White Student Calls Police on Black Graduate Student Sleeping in Her Yale Dorm

The Yale campus. A graduate student in the university’s African studies program said she was harassed for taking a nap in a common area.
Dave Sanders for The New York Times

A black graduate student at Yale who fell asleep in her dorm’s common room said she had a disturbing awakening this week when a white student flipped on the lights, told her she had no right to sleep there and called the campus police.

It was the latest in a string of recent episodes across the country in which the police have been summoned to respond to minor complaints involving people of color.

As in many of those encounters, including the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks and the questioning of black Airbnb guests in California, the Yale incident was captured in a widely shared video that set off anger online.

The graduate student, Lolade Siyonbola, posted a 17-minute recording of her encounter with police officers who responded to the call, and it touched a nerve, with more than 600,000 views as of Wednesday.

Ms. Siyonbola, 34, who is earning her master’s degree in African studies, said that she had camped out in the common room to work on a “marathon of papers.” On Monday night, she decided to take a nap.

Around 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, she said, someone came in and turned on the lights, asking: “Is there someone in here? Is there someone sleeping in here? You’re not supposed to be here.”

Ms. Siyonbola said the woman told her she was going to call the police. In a shorter video that Ms. Siyonbola posted, the woman, who is not identified, says: “I have every right to call the police. You cannot sleep in that room.”

The woman, who also lives in the dorm, reported “an unauthorized person in the common room,” said Lynn Cooley, the dean of the graduate school of arts and sciences, who addressed the episode in an email to students on Tuesday.

Several officers responded to the call.

“We need to make sure that you belong here,” a female officer says in the longer video.

Ms. Siyonbola produced the key to her apartment and opened the door, and the officers told her they needed to see her ID.

After she asked why, one says, “I don’t know anybody from anybody, so I’m here just to make sure you’re supposed to be here, make sure she’s supposed to be here, and we’ll get out of your hair.”

Ms. Siyonbola relented and handed over her ID.

But the officers struggled to verify it, and Ms. Siyonbola appeared to grow more frustrated.

At one point, she says, “I am not going to justify my existence here.”

At another, an officer who identifies himself as a supervisor says, “We determine who is allowed to be here or who’s not allowed to be here, regardless of whether you feel you’re allowed to be here or not.”

“I hope that makes you feel powerful,” she responds.

The Yale Police Department referred inquiries to the university.

“We believe the Yale police who responded followed procedures,” Tom Conroy, a spokesman for the university, said on Wednesday. “As we do with every incident, we will be reviewing the call and the response of the police officers to ensure that the proper protocol was followed, and to determine if there was anything we could have done better.”

When asked if it was common practice to run IDs in such situations, he said it was.

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SOURCE: New York Times, Christina Caron