Michelle Foley

I still recall the exact outfit I was wearing on Nov. 16, 2023: University Blue Jordan 4s, khaki cargo pants, an Atlanta Braves graphic tee and a black UNIQLO puffer jacket. There wasn’t anything special about this particular combination of clothing; all I can remember is the deep-rooted feeling of discomfort I had as I trekked in the direction of Payne Whitney Gymnasium (PWG) to pick up my tickets for The Game. With the massive influx of Yale alumni and their families, students from other universities and Yale policemen/security guards, I couldn’t help but feel totally out of place on my own campus.

After securing my ticket, I headed to my next stop, a senior mixer, with hopes that familiar faces — and a bit of alcohol — would ward off my worries. But even after several drinks and a few rounds of beer pong, I continued to feel unsettled. Trying with all my might, no amount of dancing or drunken chatter proved effective in distracting me from my troubled thoughts, so I decided to leave the mixer early to charge up for the remaining nights of partying and celebration to come. While lying in bed, I convinced myself to brush off my irrational thoughts as a one-off mystery to be dealt with after Yale-Harvard and went to sleep. The next day, classes proceeded as normal, and before I knew it, night had fallen upon me once again. As I got ready for the numerous festivities of Yale-Harvard eve, I opted for a more “appropriate” outfit: a plain white UNIQLO tee, navy UNIQLO relaxed ankle pants and black loafers. And surely enough, my outfit eased my worried mind. As the events of the weekend continued to unfold, the distorting lens that was once disrupting the thoughts of my mind began to wear off. Amid running into friends on the street, hopping between mixers, attending a comedy show and jamming to live music, my anxiety was quickly replaced with the feelings of joy that I so strongly desired to feel the night before. The familiar creative and social sphere of college reminded me of the positive parts of this campus that I most frequently correlated with the idea of Yale in my mind. Reminiscing on this very fruitful Friday night, I waltzed back to my dorm, excited for The Game the next morning. I set my alarm, did my nightly routine and closed my eyes in order to grab as much shuteye as possible —

Beep! Beep! Beep! 

Waking up at 7:47 am in an abrupt panic, I scrambled to get ready as I was already running late to my first social event before The Game. Luckily, my outfit had been in my mind all week. It was a safe and familiar choice that I had worn in some variation each year before: gray Nike sweatpants, a navy blue Crew Doggo hoodie, black Ugg boots and the UNIQLO puffer again. I grabbed my phone and darted out the door to another senior mixer where all of my friends were. After taking several shots and drinking a rancid combination of Fireball and coffee, I had just enough stimulation to actively engage in typical darty activities. 

While dancing, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone at said mixer was wearing jeans. Though it was a trivial detail that I would never have noticed in years beforehand, the thought was almost enough to reignite the forgotten anxieties of my mind. However, these thoughts were swiftly overtaken after realizing that I left my ticket in my dorm room. Having to walk back to my room, I once again perceived the odd stares of students around campus as I progressed towards Silliman. But without focusing too much on these glances, I continued on. 

Charting up the four flights of steps to my room, I grabbed the ticket off of my desk and dashed out. Halfway down the stairs, the rather recent picture of dancing within a sea of blue jeans entered my mind, so I ran back up and changed into jeans. I then went to High Street where I ran into a friend, who very conveniently was calling an Uber to the Yale Bowl. We carpooled there, and the rest of the day was a blissful blur. I was cold for a bit. I felt slightly dehydrated. Yale won! I stormed the field. My friends and I piled onto buses back to campus; nutrient-deprived, I met up with another friend at the Berkeley College dining hall for dinner. We napped. I witnessed yet another Yale victory from the women’s volleyball team and, exhausted, returned to my bed to knock out. On that day, the bubble of Yale lived up to its namesake and created a force field, impenetrable to the outside plagues of the world. 

Still a bit hungry from the eventful day, I placed a DoorDash order and reflected on the highlights of my Yale-Harvard experience. Completely detached from the emotions I felt at the beginning of the weekend, it became apparent to me at this moment that my original fears and anxieties were nothing more than irrational manifestations of something unconnected to this specific weekend. But maybe, I had spoken — or thought — too soon. 

After an hour or so, I went downstairs to pick up the food from my Dasher. As I walked across the street to meet the man delivering my food, I couldn’t help but notice an odd interaction. I saw two college-aged Black women shivering in what seemed to be party clothes standing outside of the gates of Timothy Dwight College, or TD. It appeared that these two girls were engaging in conversation with a security guard stationed within the gates. I could not tell how long these girls had been standing outside, so I naively assumed their situation would work itself out. At first, I grabbed my food and was prepared to return to my room. Whatever those girls were dealing with was none of my concern. Still, I could not shake this gut feeling that something was off. 

I walked to the gate and attempted to swipe myself into TD. As I walked in, the security guard then repositioned himself in front of the entrance and stated, “Only he can come in since he has a Yale ID.” I then turned around towards the girls and was met with vivid facial expressions of desperation and embarrassment. In that instant, I was instantaneously transported backwards by a year and one day.

I still recall the exact outfit I was wearing on Nov. 18, 2022: University Blue Jordan 4s, khaki cargo pants, an Atlanta Braves graphic tee and a black UNIQLO puffer jacket. I was returning from an MIT frat party to Harvard’s campus, where I was staying with a friend. Because I did not have swipe access, the friend I was staying with suggested that I try to have another Harvard student swipe me up because she thought it would be quicker than her coming down to get me. 

Knowing that Harvard and Yale paired different “sister” residential colleges together for hosting purposes, I thought nothing of this request and was sure that someone would be kind enough to let me in. After making it past the initial door, I then lingered in the lobby hoping to get a student to grant me swipe access to the elevator. Shortly after, a group of white and non-Black girls entered the lobby. Waiting for them to get within proximity of the elevator, I kindly asked, “Hey, sorry to bother you. I am a student from Yale, staying with my friend. Would you be willing to swipe me up to the fifth floor?” 

With blank stares and confused faces, the girls agreed, and as I walked towards the elevator, expecting them to follow me, they instead turned around and exited the building. Unsure of what just happened, I attempted to call the friend who was hosting me. But unfortunately during that brief encounter, my phone died, and so I was trapped downstairs until the next student arrived. Waiting around, I then tried calling the elevator again by pressing the button. The doors to the elevator then opened, and to my surprise, I was met with the faces of the very same group of girls who had just ditched me. Unbeknownst to me, there was a basement entrance by which these girls entered the residential college in an attempt to circumvent interacting with/helping me. I hopped onto the elevator, and requested to be swiped up again. 

But this time, I was met with a more direct response. The elevator door closed, and what seemed to be the ringleader of the group — let’s call them the racist regime — asked, “What college do you live in at Yale?” 

“Silliman,” I complied. 

“And who are you staying with?” she followed up. 

I answered with my friend’s name.  

“What floor does she live on?” she quickly asked in response. I provided her with the desired information, but still none of it was enough. 

I followed up by once again asking her to grant me swipe access, and she stated in response, “We’re gonna need to see your Yale ID first.” 

That was my final straw. 

Without being so explicit in the less eloquent — but necessary — ways I communicated it, I proceeded to call each and every one of the girls out for their bigotry. I explained that they should be ashamed of themselves, and to top everything off, I pulled out my ID and showed them the proof they so aggressively requested. The elevator fell silent, and one of the members of the racist regime tried to explain themselves, but I abruptly cut them off before they could get a word out. 

They swiped me up. The elevator rose to my floor, and I exited enraged. 

Fast forward to the night of The Game 2023, and this same tense feeling of anger had returned. As I looked into these faces of the young girls in front of me, it was clear what I needed to do. I asked the girls if they needed help, and in unison, they nodded their heads saying yes. In response, I guided them towards the other gate of Timothy Dwight on Grove Street while they caught me up to speed on their interactions with the security guard. The girls said they had been out there for roughly thirty minutes before I arrived, and the security guard, like the racist regime, refused to offer any support or assistance. Instead, the guard continued actively posing as a barrier to ensure the girls’ safety. Unfortunately, the girls’ host was not answering his phone, and the security guard asked the girls for their host’s name, entryway and explanation for being outside TD. But just like the regime at Harvard, the guard took no action to put the provided information to use. 

While the girls continued to update me, I FaceTimed my friend who was luckily still awake and a FroCo in TD, and after filling her in, she offered to come down to help. By the time the girls and I had reached the courtyard, in classic Western showdown style all parties involved were now looking at each other in a triangular formation. It was me and the visiting girls, my FroCo friend and the security guard.

 As the security guard approached us, he asked, “So, you’re just gonna try to go around me, huh?” 

I replied, “Yes, because you’re being racist!” 

Almost encroaching well within the security guard’s personal space, my friend quickly intervened and pushed me away from the guard. My friend then attempted to take the visiting girls to their entryway, but the security guard tried to once again physically block all of them. Walking around him, they made it to their entryway, and my friend and I waited for his departure in the stairwell one entryway over. After a few minutes, he finally left, and I let out a sigh of relief. All the pent up worries that I held were very much rational, and in just two minutes, my entire Yale-Harvard experience was ruined. All of the positive memories of this so-called “celebratory” weekend were stained by the dormant emotions from previous traumatic instances that were re-realized through forced exposure “therapy.” 

The rest of that night proceeded pretty mundanely. I ate my food, then went to bed shortly after. But the implications and thoughts of that night have lasted long after. To this day, I have developed severe anxiety while around any of Yale’s police, whether it be official security guards or students who also engage in policing others through less formal means. I no longer feel comfortable walking through this campus in ways that I did prior to, but most impactfully, both incidents occupy a significant amount of space in my mind. Questions surrounding identical scenarios with alternative racial compositions continue to bounce around in my head. Thoughts of the ways in which white people can weaponize ignorance and incompetence for the sake of plausible deniability have caused me to muse endlessly. 

But the question that lingers the most was one posed by the security guard. As I walked towards him accusing him of racist behavior, the security guard immediately got defensive and asked, “How am I being racist?” I’m not sure why this question still baffles me to this day. I honestly think it is because the security guard lacked the ability to answer this question himself. His incompetence and inability to recognize said ineptitude raises so many concerns about how effectively and comprehensively he is doing his job if the safety of Black students is not considered in his set of people worth protecting. Or moreover, if he genuinely — and very ignorantly — believes he is doing job effectively. 

How am I being racist? In the midst of both incidents, I was unable to organize, let alone verbalize, a well-formed explanation of what made the Yale security guard and Harvard’s racist regime, well, racist. While running purely on the hormones associated with fight or flight, all I knew was what I felt. But now, I think I can formally answer this question: from start to end, the visiting Black girls and I were seen as threats first, (sub)human second. Part of me wants to justify the security guard and the racist regime’s actions as a consideration of broader security concerns. Maybe they really were concerned for their safety or the safety of other students. But, any attempt to rationalize this explanation is short-lived. See, in both incidents, the girls and I should have also been included in that group of students whom the security guard and the racist regime were so “concerned” about. As students ourselves, our safety was at risk, but the preconceived notions and stereotypes that were ascribed to us superseded any potential humanity simultaneously afforded to us such that the security of only a subset of demographics were consciously validated. Instead of being empathized with, the visiting girls and I were barred entry into our homes for the night in order to ensure the protection of other students. 

How am I being racist? If I were to be asked this question again, my only response to the security guard would be a question of my own: what about these girls made them unworthy of the same level of care, consideration and safety that was actively being enforced and afforded to all other students during that incident, and more broadly speaking, that weekend?