For Your Society

Napping While Black (and Other Transgressions)

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Napping. Add that to the list of activities — driving, walking, laughing, waiting for someone in Starbucks, checking out of an Airbnb — that put you at risk of being interrogated by the police if you are black.

Early Tuesday morning, Lolade Siyonbola, a graduate student at Yale, fell asleep in her dorm’s common room, where she’d been working on a paper. At around 1:30 a.m. she was awakened when a white student turned on the lights and said, according to Ms. Siyonbola: “Is there someone in here? Is there someone sleeping in here? You’re not supposed to be here.” The student, Sarah Braasch, then called the campus police.

“You’re in a Yale building and we need to make sure that you belong here,” one of the officers said to Ms. Siyonbola, in a 15-minute exchange she videotaped and posted to Facebook.

After Ms. Siyonbola used her key to open the door to her room, the police still doubted that she belonged there and asked to see her ID.

At that point, she said: “I deserve to be here; I paid tuition like everybody else; I am not going to justify my existence here.” You can watch the whole back-and-forth here.

In an email to students, the university called the incident “deeply troubling.

Also troubling: Last week Thomas Kanewakeron Gray and Lloyd Skanahwati Gray, Native American brothers who drove seven hours to tour Colorado State University, had their visit cut short after a parent on the tour called 911. She told the dispatcher the two teenagers were “creepy” and “they stand out.” She also said they “made me feel sick” and were “real quiet.”

The message here is clear: Black and brown people seem out of place to some people when they encounter them in institutions of higher learning. Never mind that Ms. Siyonbola is earning a master’s degree in African studies, that she founded the Yoruba Cultural Institute in Brooklyn and that she is the author of a book about African history and diaspora migration. To her fellow student, she seemed like an interloper.

I know what that feels like.

When I was 18, I moved to Italy to attend an American liberal arts college. I hadn’t been the best high school student, and I imagined it would be difficult to learn a new language — it was — but I fell in love with school and I excelled in most of my courses.

I was thrilled to


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