After falling asleep in the common room of Yale University's graduate student housing on Monday night, Lolade Siyonbola found herself questioned by Yale police officers because a white graduate student alerted campus authorities to her presence. Siyonbola, who is black, posted videos of her exchanges with the student and police on Facebook.
In one video, she tells the officers, as they verify her identity (she shows officers her keys to her room and the Hall of Graduate Students), "I deserve to be here; I paid tuition like everybody else; I am not going to justify my existence here... I am not going to be harassed."
Apparently the complaining student, Sarah Braasch, had previously called police to HGS in March when Siyonbola had invited a friend, Jean-Louis Reneson, another black Yale graduate student, to the building. Reneson got lost in the building, and the Yale Daily News reports:
Reneson told the News that Braasch did not appear to believe that he was a Yale student trying to enter the HGS common room for a meeting, and instead accused him of being an intruder.
“Feeling ignored, I went down to the base of the twelfth floor and eleventh floor and turned my back, but she continued to verbally assault me from the twelfth floor claiming that I ‘didn’t belong here’ and I was making her ‘uncomfortable,’” Reneson said.
Reneson said that Braasch then left the area, and Siyonbola subsequently showed up to begin the meeting. But, according to the complaint, four police officers then showed up in HGS to inspect a “suspicious character” on the twelfth floor. According to the complaint, shortly after establishing that Reneson was a Yale student invited by Siyonbola for a meeting in HGS, the police left.
Yale University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews sent an email to all students:
I am deeply troubled by an incident that took place Monday night in the Hall of Graduate Studies. One graduate student called the police to report another student in the common area, who had every right to be there. The Yale police officers who responded spoke with both parties and subsequently admonished the complaining student that the other student had every right to be present.
As Vice President for Student Life, I have worked with administrators, faculty and students to strengthen the resources available to address incidents of racial bias, discrimination, and harassment. This incident and others recently reported to me underscore that we have work to do to make Yale not only excellent but also inclusive. I strongly believe we must strive to create an environment that values equity and justice and in which all students are empowered to pursue their personal and professional goals — environment that is diverse, intellectually challenging, and broadly welcoming. Over the last 48 hours, I have been in discussion with Dean Lynn Cooley, Chief Ronnell Higgins, and other university staff, including Yale police, to better understand what exactly happened at HGS on Monday night, and how we can work together to avoid such incidents in the future.
We still have so much more to do.
Goff-Crews also said that she, Chief Higgins, and Dean Cooley would hold "listening sessions" with students. Cooley sent a message to students saying, "Incidents like that of last night remind us of the continued work needed to make Yale a truly inclusive place. I am committed to redoubling our efforts to build a supportive community in which all graduate students are empowered in their intellectual pursuits and professional goals within a welcoming environment. An essential part of that effort must be a commitment to mutual respect and an open dialog."
However, Siyonbola said that Cooley never contacted her about the initial complaint about Reneson about being profiled, "[T]his time the email that she sent was very vague, just not decisive, it just wasn’t direct with what the actual issues are. Do you want black students at Yale or do you not want black students at Yale? If you do, then be very clear about taking decisive action so incidents do not continue to happen. We don’t want to wait for a fatality, we don’t want to wait for what happened at Harvard before actual action is taken on this."
Siyonbola posted on Facebook yesterday, "Grateful for all the love, kind words and prayers, your support has been overwhelming 🙏🏾 Black Yale community is beyond incredible and is taking good care of me. I know this incident is a drop in the bucket of trauma Black folk have endured since Day 1 America, and you all have stories. Share below if you feel led. xo"
The Yale incident comes a week after three black women were checking out of their Airbnb rental in California, and someone called the police on them. Last week, two Native American high school students were yanked from a Colorado State University tour because a woman thought they were suspicious because they were so quiet. Last month, an Upper West Side resident called the police on a black man who was moving into his new apartment in the building and, in Philadelphia, two black men were arrested for not buying anything at a Starbucks (they were waiting for a third person to join them).