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Yale student: I was told 'you don't belong here'

A second black Yale University student has alleged that the same white student whom officers admonished for reporting a black student asleep in a dorm common room called police months ago to report his presence in the building.

Posted: May 12, 2018 4:34 PM
Updated: May 14, 2018 11:05 AM

A second black Yale University student has alleged that the same white student whom officers admonished this week for reporting a black student asleep in a dorm common room called police months ago to report his presence in the building.

Reneson Jean-Louis this week shared on Facebook his recollection of the February encounter, which unfolded after he arrived at the dorm to meet with Lolade Siyonbola, the graduate student who was reported early Tuesday for sleeping in a common room.

He and Siyonbola said the same white student, Sarah Braasch, was involved in both incidents.

Jean-Louis said he and Siyonbola submitted a complaint in March about the earlier episode to the associate dean of development and diversity. Jean-Louis provided CNN with a copy of the email communication he received from Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Lynn Cooley confirming that the same white student had called police on both occasions.

"This has been hard to share because I believe that as a Yalie, I'm blessed to have such an institution support my academic and professional ambitions," Jean-Louis wrote Tuesday on Facebook. "However, I cannot overlook the blatant racist experiences I have had while at Yale."

This week's incident at the Ivy League university in Connecticut is among several in recent weeks in which a white person has called police on people of color over seemingly harmless acts. The cases have happened at a Philadelphia Starbucks, a Nordstrom Rack in Missouri, Colorado State University, an LA Fitness in New Jersey, an Airbnb in California and a golf course in Pennsylvania.

All have driven outrage on social media.

CNN has not independently verified Jean-Louis' account. Braasch has not responded to CNN's repeated requests this week for comment.

Yale officials and the school's police department have not responded to CNN's inquiries about the February incident, including the resolution of the purported complaint.

Regarding the May episode, Cooley, in an email Tuesday to grad students, emphasized the importance of inclusivity and invited comments about the matter.

"Incidents like that of last night remind us of the continued work needed to make Yale a truly inclusive place," the dean wrote. "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. An essential part of that effort must be a commitment to mutual respect and an open dialog."

Yale police officers told the white student at the time of this week's incident that Siyonbola "had every right to be there," that the episode "was not a police matter" and that they would report what happened to the graduate school dean, Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins said in a statement.

"I fought to get here," Jean-Louis told CNN in an interview Friday. "I'm not here to qualify my existence. You don't come to the Ivies for that."

February's call to police

The February 24 incident happened, according to Jean-Louis' Facebook post, as he tried to make his way to the 12th-floor common room in the Hall of Graduate Studies. Siyonbola had invited him there for a meeting.

Jean-Louis, a master's-degree student at Yale's Divinity School, says he entered the building and was invited onto the elevator by a white female, whom he later identifies as Braasch.

The elevator can only be operated by a key that building residents are provided with, Jean-Louis told CNN.

Both exited on the 12th floor, where Braasch went her own way, and Jean-Louis, finding himself lost, texted Siyonbola, his post states. Braasch then reappeared, and Jean-Louis asked her for directions to the common room, which she said was the room she'd just exited. She then "blocked the Common Room's door entrance," according to Jean-Louis' post.

Braasch then began "interrogating" Jean-Louis, who said he was "a Yale student lost, but waiting on a friend," his post states.

"The individual then began talking over me and called me an intruder even though I told her I was a lost Yale student waiting on assistance from a friend, hoping to attend a meeting," Jean-Louis' post states. "She continued to verbally assault me from the twelfth floor claiming that I 'didn't belong here' and I was making her 'uncomfortable.'"

Eventually, the post states, Braasch left, and Siyonbola showed up and invited him into the common room, where he recounted what happened before she left to get refreshments.

On her way downstairs, Siyonbola ran into two police officers who said they were responding to a call about a "suspicious character" on the 12th floor, the post states, according to Siyonbola. She told them her friend was on that floor and had just been "verbally attacked" by a resident, who she believed called the cops.

Officers asked Siyonbola to describe her friend. "Black, that's all," she said, according to the Facebook post.

Siyonbola and the officers, who soon were joined by two more officers, confirmed that Jean-Louis was a Yale student whom Siyonbola had invited to the common room, the post states.

Jean-Louis told CNN the officers he spoke to tried to explain to him why the woman may have called police, saying that callers racially profile "all the time." He felt like officers were saying it was normal.

"Wait, I'm supposed to be used to getting racially profiled?" he remembered thinking. "You want me to make this normal because you've normalized it?"

'You don't belong here'

Siyonbola and Jean-Louis in the Facebook post condemn Braasch's actions and tie them to a broad historical context of being black in America, noting that the country isn't so far from a time when lynchings were "weekend entertainment for white Americans."

"Calling the police on a Black student because he is lost in any part of (the Hall of Graduate Studies) and the wider Yale campus is an act of violence," the post states. "Sending four policemen to the Common Room in my resident (hall) because a Black Yale student is lost ... is an act of violence because of the history of state sanctioned executions of faultless Black men, women and children."

Braasch's actions amount to racial profiling, the post states, and her call wasted police resources.

This week, when Siyonbola was questioned by police, Jean-Louis said she immediately called him.

"She actually questioned Sarah," he told CNN, "and said, 'Hey, aren't you the same individual who called the police on my friend earlier this year?'"

"We know it's a problem to drive while black, to walk at night while black," he said. "But damn, I got to worry about sleeping while black?"

After Jean-Louis sent his complaint to Yale administrators regarding his run-in with Braasch in February, he felt the situation was handled well. Three deans -- all of whom identify as black, he said -- reached out to him to be check on him and discuss what happened over the following days.

But he believes Yale has yet to fully address the students that racially profile others.

"There is no accountability," he said.

"This is an issue that, institutionally, Yale's not prepared for," he said. "How are they going to prevent this from happening again?"

Jean-Louis said he wants to see Braasch expelled.

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