The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Yale investigation finds ‘no evidence’ of racism at frat party alleged to have been for ‘white girls only’

Yale University students and supporters participate in a march across campus to demonstrate against what they see as racial insensitivity at the Ivy League school on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, in New Haven, Conn. (Ryan Flynn/New Haven Register via AP)
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It was the Facebook post heard across the Ivy League, if not the entire country.

On Halloween, Yale undergrad Neema Githere wrote that black friends of hers had been turned away from a fraternity party because it was for “white girls only.”

That accusation, combined with an administrator’s controversial email defending “offensive” costumes, ignited a firestorm of debate over racism on campus.

Students confronted the administrator and her husband who also holds an administrative post at the undergrad college, and then they confronted Yale College’s first African American dean. They packed protests at the prestigious university by the hundreds, using bullhorns to demand more diversity on campus and that the school rename buildings after people of color, rather than proponents of slavery.

Faculty members rallied to support the protesters. Students at universities across the United States marched in solidarity, as a wave of anti-racism demonstrations swept campuses from coast to coast.

There were troubling moments, too. A discussion on the importance of free speech on campus was, ironically, interrupted by protesters. Campus newspapers reported claims that people leaving the event were spat upon.

Now, more than a month later, Yale has finally released the findings of an investigation into the incident that set off the soul-searching series of events: the so-called “white girls only party.”

The verdict?

That the party might not have been racist after all.

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…

Posted by Neema Githere on Saturday, October 31, 2015

In a statement sent out Wednesday, Jonathan Holloway, dean of Yale College, wrote that the university’s investigation had found “no evidence of systematic discrimination against people of color” at the Halloween frat party.

The investigation itself has not yet been released. Holloway’s statement, however, leaves the incident, that incited Yale’s recent student movement for greater diversity and sensitivity, shrouded in mystery.

The inquiry’s only concrete conclusion appears to be that the Oct. 30 event at Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) was not a “white girls only” party — at least, not at first.

The investigation was carried out by Burgwell Howard, dean of student engagement, and a representative from the university’s Office for Equal Opportunity Programs. The two officials spoke with SAE members, students and guests at the event.

“A partial picture of what happened has emerged from these accounts,” Holloway wrote. “On the one hand, the investigation found no evidence of systematic discrimination against people of color. Students inside the party reported that early in the evening, before the party became crowded, guests were granted admission on a first-come basis; men and women of color were among those admitted.

[Students accuse Yale SAE fraternity brother of saying ‘white girls only’ at party door]

“On the other hand, students also reported that as the event became intensely crowded, hosts restricted admission, applying subjective criteria and using harsh language.

“When the investigation focused on what hosts had said specifically, two students provided credible accounts that they were told, or heard either one or two SAE members say, ‘white girls only’ as they were seeking admission to the party, although the SAE members interviewed denied making these statements and nobody else who was interviewed heard the statements.”

In interviews with The Washington Post’s Susan Svrluga, however, two students said that they had overheard SAE frat brothers denying minorities entry because they were looking for “white girls only.”

“I was shocked,” said Sofia Petros-Gouin, a Columbia freshman visiting friends at Yale. “I was disgusted.”

The investigation found even less evidence that student protesters spat on visitors at a Nov. 6 free speech discussion in honor of conservative writer and National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr.

“During this investigation, no one provided direct accounts that anyone spat on attendees,” Holloway wrote. “At no time did police present at the scene or staff observe anyone spitting, nor did anyone report spitting to the [Yale Police Department] or staff. No police reports have been filed with the Yale Police as a result of the conference or regarding any allegations as the event broke up. Students appeared to have adhered to the university’s guidelines for protest and free expression.”

Yet, according to the Yale Daily News, at least one student has insisted that he was spat upon and has expressed frustration at not being contacted by the university during its investigation. Mitchell Rose Bear Don’t Walk, one of the lead protesters, also told the newspaper that a protester had spat on someone, calling it “disgraceful.”

Ultimately, however, Holloway said that “the findings do not provide grounds for the Yale College Dean’s Office to pursue formal disciplinary action against any student or group of students.”

Despite the results of the investigation, there is little debate that racism remains an issue at Yale and other universities across the country. Last year, someone drew swastikas on campus. Meanwhile, the university recently announced a $50 million initiative to boost diversity among its faculty.

The incidents have also had serious fallout for some faculty members.

Erika Christakis, the Yale professor and administrator who was lambasted after encouraging students under her care to defy the university by wearing “obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive” Halloween costumes, announced earlier this week that she was resigning from teaching.

“I have great respect and affection for my students, but I worry that the current climate at Yale is not, in my view, conducive to the civil dialogue and open inquiry required to solve our urgent societal problems,” she told The Washington Post.

Her husband, Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist who runs his own lab at the university but is perhaps best known for being yelled at by undergrads in several viral videos, said last week that he will take a sabbatical in the spring so that he can focus on his research and on the needs of students. The couple has said, however, that they will remain “masters,” in charge of students’ wellbeing within Yale’s Silliman residential college.

In his statement, Holloway said he hoped to “use these occasions as an opportunity” to foster peaceful debate and “create a more constructive, inclusive, and respectful climate” at the storied institution.

In other words, the “white girls only” party might never have been. But the reaction has been very real indeed.