The Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at Yale University was under fire this week after accusations that the fraternity held a “white girls only” Halloween party. Allegations that a fraternity at one of the most prestigious schools in the country held such a reprehensible, racist event made headlines throughout the nation and even inspired outrage across the Atlantic.
But Yale sophomore Neema Githere, whose Facebook post about the “white girls only” party initially sparked the backlash—and said she, herself, was turned away from a party for the same reasons by SAE last year—gave a different account than the one she posted Saturday night when questioned by The Daily Beast later this week.
The reports about the Yale SAE Halloween incident follow several recent accounts of racist parties and practices across sororities and fraternities on American college campuses. Last month, a black student’s online posting about the difficulties of rushing a sorority at Southern Methodist University produced a stream of ugly, racist tirades revealing alleged efforts to exclude women of color from Greek life. At UCLA in October, photos from a Sigma Phi Epsilon Kanye-Western party appeared to show students in blackface.
Then on Saturday night, Githere posted an allegation that Yale’s SAE had denied a group of women entrance to its party because they were not white:
“I’d just like to take a moment to give a shoutout to the member of Yale’s SAE chapter who turned away a group of girls from their party last night, explaining that admittance was on a ‘White Girls Only’ basis; and a belated shoutout to the SAE member who turned me and my friends away for the same reason last year. God Bless the USA”
With that post, newspapers across the country ran with the story, and Yale and SAE commenced investigations into these allegations.
In her Facebook post, Githere encouraged anyone else to “PLEASE reach out/share your story below/ANYTHING.”
Sofia Petrou-Gouin, a Columbia student who was visiting Yale that weekend, told the The Washington Post on Monday that she saw “a group of girls… who were predominantly black and Hispanic” be turned away by an SAE brother. “He held his hand up to their faces and said, ‘No, we’re only looking for white girls,’” Petrou-Gouin said.
An anonymous Yale freshman also told the Washington Post he was turned away from the party, “They said, ‘Who the [expletive] do you think you are — you’re clearly gay’” and that he also heard people say “white girls only.”
In contrast to this account, an off-the-record undergraduate at Yale also told The Daily Beast that he was at the SAE Halloween party and doubts the story of black students being singled out and denied entrance. “I seriously doubt that happened. There were plenty of black people there,” he said.
The presence of black students by no means clears Yale’s SAE of the racist charges, nor exonerates the fraternity’s recent and well-documented history of high-profile racism.
Earlier this year, the University of Oklahoma’s SAE chapter became “one of the country’s most notorious fraternities” after members were caught on tape chanting a disgusting, racist chant.
But from speaking with Githere on Monday morning, before her post led to a series of national news stories, The Daily Beast heard an account that complicates the “white girls only” version of the Halloween party.
The Daily Beast asked Githere, who was not at the Halloween party, how she heard the “white girls only” allegation. Githere said she was with a group of friends—specifically, she noted, women of color. One of her friends had received a text about the party. According to Githere, a friend of hers then turned to her to remind her they experienced the same reaction from SAE.
“My friend said that had completely happened to us. I remembered and realized the same thing happened to us,” Githere said.
Githere explained that she had forgotten until then that a similarly racist incident occurred at an SAE party a year earlier when she was a freshman.
“Early in our freshman year, me, my friend, and two other people were attempting to go into the party. We heard someone say there were already too many black girls in the crowd,” Githere said, and added that “a lot of my memory is blurred because I was drunk.”
While Githere claimed in her Facebook post that she was also denied entrance to an SAE party for the same “white girls only” reason last year, the account she gave to The Daily Beast does not indicate she was turned away at the door.
Githere explained that during her incident, the SAE member “didn't say to us” that there were too many black girls, but that “we heard one [SAE member] say it to the other,” she said.
The major conflict appeared to occur when a male friend in her group became “so furious” after allegedly overhearing the racist remark. By her account, the friend “was belligerent, and we had to pull him away because we didn't want to get in a fight.”
As with the accounts of the recent Yale SAE party, Githere described a very crowded scene, with people pushing and pulling to get through. “There was a herd of people approaching,” Githere said.
When asked how she had forgotten about the incident for a year or did not report it at the time, Githere said, “I thought it was a stupid frat brother playing around, but to hear the same thing was going on—the same thing my friend and I had experienced—it doesn't make this campus feel safe. They're [SAE] perpetrating this consistently.”
Yale’s SAE chapter has denied the “white girls only” account of the evening. Githere said that over the weekend, a black SAE pledge personally spoke to her after he was sent by the fraternity’s president. He denied it and asked why she made her post.
“I got a call from a black pledge. He was in the same residential building as me. He sat down and essentially he flat-out denied it,” Githere said.
“He said they [SAE] admit more on attractiveness than race. But I said that was racialized.”
She said that the pledge told her he was “working the door” and that the group that was turned away “was being combative.”
Githere identified Trey Leigh as the SAE pledge working the door. He is currently the treasurer of the Yale Black Men’s Union. The Daily Beast reached out to the Yale Black Men’s Union to contact Leigh, but the organization did not comment by press time.
Due to a noise complaint filed with the police, one SAE member (who requested anonymity) told the The Washington Post the chapter began turning people away around 11:15 p.m., but people grew upset. That same SAE member said he heard “numerous accounts” of a woman who was turned away and proceeded to shout “‘It’s because I’m black, isn’t it?’”
Still, many students responded to Githere’s Facebook thread and the media with a number of accounts of negative experiences with SAE.
SAE chapters have been subject to disciplinary proceedings more than 130 times since 2010 with at least ten deaths associated with fraternity hazing rituals and parties, according to a USA Today report.
Yale’s own SAE chapter was already found to have violated the school’s sexual misconduct policy after an initiation ritual involved sharing rumors of sexual escapades with a female Yale student and alleged subsequent persistent harassment of her.
The allegations made in Githere’s post about the SAE Halloween party became murkier when The Daily Beast asked for further information. When The Daily Beast began to press her about details of either this year’s SAE party or her personal experience the year before, Githere expressed concern about the line of questioning.
“I want to be careful with what I put out there,” Githere said, when asked to clarify portions of her account of the night. “Hopefully, I get to see my quotes because I cannot have the words misconstrued. If any of my opinions are twisted in the press, which often happens, I would hate for any conflict to happen.”
She does, however, believe that the conversation around the event opened up a dialogue about race on campus.
“There’s good momentum coming out of it. We’re taking it day by day,” she said.