Inside Yale’s ‘Whites-Only’ Panic
Anger over perceived racism and marginalization at Yale culminated yesterday in more than 1,000 Yale students participating in a “March of Resilience” across campus.
The event featured musical performances and speakers. One of the participants, sophomore Alejandra Padin-Dujon, told the Yale Daily News that life on campus has been “emotionally draining and traumatic for many people of color on campus.” The university newspaper also noted: “Students were asked not to promote the event through social media until the day of the protest, in order to avoid the possibility of a counterprotest.”
Student outrage has been tied to two events related to Halloween: an email discouraging the policing of offensive costumes, and an alleged “white girls only” party held at the fraternity house of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
The route of the March of Resilience specifically included the SAE house, which has continued to be a touchstone for anger since the “white girls only” allegation began circulating last week.
SAE has denied that such a prohibition existed for the party from the start.
Speaking with multiple members of the fraternities has revealed new accounts that complicates the initial “white girls only” reports, casting doubt over whether such an utterance or instruction was ever issued.
While Yale is still investigating the “white girls only” claim, many students have used the allegation as fuel for attacking the administration for not sufficiently handling racial marginalization.
The lack of consistent, corroborated evidence of the party has not quelled Yale students’ outrage.
The Washington Post reported that the Dean of Yale College, Jonathan Holloway (who is also the first African American to hold the position), was surrounded by hundreds of students last Thursday who “aimed to force Holloway to explain why he had not written to the college community acknowledging allegations that the Yale chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon had turned away black women from a fraternity party.”
He sent an email the next day, in which he conveyed that he “takes seriously the allegations against SAE,” according to the Yale Daily News.
He was not the only target of Yale students’ ire. Students were filmed encircling a Yale faculty member, Nicholas Christakis, calling for his resignation and screaming, “Why the fuck did you accept the position?”
Christakis had been under fire for an email his wife, Erika, sent to the students of Silliman College, the dorm in which they serve as Masters, that questioned why there was a need to warn and protect students from culturally insensitive Halloween costumes—a response to a set of guidelines sent by Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee.
“If you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society,” Christakis wrote.
That was too much for some Yale undergraduates to bear. A video showed a calm Christakis being attacked by students.
One woman, who The Daily Caller identified as Jerelyn Luther, is shown shouting at him to shut up, when he is granted a fleeting opportunity to utter a handful or words.
“It is not about creating an intellectual space,” screams the student, enrolled at the university ranked the third-best in the country by U.S. News & World Report. “It’s about creating a home!” Audible echoes of approval from fellow students are heard.
Many have pushed back against the student outrage toward the Christakises, calling the demonstrators out as being frighteningly intolerant of free speech (which has been an increasingly common pattern on college campuses recently).
As for the claims of racial discrimination at the SAE Halloween party, the allegations are still reverberating through Yale 10 days after sophomore Neema Githere, who did not attend the party, posted that the event had been “white girls only.”
Githere also claimed in the same Facebook post that she had been similarly discriminated against a year earlier when she tried to attend a different SAE party.
An interview with The Daily Beast revealed significant gaps in her story, including that Githere had not, by her account, been denied entrance into SAE because of her race or otherwise.
Another allegation often cited in news reports came from Sofia Petros-Gouin, a Columbia University freshman who visited Yale and was at the party.
She said she was there between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m. Oct. 30, and witnessed an SAE member turning away a group of mostly black and Hispanic women, saying “No, we’re only looking for white girls.”
Petros-Gouin shared a Washington Post article about the “white girls only” party on Facebook in which she told the paper about how she witnessed an SAE member turn away women based on their race as people tried to get through a crowded stairwell.
“This weekend I was privy to both explicitly racist and absolutely abhorrent behavior at Yale’s chapter of the SAE fraternity,” Petros-Gouin wrote in her post. “As a girl of color myself it’s an absolute shame that I and other girls consistently find ourselves at the margins, discriminated against (both explicitly and implicitly) and without a sense of belonging from the larger community. Hopefully this marks the dissolution of the wildly discriminatory, racist and sexist institution that is the national SAE fraternity.”
SAE has adamantly denied Petros-Gouin’s account.
“I can actually disprove Petros-Gouin’s story. I was at the door for the entirety of the period between 10:30 and 11:00pm,” an SAE member who spoke on condition of anonymity said in an email with The Daily Beast. “Very few people entered the house during this entire time. Probably between 10 and 25 over the course of those 30 minutes, many of them brothers of SAE who we didn’t bother to ID.”
He noted that the Halloween party, called “Ghouls Just Wanna Have Fun,” wasn’t starting until 11 p.m., which was verified by a screenshot of the Facebook event.
“At no point was there anything like the ‘crowd’ which Petros-Gouin alleges. Why would there be for a party which hadn’t started yet?” he said in the email.
While he is white, he said he was working the door from 10:30 to 11:00 p.m. with an SAE member who is a man of color. They were speaking to two African-American women who were students at Quinnipiac University. “My friend was hitting on them,” he said in a separate phone interview.
He offered up as evidence that SAE was not racially discriminating that night by claiming that that the two women “actually asked if we had a race-based admission policy” before they themselves went inside the party.
Yale’s SAE president Grant Mueller separately refuted Petros-Gouin’s allegation.
“Looking into Sofia’s story didn’t take much investigation because it happened before the party even started,” Mueller told The Daily Beast.
The Daily Beast has tried to reach Petros-Gouin through multiple means, but had not yet received a response by press time.
At the same time, Mueller admitted that with Petros-Gouin’s and the other allegations against SAE that he denied, there were limits to moving beyond a he-said, she-said situation.
“There’s only so much we can do. It’s not like we have videotapes, so it’s mainly investigating people who were at the party,” he said.
Mueller said admittance into SAE parties involves checking for Yale IDs or “just friends of brothers.”
“If a person comes up and says ‘I know this and this brother,’ the doorman will say ‘I’ll text him and tell him to come get you,’” he said.
As the night proceeds and a party gets more crowded, “I am the only person who allows people in,” Mueller said. “Then, normally, the only person I allow in are brothers or close friends of brothers.”
According to Mueller, he told SAE brothers to stop admitting people into the Halloween party as a result of direct orders from police to clear crowding.
“This time, when we said no one else can go in, it was because the police said it’s too loud [and] there are too many people outside. Traditionally, it’s simply physically constraints. Police said that at some time between 11:30 and midnight,” Mueller said.
An SAE brother told The Washington Post that no one with a Yale ID was denied entry before 11:15 p.m., but that it changed after a noise complaint led to police visiting.
The Daily Beast has reached out to the New Haven Police Department and the Yale press office (which handles inquiries about Yale police) to confirm the noise complaint, and neither had responded as of press time.
Mueller explained police could have showed up earlier than the 11:30 he initially recalled because there were two sets of visits: the first was from New Haven police, followed by a second visit from Yale police.
“The initial wave of New Haven police threatened to give me a citation for everyone outside, and the Yale police came almost immediately after and were much more cordial,” he said. “They said, ‘Look, dude, you have to get these people off your porch.’ They reiterated what the New Haven police said and said we needed to clear off our porch.”
Mueller said he reached out to the administration as soon as Githere’s Facebook post was brought to his attention Saturday night.
Trey Leigh, an African-American member of SAE, showed Mueller the Facebook post when it had “about 80 likes.” It now has nearly 1,600.
“I wanted to figure out what had happened as much as they did,” Mueller said of his decision to initiate contact with Yale. “If the allegation was true, I needed to be able to handle it.”
Did Mueller think the “white girls only” accusation could have validity?
“There was obviously concern if it happened because sometimes people say bad things,” Mueller said. “But, after doing internal investigation and seeing what the school came up with and finding out the specific allegations, it was clear they were simply baseless.”
Mueller said in an email that he has been cooperating with Yale administrators since then, who he said have been asking him questions like: “Was there a diverse group in attendance?” “What have internal investigations found?” “What is your normal door policy.” Mueller said the national SAE organization has also been in contact with him and investigating.
“I personally sat down with each brother on the door and asked them: What were the events? Was anything racially charged? Did any events stick out? Is there a particular person you think is making this allegation?” he recalled asking. “We’ve been searching for other people’s claims [against SAE].”
In addition to questioning SAE brothers, Mueller confirmed he asked Leigh to speak with Githere, which she has also stated.
“Trey’s first response was he didn’t think Neema was at the party. I thought that was interesting, which is I why I specifically asked him to go talk to her,” Mueller said.
Mueller said he also spoke to Githere on Tuesday night after trying to meet with her since Sunday morning, hours after her Facebook post.
“She didn’t really give me that much of a chain of events, but her response to my explanation of events was that she didn’t believe it to be true, which was kind of frustrating because she wasn’t there,” Mueller said.
The Daily Beast reached out to Githere for comment, but she had not responded as of press time.
Githere initially told The Daily Beast that Leigh approached her and said, “They [SAE] admit more on attractiveness than race.”
The anonymous SAE brother admitted that attractiveness may play a role when some members are guarding the door for parties.
“In terms of attractiveness, there’s probably an unconscious bias. There probably is something that in reality affects how people guard the door,” he said. “I do understand how people could see that as racialized.”
Admittance to college parties, especially fraternity parties, can often be determined by exclusionary, superficial tactics. As Mueller himself said, “In general, it’s so important to note that people of all colors, genders, and sexualities are being turned away from our party.”
Racism was not the only charge levied against SAE.
In addition to Githere’s, Petros-Gouin’s, and other charges of racism, an account of a Yale male freshman being turned away because he was gay has also been widely circulated.
He told The Washington Post, “When I first came up to the door they said, ‘Who the [expletive] do you think you are—you’re clearly gay,’” and didn’t let him in, but allowed his female friends to proceed. He also corroborated the “white girls only” claim.
Mueller claimed he was able to identify the person, and disputed his allegation in an email.
“He came with a large group of females who all got in. He got separated from them and tried to push through one of our doormen forcefully. They both insisted he wasn’t allowed in,” Mueller stated in an email. “The brother accounted that he [the accuser] said ‘It’s okay, I’m gay.’” Mueller verified that he also heard this and saw the SAE brother respond, “I don’t care. You don’t know any brothers.”
Mueller said in that same email that the accuser “then successfully pushed through him [the SAE brother] when the door was open and directly into me, which caused me to spill my drink on myself. He proceeded to try to enter the party, then I asked him to leave for disrespecting my brother and because he knew no one in our fraternity.”
Because this student has remained anonymous and Mueller would not reveal who he identified the accuser as, The Daily Beast was unable to identify and, thus, contact him.
“The idea we don’t allow gay kids into the party is insane,” the anonymous SAE member said.
“We have a bisexual kid living in the house. One of my best friends in the world is gay and is a brother. We have several gay brothers. Several gay people were invited. It [the accusation] would be funny if it were something gay people didn’t actually believe,” he said.
Of course, the presence of gay people in a fraternity or at a party does not automatically clear Yale’s SAE of charges of homophobia.
The same goes with charges of racism. According to an email from Mueller, 48 SAE brothers, 19 of them are men of color. Their membership does not in and of itself provide proof against the “white girls only” claim.
Mueller said that these members of color may be bearing the brunt of the backlash. Multiple fraternity members had told him they were being called “Uncle Tom” by African-American students on campus.
The Daily Beast tried to get in touch with Yale SAE members of color, but in researching the story was told they are declining to speak because they feel “tokenized.”
“I honestly can’t speak for their experiences,” Mueller said when asked about how life on campus was for men of color in SAE.
Mueller, himself, said a fellow student spat on him when he was walking on campus and screamed to “check his privilege.”
When asked whether this student was white or a person of color, Mueller said it was the latter.
Mueller, who is a junior, said he has been unable to attend class since the Facebook post started going viral. He said he’s lost certain friends over it, one of whom told him, “You’re going to be sorry for all of this.”
Yale University’s president is in full damage limitation and atonement mode.
“We failed you,” Peter Salovey said, apologizing to a group of minority students last Thursday night.
Salovey has already vowed that he is ready to punish SAE in a “variety of ways” if the “white girls only” allegations prove true, according to the Yale Daily News.
Dwight Hall, Yale’s Center for Public Service and Social Justice, announced Monday that it has pulled its support for a “Movember” campaign that raises awareness for men’s health because SAE is affiliated with it.
The SAE members who spoke to The Daily Beast say they fall into the same pattern of sympathizing with the attacks because it speaks to larger issues on campus.
“The emotions on campus are rooted in so much more than the allegations,” said Mueller, who declined to specifically address the uproar over the Christakis Halloween costume letter. “There’s a lot of raw emotion about the mistreatment of marginalized women on campus and how Yale hasn’t addressed it.”
When asked to provide examples of how minority women are marginalized, Mueller responded: “I really can’t attest to their pain and emotions. I reserve that question to the marginalized women at Yale. It’s their story to tell.”
Other recent events since the “white girls only” accusations and the Christakis email controversy show how hostile the campus has become.
Following a private lecture on free speech Friday during a William F. Buckley Jr. Program conference, “several attendees were spat on as they left,” according to accounts from participants given to the Yale Daily News.
While SAE continues to adamantly deny the “white girls only” party accusation, they have expressed what they say is an understanding of students’ frustrations over racism on campus—and the role that the “white girls only” party narrative has assumed.
“People are not that willing to question it, to look this gift horse in the mouth, because they can start a conversation that should have happened long ago. It’s not just about some words supposedly uttered at a fraternity party. It’s about people feeling marginalized,” said the anonymous SAE member.
“It’s good we’re having these talks. We’re happy these conversations are happening. I want to talk about it without everyone in the country thinking I’m a racist.”
Mueller seemed concerned that simply rejecting allegations of racism against him and his fraternity would be cause for branding him a racist.
“When I address these allegations, I am by no means saying that no one on this campus has ever felt marginalized, discriminated against or uncomfortable,” he said in an email. “I’m just pointing out the facts.”
Those facts are certainly disputed. But based on the response from some of Yale’s students and faculty, it’s unclear how much they matter at this point.