With the measured tone of a salesperson who stands their ground while a tantrum-throwing customer complains, Sarah Braasch looked Lolade Siyonbola straight in the eye and stated, “I have every right to call the police. You cannot sleep in that room.”

To thousands of people — particularly students of color who have fervently repeated stories about being profiled as criminal because of their race — it became clear that Braasch had called the police on Siyonbola for one reason: She was black and unfamiliar, and, particularly in a city like New Haven where we are constantly told that the local population is criminally inclined, she was, therefore, seen as a threat. As someone who is not a student of color, I recognize this is not my sentiment to convey, but as someone who has been striving to consistently write about the struggles of students on campus in the News, I think it would be wrong to ignore such a glaring problem.

According to the newly released undergraduate tenant manual for this year, these are the situations when you should promptly call the YPD:

“Report any suspicious looking or acting persons immediately to Yale Police at 203-432-4400.”

“If you see something, say something.”

“Report any questionable activity or crime right away.”

Absent: Any information on when you should NOT involve the police and clarification on what qualifies as “suspicious looking or acting,” “questionable activity” and “something.” 

As an institution, we strive to uphold values of inclusivity and diversity. We rush to the aid of Harvard College when its affirmative action program is challenged in court, and our president dedicates his opening address to emphasizing the value of immigrants and international students to our community. But, frankly, it doesn’t take a lot of courage to tell a progressive-leaning audience of college students that Yale is committed to the ideals that the vast majority of its students believe in. And it was shameful to not directly address the incident where the institution failed in its stated commitment of making sure everyone is treated with equal dignity and as “citizens of Yale”.  What has emerged in recent weeks is the appearance of a shallow commitment to righting the wrongs on full display in May. In the wake of the behavior of the police, how do the official guidelines for proper conduct in the dorms omit protections from a similar incident occurring again?

Take a look at the University’s initiative to ensure that graduate students mitigate the effect of implicit bias on their work and daily interactions. In a communitywide email, Salovey laid out the University’s response to the issue, which highlighted “training for all incoming graduate students on implicit bias awareness” and “educating all Ph.D. students in teaching an inclusive classroom either as part of ‘Teaching @ Yale Day’ or in the ‘Fundamentals of Inclusive Teaching’ workshop offered by the Center for Teaching and Learning.”

Sarah Braasch once boasted of winning a debate with a pro-slavery argument (“Who are we to tell someone that she has to be free?”); has written the words, “I hate hate crimes legislation. But, I love hate speech. Hate crimes legislation has a chilling effect on free speech and freedom of association” and “There are a handful of misogynistic Islamists who occasionally try their hand at debating me on such subjects as US constitutional law and abortion rights on my NPNS facebook page. There’s little I enjoy more than publicly humiliating them online”; and has a history of past discriminatory conduct (she called the police on another black student who was trying to visit Siyonbola in that very same building). Does that sound like someone who, after a one-day workshop on implicit bias training, would confront her prejudices and learn to foster an equitable learning environment?

Clearly not! Which is why in an open letter to the Yale administration, black graduate students and allies explicitly stated, “implicit bias training by itself is not enough” and separately called for Braasch to stop teaching Yale’s courses.

in response to that demand and calls for Braasch’s expulsion, the Yale administration has cited federal laws preventing the disclosure of student disciplinary records and only disclosed that she had been “admonished.” But as a TA, Braasch serves not just as a student, but also an educator. Moreover, the administration could get around this requirement by adopting a stricter policy against the weaponization of the police and making the consequence the loss of the privilege of teaching courses. And if the University really cares about reducing implicit bias in the classroom, they can take the recommendation of black graduate students and allies and increase the number of tenure track professors of color (3.38 percent and 3.76 percent of ladder faculty are African-American and Hispanic respectively, while 68.86 percent are white); studies show that students of color are more likely to be recognized for their talent by teachers of color.

Student safety is the single most important issue administration officials must focus on, but real “safety” includes freedom from racial harassment, something for which students of color have justifiably been fighting for decades.

Clearly we can do more. Starting with listening.

Jacob Hutt is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact him at jacob.hutt@yale.edu .

  • hny2880

    While the issue of racial bias and harassment faced by students of colour on campus is a serious and important one, the continued dishonest (or perhaps simply lazy) reporting about Braasch does the cause a serious disservice. For example, the “pro-slavery arguments” were ones she was *forced* to give in a middle-school debate, not ones she endorsed (problematic assignment on the part of the school, sure, but patently not evidence that Braasch is pro-slavery). She is not actually pro-slavery. It doesn’t take much Googling to find this out. This is horribly misleading and sloppy journalism. It matters, because falsely painting Braasch as a committed white supremacist – as so many of these articles keep doing – distracts from the *real* problems, such as how we can address racial bias in the use of campus police (the beginning of the article helpfully focuses on this, but then derails to focus on gossipy character assassination). It also undermines the movement as a whole because weaving exaggerations and falsities into reporting about a real problem gives people an excuse to ignore the viewpoint being expressed by the entire piece. Braasch is *not* a comic-book villain, she’s not a white supremacist. Painting her as such is attractive because it makes the problem seem easy to solve – just kick her out! Remove the villain, and all will be well! But while this would give temporary political relief, it completely leaves in place all of the structures that foster the unsafe and biased environment experienced by students of color, and it mistakenly allows everyone else to snooze into complacency (“I know that obviously slavery is wrong and that racism is unjustified. So if it’s people like that causing the problem, then I’m not a part of the problem. Phew!”).

  • Jymn Parrett

    As we have seen with so many instances like that of Braasch over the past year, one thing is becoming increasingly clearer: authorities at higher education institutions like Yale and UNC (Larry Moneta episode) are loathe to make changes to promote inclusiveness and tolerance. Until action is taken, Yale is showing to not just be fine with intolerance and racism but perhaps encouraging them by trying to ignore an opening to improve not just the culture at Yale but to set an example for the rest of the country. Because this infamous episode with Braasch is virtually being swept under the carpet, perhaps it is time to look into the actions and statements of the people who head this once-prestigious institution. When a learning organization fails to properly address egregious behavior from its students, affecting not just the university but all of the country, those at the top must be held accountable.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Free-range outrage traps can destroy your life. That seems unnecessary.