As Yale prepares to publish a report on its infrastructure for adjudicating discrimination and harassment allegations, many members of the Student Advisory Group on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion voiced concerns about how the group was held at arm’s length during the review process.
In November, the University launched a review to assess the effectiveness of the existing infrastructure that reviews and adjusticates allegations of discrimination and harassment. Led by Associate Vice President for Human Resources Donna Cable and Vice President for the Office for Institutional Equity at Duke University Benjamin D. Reese Jr., the review came in response to a nationally-covered incident where a white student Sarah Braasch GRD ’20 called the police on black student Lolade Siyonbola GRD ’19 for napping in the Hall of Graduate Studies common room. At the time, University Secretary Kimberly Goff-Crews formed the student advisory group to solicit community input and allow students to “speak freely about difficult issues.” In an email to the News, Goff-Crews said the group met on Nov. 29, Feb. 12 and March 4 to provide feedback for Reese’s review and is scheduled to meet again on April 9.
According to Goff-Crews, the University is planning to release Reese’s findings publicly soon, but given “the importance of this support infrastructure to the University community, [Yale’s] priority is to move forward thoughtfully on any announcements.” She added that administrators have been discussing Reese’s analysis and recommendations with faculty members, staff and students. Yet in interviews with the News, five members of the Advisory Group said the University failed to solicit their feedback on Yale’s existing infrastructure or their recommendations to foster a more inclusive campus.
“Secretary Goff-Crews said the advisory group is a ‘sounding board’ for administrators to get feedback on their already-developed ideas, which I found disappointing,” a member of the advisory group — who talked to the News on a condition of anonymity — told the News. “We weren’t able to present the issues we have with the current infrastructure or recommend new initiatives. The advisory group meetings were a little shallow.”
In November, Goff-Crews told the News that meetings with the advisory group are conducted off-the-record so that she and the members could “trust each other.” Two members of the advisory group said they were encouraged not to speak to the press about the group’s meetings. Several students interviewed by the News requested anonymity in fear of retribution from the University administration, such as being removed from the advisory group.
According to the anonymous member of the advisory group, while students were encouraged to plan an event advertising the Belonging at Yale initiative — a website Yale created last summer that outlines policies, reports, initiatives and resources that address diversity and inclusion at Yale — the administration did not request students to brainstorm or provide recommendations on what kind of initiatives would make the campus more inclusive. Another member of the advisory group, Valentina Connell ’20, noted that students were asked which logo the University should use for the Belonging at Yale initiative.
Three members of the advisory group — who talked to the News on a condition of anonymity — noted that discussing the incident involving Braasch and Siyonbola was off-bounds.
In an interview with the News, Siyonbola said Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Lynn Cooley informed her on Oct. 10 that the University would not impose any disciplinary consequences on Braasch. Still, Cooley added that Braasch was no longer allowed on campus housing and would not return to Yale temporarily, Siyonbola explained. Siyonbola said Cooley declined to specify how long Braasch would not be allowed on campus.
“I heard from people on the [advisory group] that they weren’t allowed to discuss the response or consequences from the incident,” Siyonbola said. “But [the University has] refused to provide any [public] update to the campus community specifically on the incident.”
Cooley did not respond to request for comment. When asked why the racial incident last summer was off-bounds, Goff-Crews said Yale cannot comment on student records or disciplinary actions “as a matter of law and policy.”
Still, Connell and another member of the advisory group Branson Rideaux ’20 said they appreciated Goff-Crews allowing students to talk to Reese during their November meeting without any Yale administrators present. The environment allowed students to be more candid with their opinions about the University’s pre-existing infrastructures to address discrimination, Rideaux added.
According to Yale College Council President Saloni Rao ’20, Rao and other student leaders met with Goff-Crews on Feb. 12 to discuss Reese’s recommendations. Though she is not a member of the Student Advisory Group, she said she feels that she was “intimately involved” in the review process. Still, Rao noted that most of her discussions with administrators revolved around how to best communicate Reese’s report with students.
In a statement to the News last November, Goff-Crews said Reese’s review will conclude by December. According to a March 11 email Goff-Crews sent to members of the advisory group, which was obtained by the News, the University has previewed Reese’s recommendations and has discussed initial plans with faculty members, staff, students and alumni.
“We were asked to make an announcement sometime after the AAU survey on sexual misconduct closed, which happened this week,” the email stated. “We are eager to share this news with the campus. However, given how close we are to spring break, we have decided to wait until after spring break to release the report and make any announcements so that they will receive the full attention of the Yale community.”
Last summer, University President Peter 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.
In the fall, the University 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.
Serena Cho | firstname.lastname@example.org