*After nearly seven years of employment at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, Dena Simmons stepped down from her position as the Assistant Director last Tuesday (Jan. 19) citing her experiences with racism in the workplace, reports the Yale Daily News.
The YCEI is a community-based initiative housed within Yale’s Child Study Center, the Department of Child Psychiatry for the School of Medicine and Yale New Haven Hospital. Simmons was tasked with managing client relations and working on a social and emotional learning program called Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating, or RULER.
In an email sent last Tuesday afternoon to the YCEI’s three directors and two YSM faculty members, Simmons announced her decision citing a “hostile work environment” where she “experienced racist and sexist behaviors from [her] colleagues.”
At the time of her resignation, Simmons was on medical leave following a June 2020 Zoom incident that she referred to in her email as “a racist attack at an antiracism town hall at the Child Study Center,” where individuals Zoom-bombed the event and typed slurs directed at her in the chat.
“I am resigning from my position at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence because the assault in June was just one of many indignities I’ve suffered while being Black and female among you,” Simmons wrote in her Tuesday email. “Thus, I am leaving so that I can feel whole, so that I can feel safe, so that I can feel valued. I am leaving because I cannot be or offer you my best while feeling threatened, devalued, and tokenized.”
In an interview with the News, Simmons cited “numerous small attacks [and] microaggressions” that occurred during her employment at the YCEI. Specifically, her resignation email described instances of “unconsented hair-touching” and “constant undermining.”
Sarah Kadden and Karina Medved-Wu, both former YCEI program managers within the last five years, told the News that at work meetings, other attendees consistently talked over and interrupted Simmons. Sarah Free, who is also a former program manager, mentioned that Simmons often had to explain to peers why she was not comfortable with hair touching. The current YCEI employee who requested anonymity said she witnessed people touch Simmons’ hair.
“The Child Study Center, and all of the programs within the Child Study Center, as well as Yale, as well as the School of Medicine, we do not tolerate discrimination and bias,” CSC Director Linda Mayes said. “And we really work very hard to create an environment in which everyone in that environment feels safe and so that they can thrive and they can reach their fullest potential.”