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.
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 nearly 600,000 views as of Wednesday.
Siyonbola, 34, who is earning her master’s degree in African studies, said 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. 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.”
Siyonbola said the woman told her she was going to call the police. In a shorter video that 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 Tuesday.
Several officers responded to the call.
“We need to make sure that you belong here,” a female officer says in the longer video.
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.”
Siyonbola relented and handed over her ID.
But the officers struggled to verify it, and 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 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.
Confirming her identity took longer than usual because the student’s preferred name, which was printed on her ID, was different from what was in the university record, a school official said.
Siyonbola called the police “ridiculous” for not leaving after seeing that she had a key and an ID. She said the larger issue was that “there are not consequences to you if you call the police on an innocent person, especially if they’re black.”
In her view, it was not an isolated incident at Yale. “I can tell you tons of other minor stories of microaggressions,” she said.
Siyonbola, who founded the Yoruba Cultural Institute in Brooklyn, is the author of a book about African history and diaspora migration. At Yale, her research focuses on migration and identity formation.
Cooley said in her email that more work needed to be done “to make Yale a truly inclusive place.”
“I am committed to redoubling our efforts to build a supportive community in which all graduate students are empowered in their intellectual pursuits and professional goals within a welcoming environment,” she wrote.
Siyonbola said she was disappointed in the dean’s response.
“It wasn’t compassionate,” she said. “It was very high level — like we have to do better someday, somehow.”
She said she hoped this episode and others like it would prompt the administration to take action.
“This is what happens every day in America,” she added. “These things are unfortunate, they’re disappointing, they’re disheartening, but they’re not shocking anymore.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.