Despite continued student concerns about Yale’s institutional mechanisms for addressing race-based discrimination allegations, the University has decided not to institute a separate office for handling Title VI complaints. Title VI is a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity, color and national origin at educational institutions.
According to the University website, there is currently no standardized procedure for addressing Title VI complaints across Yale schools and departments. Establishing a dedicated Title VI office was the first recommendation black graduate students and their allies made in their open letter to the University administration in May. They penned the letter after a white Yale graduate student, Sarah Braasch GRD ’20, called the police on a black graduate student, Lolade Siyonbola GRD’19, for napping in the Hall of Graduate Studies common room. In a University-wide email after the incident, University President Peter Salovey said Yale was “reviewing policies, procedures, and institutional structures” in response to students’ recommendation to establish a dedicated Title VI office.
But in a statement to the News on Thursday, University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews said there were no current plans to create such an office. Instead, the University is currently conducting a broad review of the Office for Equal Opportunity Programs, a body that has overseen Yale’s compliance with Title VI and other federal and state discrimination laws since 1980, Goff-Crews said. Goff-Crews did not directly respond when asked why the University chose not to establish a separate Title VI office, but noted that an update on the review will “shortly be announced.”
“The way to be effective against racial discrimination is to create decisive consequences for racial discrimination,” Siyonbola told the News. “Without consequences delivered to a student for harassment, and without a dedicated body responsible for racial discrimination, nothing else is going to produce the results we want. So far, I don’t think the University is doing much to combat racial harassment effectively.”
Five other students interviewed by the News — many of whom had drafted the May letter to the University — said establishing a dedicated Title VI office was necessary to combat racial discrimination and harassment on campus. Four of these students and Siyonbola also argued that the new University diversity initiatives implemented since the Hall of Graduate Studies incident have been insufficient in combating discriminatory behavior and supporting students of color.
About two months after the incident, Salovey announced a series of initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion on campus, including conducting more implicit bias training for Yale Police officers and redoubling efforts to build police-community relations. The University also tasked Lorenzo Boyd, an expert in police-community relations, with investigating the role of the Yale Police in the Hall of Graduate Students incident, as well as more general issues surrounding race and policing on campus.
According to Goff-Crews, the review of the existing policies and institutions will inform University administrators about “any needed adjustments to enhance our ability to support students who have concerns or complaints.”
“The university has a rich ecosystem of support … which the review will help us enhance,” Goff-Crews told the News.
The current University entities that address Title VI complaints include the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, the Dean’s and Provost’s Offices as well as the President’s Committee on Racial and Ethnic Harassment.
Currently, Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs Valarie Stanley can help resolve Title VI complaints informally or help individuals navigate the more formal University grievance procedures. Stanley declined to comment for the story.
Under the current procedures, students can register complaints with their dean if the respondent is a member of the faculty or administration of the student’s school. If not, a student can also pursue the Provost’s Procedure for Student Complaints, as per the University website.
In addition, the President’s Committee is available for students who do not wish to register their complaint with their dean or the provost. According to the University website, this committee is rarely called upon.
While none of the Ivy League universities have a separate office dedicated to addressing Title VI complaints, they all have institutions similar to Yale’s Office of Equal Opportunity Programs.
In a University-wide email on Tuesday, Salovey announced the creation of the Community Committee on Public Safety, which will work to strengthen cooperation between Yale’s police and the broader campus community. He added that the Office of the Secretary and Vice President for Student Life will meet with the Student Advisory Group on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to seek feedback on efforts to support a welcoming and inclusive campus.
Salovey said these efforts demonstrate the University’s “strong commitment to eliminate harassment and discrimination and to encourage everyone to exchange ideas openly across intellectual, historical and social perspectives.”
In a statement to the News, Pablo Barrera GRD ’20, who signed the May letter, said the University’s new initiatives “only address half of the problem.” Barrera added that establishing a Title VI office is “a minimum bar” for addressing harassment and discrimination against students of color.
Alexia Williams GRD ’19, another signatory of the letter, agreed that racial harassment cannot be properly addressed without a separate Title VI office.
“We need a Title VI office because harassment requires public accountability, and should not be dealt with by the deans in a private way,” Williams said. “We already understand that sexual harassment cannot be handled ethically by allowing deans to mediate privately between victims and their abusers. We also need consistent, centralized policies for handling discrimination that include defining racial harassment and clearly indicating the repercussions for these behaviors.”
Demar Lewis GRD ’23, who also helped draft the letter, said that the University administration should not treat racism as an “issue of … bad apples,” but rather they should understand that there are “institutional, cultural, and structural contributors” that influence students’ lives on campus.
Lewis also noted that Salovey failed to update students on the progress of the review on the Office for Equal Opportunity Programs in his August and October emails.
Title VI was established as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Serena Cho | firstname.lastname@example.org .