In response to an April 7 incident in which an employee at the Graduate Center Bar told Okezie Okoro ’22 to leave the premises following a disagreement with an employee, the GCB announced updates to its diversity and inclusion policies, including the addition of bar cameras, the implementation of de-escalation training and an update of harassment and bar removal policies.
The changes were announced April 27 following a meeting between Okoro, bar managers and Sylvia Carey-Butler, vice president for institutional equity and diversity.
On April 13, Okoro shared a document on his Instagram account in which he recounted being asked to leave the GCB the week before. Shortly after, he announced a student boycott of the GCB in response to the incident, along with a list of demands from bar staff including an apology to students involved and improvements to the GCB’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
According to the document, Okoro and a friend were play fighting in a non-physical manner while waiting to enter the bar. In response, an employee working at the entrance approached them in line and loudly told them to stop, prompting Okoro to attempt to explain that they were not actually fighting, the document outlined.
After Okoro and his friends entered the bar, Okoro returned to the entrance to explain to the employee in a “calm and respectful manner” what happened and his discontent with how the employee treated them, Okoro wrote. According to the document, the employee then told Okoro and his friends to leave the bar.
Okoro decided to initiate the boycott shortly after the incident occured, he said in an interview with The Herald.
In an email to The Herald, Patrick Cull, assistant manager of the GCB, noted that the employee loudly asked Okoro and his friend to stop after noticing commotion in the line. “When there are anywhere from 20 to 120 people and only two to five staff members” at the bar, the staff tries to “make sure we’re both firm and loud,” Cull wrote.
When Okoro returned to the entrance to speak with the employee, the employee became frustrated that Okoro did not understand how play fighting could be an issue, Cull wrote, adding that “one stray elbow or a slapped away fist can hurt someone.”
“The conversation continued, with neither side agreeing on the situation,” Cull wrote, adding that Okoro was “ultimately asked to leave.”
Okoro was initially unsure whether he should share his story publicly, he said.
Before Okoro announced the boycott, his friends emailed bar management on his behalf, but found that they dismissed “the serious nature of the situation,” according to the document.
“We decided that if we wanted to have any impactful change, we had to have a boycott,” Okoro said.
Okoro added that the original Instagram post announcing the boycott, which he has now deleted, was shared more than 700 times, reaching over 5,800 accounts. Information surrounding the boycott was also shared on Dear Blueno and Sidechat, social media platforms popular with the student body.
After his initial post, Okoro noted that comments on Sidechat and Dear Blueno questioned why Okoro thought race played a role in the incident’s escalation.
“It’s very seldom that you’re going to see outward projections of racism” at the University, Okoro explained. He said that the racism he experienced at the GCB was “implicit.”
The urgency with which he and his friend — both of whom are Black — were reprimanded suggests that implicit bias influenced the incident, Okoro explained. “The thought that these two Black guys were fighting in the first place obviously has some racial aspect to it,” he added.
Okoro also noted that when he attempted to enter the bar, the employee assumed that he was a guest rather than a member of the GCB. The employee said, “‘Well, you have to be a member,’ without giving me the opportunity to pull my (membership card) out,” Okoro said.
According to Cull, bar management contacted the University to request a mediator for a meeting between Okoro and the GCB — a role which Carey-Butler offered to fill. In an email to The Herald, Carey-Butler wrote that she attended an April 23 meeting between the two parties to “bring a neutral perspective” to the conversation. During mediation, the two parties discussed the incident and the demands Okoro listed in his document, she added.
“Both the students and the GCB approached the meeting with an open mind and really listened to each other,” Carey-Butler wrote, adding that both parties left the meeting “feeling heard.”
On April 27, Okoro posted an apology he received from bar management to his Instagram page, which outlined specific ways the GCB plans to update its diversity and inclusion policies. According to the post, the GCB wrote that it regrets its “handling of the situation,” adding that it should have better communicated and engaged in conversation with Okoro “during and after the event.”
“The GCB is a space that serves the Brown community, values diversity and inclusion and continuously strives to be a safe space for all patrons,” the apology read.
In the apology, bar management also announced that the GCB would implement “de-escalation training for employees,” updates to policies surrounding “harassment, staff incidents and bar removal” and the “addition of bar cameras to improve guest and staff safety.”
In an email to The Herald, Cull wrote that he and Susan Yund, manager of the GCB, are sorry for the “pain and worry” the incident caused Okoro and those who witnessed it. He added that for 25 years the GCB has provided the campus a “proudly queer, diverse and safe” space, but that maintaining this comes with challenges. He added that the GCB was glad to have both parties involved in a conversation about the incident.
“We’re working with Okezie, (Carey-Butler) and our staff to update and change multiple policies and provide additional resources (and) training to our team,” Cull wrote.
Cull explained that Okoro’s dismissal from the bar was not racially biased, but he acknowledged that the GCB’s “policy around asking guests to leave is in need of updating.”
“We want guests to know they can always talk to management if there's a disagreement, and that if we can’t agree, there are resources for us to take the conversation further,” Cull wrote.
In a second interview with The Herald following the April 23 meeting, Okoro said that sitting down with bar management allowed him to better convey his experiences. He added that both parties wanted to move forward from the boycott and develop ways to improve bar policies.
“Ultimately, when you have a boycott,” Okoro said, “you want to make sure that it is restorative.”
Kaitlyn Torres is the senior editor of community for The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. She previously covered diversity as a University News section editor. In her free time, Kaitlyn enjoys listening to The Arctic Monkeys and going on archaeological digs.