Important updates on SAE and Buckley investigations

Dean Jonathan Holloway sent the following message to the Yale College community on Dec. 9.

For the past month, my office has been investigating allegations of discrimination and misconduct, respectively, at two student events, the first one a late-October party hosted by the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity, and the second a conference hosted in early November by the William F. Buckley Jr. Program. Both investigations have now ended. Although 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, these findings are important to the community, and I would like to share them with you

At the SAE event, a student alleged that she was turned away from the party after being told by a member that he was looking for “white girls only.” This allegation, extremely serious in its own right, was even more so given that it was brought against a fraternity already under sanctions stemming from an initiation ceremony last year and about which I wrote to the community in February. I asked Burgwell Howard, dean of student engagement, to investigate on behalf of the Yale College Dean’s Office, and together with a representative from the Office for Equal Opportunity Programs, Dean Howard has now spoken with members of SAE and with students and guests who attended the event.

A partial picture of what happened has emerged from these accounts. 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. 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.

The investigation did find, however, that SAE created a chaotic environment, and that members at times behaved disrespectfully and aggressively toward students seeking admission. The investigation also found that SAE managed the event poorly, with little regard to crowd control and overcrowding inside the house. More generally, it found that SAE’s behavior fell short of the community standards and the kind of civic engagement that I have sought to promote, and it is particularly problematic in light of the sanctions already in place against the fraternity. Strictly speaking, SAE did not violate the terms of those sanctions, which banned the fraternity from hosting activities on campus, drawing on university resources, and using the SAE name in connection with Yale University for two years, but I am extremely disappointed that the chapter has given me cause to write to the community a second time.

In the second event, my office investigated allegations that student protesters spat on visitors at the Nov. 6 William F. Buckley Jr. Program’s fifth annual conference, in violation of, among other standards, the university’s policies on free expression. While one student interrupted a speech, was removed by a Yale police officer, and will face consequences for violating Yale’s policy on free expression, the student agreed afterward that the YPD’s actions were appropriate, and the event’s hosts were satisfied by the responsiveness of the Yale Police. Members of the YCDO and university staff were on hand toward the end of the conference, and a group of gathering students were advised on the university’s policies regarding free expression and the right to protest. Later, as attendees left the event, those students, exercising their right to free expression, held up signs and chanted, some of them shouting at the attendees.

During this investigation, no one provided direct accounts that anyone spat on attendees. At no time did police present at the scene or staff observe anyone spitting, nor did anyone report spitting to the YPD 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.

I hope to use these occasions as an opportunity. As a first step, I have asked Dean Howard to elevate his mandate of student engagement, starting by working with SAE to develop a protocol for managing crowds and hosting off-campus events safely and respectfully. As I look ahead, I will soon be announcing the new Dean of Student Affairs; I will ask both deans to collaborate in providing expanded training and guidance to all student groups for hosting events as well as protesting peacefully. Additionally, I will ask both deans to solicit suggestions from students, masters, and residential college deans for hosting more parties on campus and to provide more opportunities to dance and socialize in a variety of environments that are open and welcoming to all Yale College students. This moment provides us with a chance to create a more constructive, inclusive, and respectful climate, and I am eager to begin that work.

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