University News

Applicant reports experiencing racism, homophobia

Interviewer admits to allegations, is under review by admission office

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2016

High school senior Matt Sarafa posted a video on YouTube Feb. 9 claiming his Brown alumni interviewer used racist and homophobic language during his interview. Sarafa subsequently withdrew his application to the Class of 2020 because of the experience.

In the video, which now has over 62,000 views, Sarafa details his experience interviewing for Brown admission.

He starts off the video explaining why Brown is his “dream school,” adding that he loved the campus and its liberal reputation.

But Sarafa’s interview in Southern California proved to be more than disappointing.

“Before I can even get a word out of my mouth … (the interviewer) says, ‘Just so you know, I don’t want you to be shell shocked if you get into Brown, but they’re not very accepting of your kind there,’” Sarafa said in the video. “The only thing that I could think of is him discriminating against me because I’m gay,” Sarafa said later in the video.

The interviewer told him that the University was not very diverse when he attended, Sarafa said, adding that his interviewer said the students were “very WASP-y,” referring to “white, Anglo-Saxon protestants.”

Sarafa also said in the video that the alum told him, “The only place you will find Orientals in the town surrounding Brown is working in Chinese restaurants and laundromats.”

After finishing the interview, Sarafa said he did not receive a business card or his interviewer’s contact information.

When Sarafa returned home, he emailed the interview coordinator to get the name of his interviewer, he told The Herald. Sarafa said he never received a reply.

Vice President of Alumni Relations Todd Andrews ’83 did not respond to a question in an email from The Herald regarding the name of the interviewer.

The day after his interview, Sarafa told his high school counselor about his negative experience, and his high school contacted the University about the interview.

When Leora Johnson ’01, assistant director of alumni interviewing and admission, responded to Sarafa’s high school counselor,  “It was the most cookie-cutter, copy-and-paste (response),” Sarafa said in the video. “She was trying to sweep (the situation) under the rug and keep me quiet,” he told The Herald.

In an email provided to The Herald by Sarafa, Johnson wrote to Sarafa to apologize for the alum’s behavior. She called the alum’s comments “unacceptable” and said his behavior does not represent “how we instruct or train our interviewers,” pledging to “follow up accordingly.”

“The interview report is actually very positive, mentioning your accomplishments and fit for Brown,” Johnson also wrote.

Still, the email from Johnson did not provide Sarafa closure, he said. “I knew ever since I stepped out of that interview room that I wanted to personally talk to somebody at Brown about this,” he said.

Sarafa emailed Johnson saying he wanted to talk to her over the phone, but he did not receive a response. The next day, he tried to call her but received no reply.

Two days after Sarafa’s original email, Johnson called him to speak about the situation.

When Sarafa asked Johnson about the status of his interviewer, she said the alum had admitted to using homophobic and racist language, Sarafa told The Herald. Though the University is reviewing his status as an interviewer, there is not enough evidence to remove him at this time, Sarafa said Johnson told him.

After his phone call with Johnson, Sarafa immediately withdrew his application from the University.

Upon emailing Johnson Feb. 16, The Herald received an automatic reply stating that she is on parental leave. Dean of Admission Jim Miller ’73 initially agreed to an interview with The Herald but canceled Feb. 16, citing unexpected schedule constraints. When canceling, Miller suggested The Herald speak to Andrews in his stead.

Sarafa, an award-winning advocate for LGBTQ individuals, said he does not want anyone else to have such a negative interview experience. “At one time in my life, I didn’t have a voice,” Sarafa said, adding that he wants to support people in that same position.

The admission office cannot speak about any applicants by name, Andrews wrote. “We were deeply troubled to learn of the experience reported by the high school student interested in attending Brown — an experience that does not reflect in any way the University’s commitment to being a welcoming, diverse and inclusive community,” Andrews wrote.

The admission office will continue to review the interviewer’s status, Andrews wrote. “To my knowledge, this is the first report of an incident of this kind in a decade or more,” he added.

Moving forward, Sarafa hopes his video will provoke an examination of the University’s alumni interview standards.

“I’m over the situation for myself, but I don’t want other people to have to go through these situations,” he said. “I understand that there are people who fall through the cracks, … but Brown isn’t taking responsibility for what happened,” he added.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the alum accused of making homophobic and racist remarks to an applicant is still conducting interviews for the University while under review. In fact, he is not conducting interviews while under review. The Herald regrets the error.