Yale Students March for Racial Justice Amid Recent Tensions | NECN
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Yale Students March for Racial Justice Amid Recent Tensions

(Published Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015)

Thousands of Yale students, faculty and staff took to the streets of New Haven in a "march of resistance" Monday, calling for justice after recent complaints of racial tensions at the prestigious Ivy League institution.

About 2,000 Yale community members participated in the march, which started at the Afro American Cultural Center on campus and ended at the Bass Library.

Marchers chanted, "We out here, we've been here, we ain't leaving, we are loved," along with, "We are unstoppable, another Yale is possible." Students carried signs bearing messages such as,"I Stand With My Sisters" and "United We Stand."

It comes days after the university president, a dean and other school officials met with dozens of students to discuss concerns in the wake of a fiery exchange about "culturally offensive" Halloween costumes, as well as allegations that a fraternity recently held a "white girls only" party.

Other issues at hand, according students, are injustices they've witnessed when it comes to hiring and the lack of diversity among tenured professors and faculty on the track to get tenure.

"We planned this demonstration so that students know there is a community, they physically see each other’s support and solidarity and can move forward together," said Yale junior Cathleen Melissa Calderon.

HALLOWEEN COSTUME CLASH

The debate over Halloween costumes that could be considered culturally insensitive — such as "blackface and turbans" — came after the university's Intercultural Affairs Council sent an email to students before Halloween, asking them to be cognizant of the "cultural implications" of their costumes.

After the Intercultural Affairs Council email was sent out, Yale lecturer Associate Master Erika Christakis fired back with an email defending "students' rights to wear potentially offensive costumes as an expression of free speech," according to The Yale Daily News.

"I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense," Christakis wrote in an email to the students of Sillman College. The full email was posted by TheFire.org. "I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students."

Hundreds of students signed an open letter in response, calling Christakis' comments "jarring and disheartening."

FRATERNITY PARTY CONTROVERSY

Another issue at play includes allegations that the Yale chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon threw a "white girls only" party and turned classmates away based on their race. The fraternity has denied the allegations and called them "deeply disheartening."

After student protests and media attention, brothers at Sigma Alpha Epsilon released a statement denying that anyone was turned away from their party on the basis of race. They said they support all efforts to "highlight perceived discrimination" and that they "harbor no resentment" over the claim.

"We do regret, however, that a more thorough investigation into these claims did not occur before allegations were made," said the fraternity's statement from last week.

HIRING CONCERNS

Participants also claim the university hasn't done enough to hire and retain minority professors. Just last week, Yale administrators announced a $50 million effort to recruit more minority faculty.

"I think it’s pretty telling that Yale’s response to all of these issues is to throw money at them," said Yale graduate student Charles Decker.

Decker is a political science Ph.D. candidate at Yale and said he's only one of 24 black male students in the arts and sciences graduate program. He doesn't see a future in New Haven once he finishes school.

"Until Yale actually takes steps to retain faculty of color once they get there I have a hard time imagining being here professionally," Decker said.

 

ADMINISTRATION RESPONSE

Prior to the march, Yale President Peter Salovey addressed the back-to-back issues in a letter to the student body, saying the conversation he had with students about the allegations left him "deeply troubled" and said the university must "act to create at Yale greater inclusion, healing, mutual respect, and understanding."

Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway released a statement to the student body over the weekend saying he is investigating the claims.

"Remember that Yale belongs to all of you, and you all deserve the right to enjoy the good of this place, without worry, without threats, and without intimidation. I don't expect Yale to be a place free from disagreements or even intense argument; I expect you to disagree on a wide range of issues. In so many ways, this is the purpose of our institution: to teach us how to ask difficult questions about even our most sacrosanct ideas. While we do this, however, we must support each other," he wrote.

Yale did not return a request for comment Monday. New Haven Mayor Toni Harp declined to comment, citing respect for Yale's autonomy in the city regarding university matters.

Graduate students have been working to unionize to negotiate with Yale administrators, but the effort has thus far proven unsuccessful.

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