All was normal at a weekly Yale College Council meeting in the spring of 2014 until YCC President Daniel Avraham ’15 asked everyone who was not an official member of the council to leave the room and told the communication director to stop recording minutes. The room went silent as Avraham ceded the floor to Saifullah Khan ’16, a YCC representative from Trumbull and YCC presidential hopeful. Khan proceeded to excoriate a fellow YCC representative, Sara Miller ’16 of Pierson College, accusing her of leveling false accusations of sexual misconduct against him in an effort to bully him out of the YCC presidential race.
Earlier this month, Miller described the meeting in a Facebook post, and the News confirmed her version of events with another YCC representative who was in the room during the closed-door meeting. Avraham acknowledged that the meeting took place but said he was “not aware of what the closed session was going to be about.”
“Generally, it is my recollection that YCC members can request a closed meeting,” Avraham told the News. “Saif [Khan] asked for it to happen.”
Avraham added, however, that he and the other members of the YCC in the room did not expect that Khan would begin forcefully accusing Miller of bullying him out of the race with accusations of sexual misconduct.
Khan now faces sexual assault charges stemming from an incident that occurred in 2015 — one year after the YCC elections — following the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s annual Halloween Show. The date for the trial has not been set. Khan referred questions to his lawyer, Daniel Erwin, an attorney from Pattis & Smith Law Firm, who declined to comment for this story.
Miller’s post recounting her experiences during the 2014 YCC election has raised additional questions about Khan’s history of harassment at Yale before Halloween 2015 and prompted the current YCC administration to consider new policies for evaluating accusations of misconduct against council members and candidates. In a separate Facebook post earlier this month, a current Yale student wrote that Khan made forceful advances on her and offered her drugs.
On Nov. 16 — the same day the News published a story about Khan’s upcoming trial — Miller shared the article on Facebook, along with a statement condemning former YCC president Avraham for defending Khan against claims he had sexually assaulted women at Yale. At the time, both Khan and Miller were preparing to run for YCC president for the 2014–15 school year.
Miller told the News she raised concerns about Khan in a meeting with Avraham, who she said coerced her into remaining silent. After meeting with Avraham, Miller said, he “harassed” her with text messages, unannounced visits to her college and an 1,850-word comment on a column she wrote for the News, in which he accused her of spreading “malicious rumors” about other candidates.
In a Thursday-afternoon email, the News asked Avraham for comment about the allegations of harassment. Avraham replied later that day that he did not have time before the publication deadline to formulate an appropriate response to Miller’s claims.
He did, however, have time to say that he was aware of the accusations against Khan and communicated them to the Yale administration.
“During the YCC elections, in the spring of 2014, I heard very concerning rumors alleging sexual misconduct, and immediately reported them to the Dean of Student Affairs, Dean Marichal Gentry, and the Title IX coordinator,” Avraham said. “As a student government, we believed such sensitive matters needed to be handled by the appropriate channels and not by candidates or campaigns.”
Shortly after her meeting with Avraham, a complaint alleging that Miller had broken YCC rules by slandering an opponent was filed with the YCC’s Council Elections Commission, which ultimately dismissed it, according to Kyle Tramonte ’15, then–vice president and chairman of the CEC. Tramonte said he does not recall who filed the complaint.
“The CEC felt that it was not the appropriate body to adjudicate the truthfulness of any statement pertaining to alleged sex offenses, as that duty is explicitly delegated to our Title IX office and the UWC,” Tramonte told the News. “This, in combination with the fact that nobody was a ‘candidate’ under the technical definition of the election guidelines, informed our decision to not sanction anyone in that year’s race.”
Khan met with the CEC following Miller’s accusations, and later decided not to run for YCC president, Tramonte said.
But concerns about Khan ran deeper than his behavior in one closed-door meeting.
“When I heard Saifullah Khan was running for YCC president, I never worried that he would win,” Miller wrote in her post. “I was worried his campaign would be a constant reminder and trigger for the women he had assaulted.”
Miller told the News she was concerned because she had heard in early 2014 — more than a year and a half before Khan was arrested on charges of sexual assault for the 2015 Halloween incident — that multiple female students had considered reporting Khan for sexual misconduct.
It was also around this time in the spring of 2014, Miller said, that she attended the YCC meeting that Avraham suddenly closed to the public.
“I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me the entire duration of this meeting. And do you know what else surprised me? Everyone was silent,” Miller wrote in the post. “No one defended me … I can understand feeling shock in the moment, but afterwards, only two out of the other 23 representatives checked in on me and apologized for what had happened.”
At the time of the meeting, Miller told the News, a Title IX coordinator suggested during an interview with her that she was already looking into accusations of sexual misconduct against Khan. Avraham said he was aware of the accusations and communicated them to the Yale administration.
Stephanie Spangler, Yale Title IX coordinator, told the News earlier this month she could not comment on individual cases or confirm or deny whether the University has received specific allegations of sexual misconduct.
Current YCC President Matt Guido told the News that “the alleged events surrounding the election of spring 2014 are shocking and appalling to me” and run contrary to everything the YCC stands for. He explained that his main goal as YCC president is to foster respect and compassion for all members of the Yale community, and that this was not reflected in how Avraham’s YCC administration handled Miller’s concerns in 2014.
“While I want to be clear that the 2017–18 Yale College Council is very different than that of 2013–14, we cannot run away from our past,” Guido said. “Instead, we hope to learn from this moment and facilitate important conversations about sexual assault, our election process and how we treat one another.”
After learning about the issues surrounding the 2014 election, Guido added, the current YCC executive board began discussing how to improve the process for handling allegations made against candidates and officeholders. To this end, Guido said, the YCC executive board and representatives will craft proposals in consultation with Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarribar, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd, Spangler and other members of the Yale administration who specialize in handling sexual misconduct.
Miller told the News she was shocked once again when, two years after the YCC election, a first year told her that Khan had tried to coerce her into having sex with him.
The student, a woman in Pierson, detailed her experience with Khan in a private Nov. 16 Facebook post. She elaborated on that post in an interview with the News but requested anonymity because she is a previous victim of harassment, which she said “defined [her] life for a very long time.”
In the post — which was written in response to the News’ article about Khan’s upcoming trial — the student described being approached by Khan while eating in Berkeley College during her first month at Yale.
After she allowed Khan to eat with her, she said, he proposed that she join him at an event that week. To thank Khan for recommending the event, the student said, she “naively” offered to meet him for brunch. After the brunch, the student said, Khan led her into the basement of Trumbull and began making advances on her. When she asked to leave, she recalled, Khan led her to his room rather than what she presumed was the exit.
“He told me about his cognitive science work, how he liked to ‘control people’s minds,’” she said in her post. “He tried — more forcefully — to make advances, and I tried to leave. I was scared to offend him, and agreed to go and ‘study’ at his office.”
She told the News that Khan also asked her to lie on his bed because it was a “special mattress,” telling her to remove her clothing to “feel the effect” of it, which she declined to do.
“Basically, he would try to justify advances by framing them in such a way that they sounded ‘beneficial’ to me,” the student said.
Later, at a meeting off campus, she said, Khan offered her drugs that he claimed “would help [her] think.” He also suggested that they go on a walk in the woods together. She turned him down again.
“He was frustrated … but that was it,” the student told the News. “In general, he maintained a polite, reasonable manner, as though it were all normal.”
If convicted for the alleged Halloween 2015 assault, Khan would face time in prison. For convictions of sexual assault in the first degree, Connecticut requires mandatory minimum sentencing of two, five or 10 years, depending on the victim’s age and offense.
Britton O’Daly | firstname.lastname@example.org
Clarification, Dec. 1: The headline for this story was adjusted to more precisely reflect the YCC’s connection to the new Khan allegations.
Correction, Dec. 3: An earlier version of this story said that Miller’s post condemned the entire YCC for defending Khan. In fact, it condemned the YCC president.