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.

  • Hecuba

    Either Brown is as bad as it is thought to be, or it is just dumb. This kind of budt covering language is just embarrassing. Brown University is always doing the wrong things.

    • ’16

      Nice generalization there. You sound as prejudiced as the accused interviewer.

  • Kau Leck

    If I had tried to interview him, I would not have been able to get a word in. Trust me, kid. You do have a voice.

  • EALBR
  • Rennet

    Damn Brown.

  • disqus_y7rpUZlZaN

    Translation – this guys gives too much to Brown so we’re not sure we can really dump him gracefully? and “To my knowledge, this is the first report of an incident of this kind in a decade or more,”. So it’s happened before?

    • Guest

      I read it as the first report of an incident like this about ANY interviewer in a decade or more, not specifically this guy. I could be wrong though.

  • Where is the editor?

    Major problem with the 5th paragraph? It’s nonsense

  • Alum

    I have a hard time believing that creating this video wasn’t motivated by increasing his public visibility and YouTube viewership for his make-up tutorials (and in turn profits) by dragging Brown through the mud. Anyone with a lizard brain and Google can figure out that the octogenarian Matthew interviewed with has no idea about present-day Brown. Or that alumni interviewers are volunteers and not hired nor paid. But who is this octogenarian? Oh, Matthew never got his name! (Who goes to an interview without getting the name and contact info of their interviewer, so you know, you can thank them later and ask any follow up questions?) So we have to believe he was so traumatized that he gave up on his supposed dream school and withdrew his application after this conversation with an unnamed and unknown octogenarian interviewer? So upset that he just had no alternative than to film, edit, and post a 15 minute video recounting the affair on his YouTube channel (and promote a free $10 giftcard)? So injured that the Alumni Interview coordinators couldn’t fire this volunteer? So failed by the entirety of Brown that the focus and title of his video is “BROWN UNIVERSITY: RACIST & HOMOPHOBIC INTERVIEW” rather than about an octogenarian interviewer whose name he never had the motivation to get?

    So who is this Matthew? He competed on Project Runway, Jr. and currently does make-up tutorials on YouTube with affiliate marketing. He attends the kind of private school in LA that Brown and every other Ivy sends representatives to recruit seniors to apply, where when interviewing you’d likely get told that these are alumni volunteers and their names. Who, in his ever-ending generosity, he waited a full day for responses from volunteer coordinators before believing Brown had it in for him. I guess that sort of patience comes with attending Vista Mar for $35,000 a year? Or does that come from living in a $12,000,000 house in Manhattan Beach?

    Matthew, you were correct about one thing: every story has many sides, and I think yours and the medium through you chose to share is completely self-serving.

    http://www.vistamarschool.org/page/News-Detail?pk=675371&fromId=194737
    http://www.city-data.com/los-angeles-county/H/Highview-Avenue-9.html
    http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/821-Highview-Ave-Manhattan-Beach-CA-90266/20417443_zpid/
    https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2245&dat=20060811&id=TPglAAAAIBAJ&sjid=M_0FAAAAIBAJ&pg=6733,4496480&hl=en

    • Alum ’97

      This is some resourceful Googling work, (something the BDH should have done). Alumn, if you haven’t already, pasting your comment under the YouTube video would give viewers a bit more background and shed light on this self-promoter’s possibly dubious motivations.

      • Alum

        Thank you. I decided against doing so because my real issue is more with the BDH in their consistent lack of any actual journalistic research before running stories. They, like many in the news biz today, just copy/paste without thinking or questioning. This level of complacency on their end results in sloppy journalism at its most benign, and worse, the ability of opportunists like I believe Matthew Sarafa to be, to manipulate media sources for profit.

        I can’t help but think had the superficial surface story of the video not been so well aligned with the typical SJW agenda so popular with the vocal students at Brown, if this story would have run in the form it had, or at all. And to me this is symptom of the rampant problem of people only seeking that which they already agree with: “facts”, articles, sources, publications, friends, etc. When we do this, we blind ourselves with bias from ever looking deeper into the issues

        I avoided posting on YouTube because (1) it’s notoriously a terrible place for conversation, (2) most people seeing it on YouTube are fans of his and I don’t think I can persuade them as much as I try, (3) nor do I really want to completely embarrass the HS senior in his own “turf.” We can’t doggedly chase down every person that wants to lazily besmirch Brown for gain, but at least we should be more thoughtful in our own press (I would hope).

  • Special K

    We’re told that the written report of the interview included only positive references to t he applicant. It is plausible that in calling to the interviewee’s attention possible unpleasant scenarios at Brown, the interviewer was simply making an effort to provide information pertinent to the interviewee’s decision re accepting/rejecting a possible offer of admission from Brown. Quien sabe?

  • ’16

    Let’s break this down:

    – interviewer says Brown was WASPy: outdated comment but not really offensive
    – interviewer makes comments about Asians not being prevalent in the community around Brown: uses improper term for this minority group but not exactly racist, while the observation is both outdated and racist
    – interviewee makes assumption, with no proof, that interviewer is putting down former’s sexual orientation
    – interviewee does not get desired answer in the time frame he wants from admissions office

    … Therefore he posts his issue in a very public forum.

    I agree Brown should review its alumni interviewing training and standards. But to assume as Sarafa does that there is a broader problem beyond this one interviewer, and splashing a negative video post that condemns the university as a whole (e.g. by posting with the university name prominently displayed and using the school color), he also is being a bit prejudicial.

    I question the integrity and accuracy of Sarafa and his accounts.

    • Rocklobstah

      Someone as savvy as a well known YouTube personality might have stopped for a reality check to confirm exactly what the interviewer’s points were so as to confirm whether Sarafa’s negative conclusions were as grounded as he thinks they are.

  • another alum

    Alex Skidmore, and the rest of the BDH:

    I’m shocked you’d print this article as it stands now and help Matt Sarafa in this media manipulation. Had you taken the 15 minutes to watch the video, he states his own failings through the process and misunderstandings (as ’16 and Alum point out) but omit in your own reporting, yet you decide to run with this kicker: ” ‘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.”

  • Aaron Al

    Thank you for writing this article. But maybe you should change the title of the article because it makes one think that the applicant is Asian, since it reads “…experiencing racism….” The article also does not specify the applicant’s race, so it also makes one think that he is Asian. Please make this article clearer if you can!

  • hmmm …

    Sarafa’s story does not square with my experience of Brown’s alumni interviewing process: All the Brown alumni interviews I’ve ever known about are conducted by the alumni being given the applicant’s contact info, and then contacting the applicant by email or phone and setting up a time and place to meet for the interview. So all the students I’ve known who have had a Brown alumni interview would have had the name and contact info of their interviewer IN ADVANCE of the interview. Does anyone know first hand of a process like Sarafa describes with Brown alumni interviews being organized like casting calls where students are grouped in a room and then called out one by one to be interviewed?

    • student student

      It might be set up like that for larger regions. I’m from Long Island and the way my interview was set up there were multiple applicants from Long Island and bunch of alumni from the NYC/LI area and we’d just wait to be called.

      • Alumnus

        I was once asked to partake an in “interview day” where the coordinators would arrange everything for me and I would just show up and interview kids one after the other. Normally my interviews are as you describe hmmm where I receive a list of names and I contact them myself to arrange everything mutually.

  • CJAS

    Leora Johnson, Assistant Director of Alumni Interviewing and Admissions: “[T]he alum had admitted to using homophobic and racist language.”

    • m22

      well, that’s what the applicant claims this person said

    • kizmet paradigm

      Grad alum? Sounds like a Gender and sexuality student where hetero whites are the descriminators and oppressors! Anti white straight prejudice on display!

  • kizmet paradigm

    The racist stereotyping was against white people assuming they would not like you if you were gay or a minority! The vast majority of hate crimes against lgbt is not by whites and doesn’t occur in the suburbs!