Lolade Siyonbola, a black graduate student at Yale University, had been writing a paper in her dorm’s common room when she dozed off. She awoke to a white schoolmate threatening to call the police if she didn’t leave.
Siyonbola, a 34-year-old African studies student, broadcast part of what happened next in two Facebook Live videos around 2 a.m. Tuesday. The first video shows her confronting the white student who ordered her to get out.
“I have every right to call the police,” the student, identified by Siyonbola as philosophy P.hD candidate Sarah Braasch, is heard saying in the video. “You cannot sleep in that room.”
Minutes later, two police officers arrive to begin what would turn into a 17-minute interrogation of Siyonbola, which she captured in her second video.
“I was sleeping in the common room and [Braasch] comes in and turns the lights on and was like, ‘Why are you sleeping here? You’re not supposed to be sleeping here. I’m going to call the police,’” Siyonbola told the officers.
Siyonbola told police the woman had called the cops on a friend a few months earlier, “because he was in the stairwell and he was black.”
Police asked Siyonbola to prove she lived in the building, so she showed the officers to her room and unlocked the door. Police said they needed more proof.
“I really don’t know if there’s a justification for you even actually being in the building,” Siyonbola told officers before reluctantly showing them her student ID.
“I deserve to be here,” she can be heard saying as she waited for police to verify her ID. “I pay tuition like everybody else. I’m not going to justify my existence here.”
After two more officers arrived and Siyonbola’s ID was verified ― her name was apparently misspelled in the student database ― police permitted her to leave.
Braasch did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Siyonbola’s recordings of the incident sparked outrage on social media, with thousands sharing and commenting on the videos. The controversy adds to recent national news stories of white people calling the police to report innocuous encounters with black people.
“This is so infuriating!” one person commented. “I’m so sorry you had to deal with this but you handled it better than I would’ve. She should have been arrested for making a call like that.”
Siyonbola, who did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment, wrote on Facebook Tuesday that she was “grateful for all the love, kind words and prayers.”
“Black Yale community is beyond incredible and is taking good care of me,
Siyonbola wrote. “I know this incident is a drop in the bucket of trauma Black folk have endured since Day 1 America, and you all have stories.”
Yale officials addressed the incident in emails to students this week.
“I am deeply troubled by an incident that took place Monday night in the Hall of Graduate Studies,” Kim Goff-Crews, Yale’s vice president for student life, wrote. “One graduate student called the police to report another student in the common area, who had every right to be there.”
She continued: “All of us in senior leadership recognize that incidents such as this one are being framed within a difficult national context. I want to underscore our commitment to carry out our mission as a university in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni, where all are respected.”
Other recent encounters involving police summoned by white people to respond to complaints about people of color include a white woman who this month reported a group of black women who had rented an Airbnb near San Bernardino, California. Last month, two black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia while they waited for a friend to arrive.
UPDATE: 4:00 p.m. — Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins issued a statement Thursday appearing to confirm Siyonbola’s account of the incident.
The responding officers “informed the caller that the student who had been in the common room was an authorized resident who had every right to be there,” according to the statement. “They also explained that this was not a police matter and were reporting the incident to the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.”
Read Higgins’ full statement below:
Yale Police responded to a call in the early hours of Tuesday, May 8 at 1:40 a.m. The caller reported that she was a student at the Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS) and said that there was a woman sleeping in the common room on the 12 floor, and that she did not know who the person was. Three police officers responded to HGS around 1:45 a.m., where the caller met them at the entrance and showed them her ID. She then let them up in the elevator, which stopped at the fifth floor where another student appeared.
At this point, the caller pointed to the other student and said, “This is her.” Protocol is for police to separate the parties involved, so two officers stayed with the woman on the fifth floor and the investigating officer went with the caller to the 12th floor.
The investigating officer spent over 11 minutes initially with the caller to assess the situation, while the other two officers spent about 15 minutes with the other woman to assess the situation and to confirm her identity. After reviewing the scene in the 12 floor common room and seeing a computer, books, and notebooks in addition to a blanket and pillow on the couch, the investigating officer determined that the person who had been sleeping in the common room was likely a student, so the officer asked the caller to wait in her room on the 12 floor.
The investigating officer reported what she found to the other two officers on the fifth floor and to a supervisor who had arrived to assess the situation and determine whether assistance was needed. The officers were having a difficult time confirming the other student’s identification due to the use of the student’s preferred name in the system that was different from the official name on the ID. The supervisor worked with dispatch and security to clear up the matter, taking down the student’s information and giving her a case number. The assessment of the ID took about 15 minutes, which is longer than usual.
At that point, the investigating officer, with her supervisor, went to the 12 floor, where they spoke to the caller again for another seven minutes. Another officer also followed. They informed the caller that the student who had been in the common room was an authorized resident who had every right to be there. They also explained that this was not a police matter and were reporting the incident to the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Officers left HGS Studies at about 2:34 a.m.