A Sigma Alpha Epsilon brother at Yale turned dark-skinned students away from a party this weekend, telling them, “No, we’re only looking for white girls,” according to a student who said she witnessed him standing on the front steps and blocking a group from entering.
Those girls looked startled and walked away, said Sofia Petros-Gouin, a Columbia freshman who was visiting friends at Yale over the weekend. She described a stairway crowded with people trying to get into the Halloween party, and the fraternity brother, who was white, repeatedly saying, “White girls only,” and letting only blond women enter.
“I was shocked,” Petros-Gouin said. “I was disgusted.”
The allegation — echoed in another interview and on social media in several complaints about similar incidents at Yale’s chapter of SAE — was especially charged because Sigma Alpha Epsilon has been repeatedly accused of having racist traditions as part of its culture. The national chapter announced initiatives in the spring designed to ensure that racist behavior is not tolerated in its chapters across the country.
It opened up a heated conversation at Yale, with some students saying the episode is evidence of blatant racism on the Ivy League campus in New Haven, Conn., while others questioned whether it could have really happened.
The president of Yale’s SAE house, Grant Mueller, told the Yale Daily News that members of the house did not racially discriminate at the off-campus event.
A fraternity brother who was at the party gave an entirely different account than Petros-Gouin. Speaking on condition that his name not be used because chapter rules discourage speaking to the media, he said members of the house always ask for Yale IDs and let everyone in until a party gets crowded. After that, a line forms.
That night, no one with a Yale ID was turned away before 11:15 p.m., the member said. Yale and New Haven police had responded to noise complaints at the party, and brothers were told not to let anyone else in, to avoid crowding. He said numerous students have said a woman who was denied entrance angrily challenged the man who stopped her, screaming: “It’s because I’m black, isn’t it?”
It was uncomfortable, he said, in part because that brother is African American and others working the door at the time are Portuguese and Costa Rican; he described the chapter as racially diverse. He said some in Yale’s black community have called black SAE members “Uncle Tom” on Monday, making them feel like they are being forced to choose between siding with the fraternity or others of their race.
“It has become incredibly hostile,” he said.
He and another student who attended the party said the crowd inside was representative of the student body at Yale.
Brandon Weghorst, a spokesman for SAE’s national office, said in an e-mailed statement:
“The Sigma Alpha Epsilon headquarters has been investigating the allegation since it was first brought to our attention. Based on preliminary information we have received, law-enforcement officers received a noise complaint and visited the house where members held a social event over the weekend, asking the men to stop admitting guests and to clear the steps and sidewalk. The brothers complied with the direction given to them and halted any additional attendance by guests in order to avoid a citation.
“Our chapter at Yale University is comprised of a diverse group of students, and similarly, the social event included a diverse number of attendees. However, we will continue to investigate this allegation to determine additional information. Sigma Alpha Epsilon is committed to the safety and well-being of our members and their guests, and our leadership has zero tolerance for any behaviors or actions that deviate from our values, mission and creed.”
Petros-Gouin said the brother in question is white. She said several of her friends from Columbia were visiting friends at Yale this weekend, and sometime between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. tried to get into the SAE party.
Students without a Halloween costume or a Yale ID were turned away, but her group was told that they could go in if they had a Columbia ID, she said. The next step was a brother asking people if they knew his name; they started to turn away, but another member of the house tapped them on the shoulders and said, “I know these kids.”
They were almost inside when another member stopped the two men in their group, and the women tried to convince the man to let them all in, saying the two were their boyfriends. It was extremely crowded on the stairway, Petros-Gouin said, and she got pushed away from her group of white friends and pinned behind one of the brothers who was monitoring the entryway.
She wasn’t surprised that the fraternity would be screening, or that pretty girls might have a better chance of getting in. But she was surprised by this: “A group of girls came up who were predominantly black and Hispanic,” she said. “He held his hand up to their faces and said, ‘No, we’re only looking for white girls.’ … He pulled a blond girl up from the bottom of the stairs — over some people — pushed her inside and said, ‘We are looking for white girls only, white girls only.’ No brothers corrected him or said anything.”
He repeated it, she said, and a group of women on the stairs raised their hands and kind of jumped up, wanting to get in. “He pulled that group up who volunteered because they were white, and said, ‘Yeah, that’s what we’re looking for,'” she said.
“I’m a woman of color myself,” she said, “so at that point I don’t want to be here.” She said he couldn’t see her when she was trying to get in earlier, and couldn’t have seen her when was making the comments. “Our friends were like, ‘Bad vibes. Let’s go.’
“It just seemed really awful.”
On Saturday night, a Yale student, Neema Githere, posted on Facebook that people had been denied entry to a party the night before because they weren’t white. Several other people quickly responded that they had experienced racism at the chapter, as well.
In the spring, a video of SAE brothers at the University of Oklahoma happily chanting about how black people would never be allowed to join the fraternity, including using racial slurs and references to lynching, went viral and surfaced allegations about racist incidents at other campuses. The fraternity’s national leaders have apologized and announced a series of initiatives intended to ensure that their chapters are inclusive to all races.
The Yale Daily News reported Monday that the chapter’s president denied that brothers had racially discriminated against other students.
“Obviously I was shocked and flabbergasted [at the idea] that anyone in SAE would even have these words come from their mouths,” Yale SAE president, Grant Mueller, said, according to the Yale Daily News. “It’s just kind of upsetting for me because we try to be so incredibly accepting and take pride in our diversity.”
The paper reported that as soon as Mueller heard about the post he reached out to two deans to begin to address the complaints, and that he and other SAE brothers plan to attend a forum at the Afro-American Cultural Center on Monday to talk about what happened as well as about inclusiveness on campus.
People at the Afro-American Cultural Center did not return messages seeking comment Monday.
A freshman at Yale, who said he didn’t want his name used because fraternity members are influential in many of the organizations on campus, said he and three friends tried to get into the party sometime after midnight. “When I first came up to the door they said, ‘Who the [expletive] do you think you are — you’re clearly gay,’” and pushed him away. They let his friends, who are women, in.
He was worried about friends, who he believed had had much too much to drink, he said, so he kept trying to get in. He was on the steps outside for about 20 minutes, he said, and heard a brother at the door who is white shout repeatedly: “White girls only. We’re only looking for white girls.” He saw groups of women with darker skin turn away when they heard that, he said, and he saw an African-American girl get physically pushed away by the same brother.
He followed another group of friends through the door but fraternity members pulled at his hair and his arm to pull him back out, he said.
Finally a friend pushed him through the door and he was inside the party for about 10 minutes, rounding up his friends to get them out of there, he said. He saw a few black men inside “but other than that, it was older white men and lots and lots of white blond girls. A few Asian girls had got in but I did not see one black girl at the party.”
Githere’s post quickly attracted several comments alleging other incidents at SAE.
Ivonne Gonzalez wrote: “Reminds me of the time they asked me and a group of other Latino, predominantly Mexican, friends for our passports when we tried to go to their [expletive] party a little over a year ago. … So sorry this [expletive] is still happening! Can’t stand those rich, spoiled and rude brats.”
Another woman wrote about the same Friday night party: “They turned away my group made up of all minorities last night.”
Those students did not respond to requests from The Washington Post on Monday.
A Yale student sent a screenshot of a post by Gonzalez from the spring of 2014, offering more explanation of the passport incident. She wrote about being surprised that SAE brothers asked for passports: “I mean, they could have asked for IDs. … I know they might not have done so with malicious intent, but it just came off as slightly racist. The saddest part is that I don’t think they understand why it’s insulting to ask a brown person for a passport. So sad … needless to say, my night is ruined.”
The next day she wrote an update that someone had reached out to explain why they needed extra security that night, although she still thought asking for passports seemed a bit much: “I guess I was right in saying there weren’t any bad or racist intentions behind it, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to be offended at this not knowing the context. Either way, people need to understand why it would be taken as an insult.”
A spokesman for the university declined to comment about the allegations Monday.
The New Haven SAE chapter was operating under sanctions imposed by Yale, including a ban on on-campus events, after an initiation ceremony in 2014 was determined to have violated the campus sexual misconduct policy. Last winter, the fraternity issued a letter to the Yale community apologizing, and explaining the sanctions.
It closed with: “Moving forward, our chapter will strive to promote respect and tolerance on campus. We recognize that we are part of the larger Yale community and we want SAE to be a positive social outlet and a safe place for everyone. For our members, SAE represents community, friendship, and a space for honesty; we hope all our future activities illustrate those values.”