misael Cabrera ’17, who said he was spat on, told the News that he was also unaware of an active investigation and was not contacted by Holloway or other administrators.
Two days after the conference took place, Mitchell Rose Bear Don’t Walk ’16, one of the lead protesters at the conference, told the News that a protestor had indeed spat on one of the Buckley fellows. She called it “disgraceful” and emphasized that it did not embody the message protesters were trying to convey.
Holloway could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. Howard did not address a question from the News about the Buckley investigation.
Looking forward, Holloway wrote in his email, he hopes to use these occasions as an opportunity to build a better and more inclusive climate on campus. Holloway said he has asked Howard to work with SAE to “develop a protocol for managing crowds and hosting off-campus events safely and respectfully.” A new dean of student affairs — who will soon be announced — will collaborate with Howard to provide training and guidance to all student groups seeking to host events and protest peacefully. Finally, Holloway said he will ask students and residential college administrators for suggestions about parties and spaces for socializing that are welcoming to all Yale College students.
“This moment provides us with a chance to create a more constructive, inclusive and respectful climate, and I am eager to begin that work,” Holloway wrote.