A Black graduate student fell asleep in the common area of her dormitory. She awoke to a racially charged encounter, but invoked a promise she made to herself after seeing what happened to motorist Sandra Bland years before in a Texas traffic stop.
Last Tuesday, Lolade Siyonbola decided to take a nap in the Hall of Graduate Studies’ common room at Yale University. The graduate student in African Studies woke up when another graduate student, Sarah Braasch, walked in, turned on the light, and announced her intention to call police, noting that the common room was not for sleeping.
Siyonbola went to Braasch’s room and began recording her, wondering why she had to call police. Once the police arrived, they had to prove Siyonbola’s identity. She opened her own dorm room and presented her identification, but Yale campus police interrogated her for over fifteen minutes, a process that was delayed because her name is spelled differently on her identification than in the official school database. However, Yale has a policy that students can place their preferred name on their card.
Siyonbola waited patiently while the officers questioned her, telling them that she “pays tuition like every other student,” and indicating that “my ancestors built this university.” She posted to Facebook live, her video of the initial interaction between Siyonbola and Braasch and of the police interrogation.
The video went viral, further reigniting conversations of race in America, particularly the harassment that African Americans face in public spaces at the hands of white people. As the Washington Post reports, napping is now added to the growing list of unacceptable behaviors for African-Americans, which includes celebrating your graduation while Black, living in an Air BnB while Black, sitting in Starbucks while Black, having a barbeque while Black, and asking for Waffle House’s corporate number while Black, among many other innocuous activities that seemingly threaten white fragility.
Invoking ancestral memory for survival
Siyonbola, a 34-year-old Black woman, is the founder of the Yoruba Cultural Institute and the Nollywood Diaspora Film Series, where she served as editor of Arts & Culture then took on the role of Editor in Chief of Applause Africa magazine according to the departmental profile Yale posted of her online.
Braasch is a 43-year-old white woman studying for a doctorate in philosophy. She is an international human rights lawyer, with a focus on women’s sexual and reproductive rights. She has a history of controversial views on race, including her support of slavery, her rejection of hate crimes legislation, and her commentary on racism being “silly.”
Braasch allegedly has a history of calling the police on Black students, dating back at least two years, according to Reneson Jean-Louis. She called the police on him, another Black Yale graduate student, when he asked her for directions in February. He and Siyonbola filed a complaint against Braasch in March.
In an interview with ABC News on Monday, Siyonbola said she posted the video for her safety: “I have always said to myself since Sandra Bland was killed. I said to myself if I ever have an encounter with police I’ll film myself.” To date, her video has been viewed 1.5 million times.