On Monday, Lolade Siyonbola was working on a paper when she dozed off in Yale University’s Hall of Graduate Studies’ 12th-floor common room. Then, she was jolted awake. Sarah Braasch, another graduate student, had walked into the room, turned on the lights and said she was calling the police. The common room was off-limits for sleeping, she added.
What followed was a racially tinged, police-involved dispute between neighbors that aired lived on Facebook — then spread.
Agitated, Siyonbola went to Braasch’s room, aiming a cellphone camera at her, and demanded to know why she had called the authorities. Siyonbola, an African Studies student, used Facebook Live to share the video.
“Continue,” Siyonbola said, then taunted her. “Get my good side.”
Instead, Braasch shut the door and Siyonbola waited for the police, who became the subject of her second live video.
“Do you have your ID on you?” the officer asked. Siyonbola said yes, but she refused to show the officers her identification, given that her apartment was in the building.
“Once we verify that you belong here, we’ll be on our way,” an officer said. The officer told Siyonbola that he doesn’t know either woman, is simply trying to quickly sort out what’s going on and needs to check her identification.
Eventually, Siyonbola relented and handed the officer her ID.
As the police tried to sort out who she was (Siyonbola’s given name in a Yale database conflicted with her preferred name on the card, a spokesman said), she told them Braasch had called police on her friend about three months ago “because he was in the stairwell and he was black.”
As time passed, an officer tried to make small talk by asking what her paper was about. Siyonbola wasn’t interested in having that conversation.
“I deserve to be here. I pay tuition like everybody else,” an annoyed Siyonbola told responding officers after they repeatedly asked her to hand over identification. “I’m not going to justify my existence here.”
She claimed that she is facing the same kind of harassment, from Braasch and from the four police officers who responded to her non-crime.
Later, a supervising officer told Siyonbola that she wasn’t harassed, at least not by the officers.
“Every time there’s an interaction with police officers doesn’t mean there’s harassment,” the supervisor told her. Then the officers bid her good night.
“You have a good night,” she said. “I’m not going to have a good night after this.”
Braasch, a graduate philosophy student, could also not be reached for comment. She had reportedly deleted social media accounts or set them to private in the wake of the incident.
Kimberly M. Goff-Crews, Yale’s vice president for student life, said in an email to the university community that the officers admonished the student who called 911 and that “the other student had every right to be present.”
Goff-Crews said she had discussed the incident with other Yale leaders, trying to figure out “how we can work together to avoid such incidents in the future.” She said they were planning “listening sessions” with the Yale community and encouraged students to share their thoughts.
Being black in America
The “while black” incidents are piling up in the United States.
Siyonbola’s experience has roiled Yale’s campus community, sparking campus leaders to call for more conversations about inclusiveness. The nation is also engaged in a dialogue about disparate treatment of minorities in public places after black people who have not committed crimes have controversially had the police called on them at an Alabama Waffle House, Philadelphia Starbucks and Pennsylvania golf course.
Other entrants include: Couponing while black, graduating too boisterously while black, waiting for a school bus while black, throwing a kindergarten temper tantrum while black, drinking iced tea while black, waiting at Starbucks while black, AirBnB’ing while black, shopping for underwear while black, having a loud conversation while black, golfing too slowly while black, buying clothes at Barney’s while black, or Macy’s, or Nordstrom Rack, getting locked out of your own home while black, going to the gym while black, asking for the Waffle House corporate number while black and reading C.S. Lewis while black, among others.
In a post on her Facebook page a day after the incident, Siyonbola also acknowledged that other black people have endured similar treatment.
“Grateful for all the love, kind words and prayers, your support has been overwhelming Black Yale community is beyond incredible and is taking good care of me. I know this incident is a drop in the bucket of trauma Black folk have endured since Day 1 America.”
Then she invited anyone reading her post to share similar stories.
By Thursday, 1,400 people had commented.