When Jane Yu ’21, the manager of Morse College’s art gallery, passed the gallery shortly before dinner on Sunday, she was surprised to see the lights had been shut off.
And that wasn’t the only surprise: When she peered into the room, Yu realized that a 5-by-7.5-foot painting — which she had completed four months earlier — was missing.
“I was pretty thrown off,” Yu said. “So I swiped into the room and switched on the lights. In the corner of the gallery, a man was lying on the couch. I’m pretty sure that he had been sleeping. He got up, and I realized that I had never seen him before.”
Yu confronted the man about the lost artwork, a collage mixed-media work called “Modern Womanhood” depicting a woman with her hands placed around her neck. The stranger explained that he had concealed the missing piece with another large painting. Yu asked why.
“It disturbed my peace,” he replied.
In an email sent out Tuesday afternoon, Mary Powers, administrative assistant to the head of college, informed the Morse community of the art gallery incident. In the email, she explained that a stranger had indeed entered the art gallery, where he damaged a piece of artwork before falling asleep.
The man left the art gallery, only to return 15 minutes later. At around 7 p.m., two hours after he was first spotted in the building, multiple Morse students, including Zach Miller ’21 confronted him.
The man appeared to be African-American, Yu said. At the time of the incident, he had a cleanly-trimmed beard and was clad in a plain shirt and khaki pants. The students that interacted with him all say that he could have passed as a graduate student.
The intruder first said that his brother attended the University. But after a couple of minutes, he said he himself was enrolled in a Yale program. Only after exhausting all other viable options did Miller decide to request additional assistance, he told the News.
“I wanted to trust the man,” Miller said, “but it was clear that he didn’t know his way around the building, and he also kept changing his motive for being inside.”
In early May, a white graduate student called the police after she found a black graduate student napping in the 12th-floor common room of the Hall of Graduate Studies. The video of the tense exchange was posted on Facebook, garnering hundreds of thousands of views and intense national scrutiny. Last weekend’s incident followed a different trajectory, even after Yale Security was summoned to remove the man from the area that evening.
The identity of the particular person who entered Morse remains unknown, though it is not the first time that he has been removed from campus. A security officer told Miller that the man was previously arrested for trespassing.
In the email to the Morse community, Powers reminded students to be “smart,” “aware” and “safe,” especially when dealing with strangers.
“We want to be open and welcoming to you and your friends, but this does not include opening our spaces to strangers with no affiliation to Morse or to Yale,” the email stated. “Please do not allow strangers into restricted areas.”
Alexa Martindale, Morse College’s operations manager, told the News that people not affiliated with the University enter Morse every year, often wandering through the courtyard, the library and the dining hall.
Martindale surmised that the man entered the art gallery, which requires swipe access, by asking a student to “swipe him in.” She hopes that students remain aware of their surroundings, all while acting with compassion and respect.
“We all must be responsible for the safety of ourselves, each other and our stuff,” Martindale said.
All 12 Morse students interviewed by the News said that they did not feel under any threat because of the incident.
“I didn’t think much of the incident when I received the email,” Anya Pertel ’21 said. “The man didn’t seem to have dangerous intentions. He was probably just looking for a cool place to rest.”
Yale Security recommends that students call the central alarm station if they spot people who clearly do not know their way through Yale buildings.
Yale Security can be reached at 203-785-5555.
Lorenzo Arvanitis | firstname.lastname@example.org