Last Tuesday morning (May 8), a black Yale University student, Lolade Siyonbola, shared a recorded encounter with a white student, solely identified as Sarah. The 34-year-old graduate scholar posted a video of four cops interrogating her after Sarah alerted university police to her sleeping in a common area, which she’d done while she was writing a paper, ABC News reports. Apparently, Sarah was worried that Soyinbola may not have belonged there.
The footage shows four cops requesting proof of her attendance. After Soyinbola opened her dorm room, the cops continued to ask her for her ID, though she believed that getting a key and opening her door would be proof enough. “I pay tuition like everybody else,” Siyonbola, an African Studies graduate student, said. “I’m not going to justify my existence here.”
Siyonbola got on ABC News’ Good Morning America to share her thoughts on what transpired. “I posted the video just for my safety,” she said. In the same video, she told the officers that Sarah also called the police on her classmate about three months prior to the event because he was “sitting in the stairwell” after “getting lost in the building,” she said.
Grad student Reneson Jean-Louis recalled that Sarah told him “I don’t feel safe around you,” “You’re making me uncomfortable,” and “You’re an intruder,” amongst other statements.
Police reportedly reprimanded Sarah but Soyinbola doesn’t think that’s enough. “If there are punitive measures I think someone like Sarah will think twice about calling the police,” she said. “Whether that’s expulsion [or] some other form of disciplinary action, there needs to be some punitive measures for people who act out of racially motivated bias.”
Siyonbola later updated her Facebook page to identify “Sarah” as Philosophy student Sarah Braasch. Police were able to deem Siyonbola as equally entitled to be in any common spaces as Braasch was.
The dean of Yale’s graduate school of arts and sciences, Lynn Cooley, sent an email out in support of Siyonbola later that day. “Incidents like that of last night remind us of the continued work needed to make Yale a truly inclusive place,” she began. “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.”
The Yale Daily News reported that the school’s president, Peter Salovey, sent out an email on Thursday night (May 10), saying, “Universities are not utopias, and people of color experience racism on our campus as they do elsewhere in our country. This fact angers and disappoints me. Each of us has the power to fight against prejudice and fear. I hope you will join me in doing so.”
Siyonbola’s videos have garnered over 1.5 million views. And she wrote on Facebook that “Black Yale community is beyond incredible and is taking good care of [her].”