An Impromptu Forum at the Women’s Table

by Sarah Pearl Heard 

“May I have your permission to excuse myself?” These words came from Yale’s first Black Dean Jonathan Holloway as he stepped down from the Women’s Table, visibly upset after giving an impromptu speech to a crowd of over two hundred students.

What had started as a chalking event by the Black Student Alliance at Yale turned into a open forum to discuss the past week’s events where many students questioned Dean Holloway’s absence directly.

Many students soon began to share their personal experiences in an effort to evoke action. One junior recalled an account that was relayed by her mother, stating that “You didn’t talk to Black people in high school, how do we know you’ll do right by us now?” She repeated this several times through sobs.  The crowd reacted with stunned silence and a few scattered snaps.

While many personal experiences and cries for help were recorded the crowd shifted to recounting stories of discrimination encountered in the classroom, and how these encounters had fostered a hostile learning environment for students of color.

Isaiah Genece lamented the lack of Black professors in STEM, and requested serious efforts for the diversification of faculty. Several other students of color described  their inability to lodge formal complaints against professors or students in their classes concerning  offensive and insensitive comments.

Abdul-Razak Zachariah and another student both spoke about the difficulty of being the only male Black student in the Erika Christakis’s competitive seminar “The Concept of the Problem Child.” This upcoming lecture is about Black male youth in America.

Abdul acknowledged that while he perceived Professor Christakis to be a kind person, her level of unprofessionalism and assumed knowledge about experiences that are outside her realm of academia is unacceptable as a leader on campus.

Dean Holloway dutifully recorded notes and seemed on the verge of tears as he listened to all of the students’ lamentations. Some students such as Ron Trioche, asked for affirmation that he would “do better.” He assured the crowd that he would.

Though many of  the students were brought to tears or riled up to the point of shouting, many also left feeling empowered. Diana Orozco Ortega explained that “It [her time spent on Cross Campus] was one of the best experiences I’ve had at Yale because I truly felt the community come together here.”

“As we know, women of color are especially vulnerable in these communities, and racism takes forms that go beyond just exclusion– racism for a woman of color also means sexual harassment and assault as their bodies are fetitized and appropriated. I’m glad that other women of color have shown solidarity and bravery by refusing to stay silent,and I’m so glad that members of these communities of people of color have been so willing to listen to our experiences and be supportive.”

Faculty of color have spoke out in support of students of color as well. Professor Jafari Allen said he has “Overwhelming pride for the sisters that spoke out incisive intelligence and courage and heart. With that combination we will not lose.”

Lex Barlowe, president of the Black Student Alliance at Yale concluded the emotional three hour experience on Cross Campus with a chant that was also chalked in front of Sterling Memorial Library “ We out here. We been here. We ain’t leaving. We are loved.”