“We’re Here/We’re Queer/We’re Fabulous/Don’t Fuck with Us” was a chant heard on the Trinity College quad Tuesday afternoon. A few hundred students, faculty, and staff wearing neon green ribbons gathered in front of Mather Hall at noon to demand a Zero Tolerance policy for those committing acts of bigotry on campus. This protest was called in response to a series of hate crimes on the Trinity College campus. Most recently, a Latino Trinity student, according to a report in the Hartford Courant, was told to get off the campus by a white student. The Latino student was reportedly called a “nigger” after having a beer launched at his car. This was noted as the third reported racist incident on campus in approximately one month.
At Tuesday’s protest, a number of students held signs and wore name tags announcing who they were, that they were students, and that they were not to be referred to by various hate slurs. Before marching to the Dean of Students’ office and other locations on campus, several students and a professor spoke to the crowd. The professor said “we demand to live in a culture that is civilized.” A student speaker called for the isolation of those who commit hate crimes, explaining, “they divide our community [...] they create an environment of fear.” Though recent incidents have been racially-based, current students and alumni have indicated that the atmosphere is also anti-gay and anti-female. Another speaker said that “racism, homophobia, and all other forms of bigotry” are “unbecoming to a Trinity student,” and that students would no longer accept what she called “slaps on wrist” punishment from the administration.
While at the college, I noted the irony. I, a member of the community, who has never been a Trinity student or faculty member, rode my bicycle onto campus and received not so much as a raised eyebrow. I rode past a group of female students who were lamenting that the campus is not gated, but the remark was not directed at me. Nobody threw a beer can at me. Nobody called me names. Nobody told me to leave, let alone ask what I was doing there. I had no media identification on me and there was nothing about my presence (bookbag, gradebook, ID) that would have led someone to believe I actually belonged there. Yet there is a clear anti-Hartford attitude among many of the students. One need not listen too hard or read too many comments on articles to see how the neighborhood around the college is regarded; I am a member of that feared community, and yet because of my appearance, I was able to bike and walk around without hassle. This has been the case each time I have appeared on that campus.
Today’s newspaper article alludes to several other incidents that have occurred on that campus; the conclusion one should not reach is that Trinity College is an island of racism: the students who are lashing out are mere byproducts of a larger hate-filled society. Another article from today indicates a sharp increase in discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC. Here’s a thought: tie the two stories together. The people today throwing objects at others who are seen as outsiders will be those causing problems in the workforce tomorrow, if their actions and attitudes are allowed to go unchecked. It needs to be said that the students causing problems at Trinity College (and at various colleges across the nation) do not magically turn into bigots when they step onto campus; such belief systems develop throughout their lifetimes. Whether they are allowed to continue on that path can largely be determined by the environment fostered on campuses, in the workplace, and elsewhere in society. When individuals committing offensive acts receive severe repercussions — like expulsion or job loss –such behaviors will change.
While these recent reported crimes and incidents occurred on the Trinity College campus, such offensive behavior permeates our society. Yesterday afternoon, I was witness to a young male standing in front of the Hartford Public Library, yelling at another male: “that’s why you’re HIV positive.” It was loud enough for everyone on that block to hear.
Today, students in the public schools are bullied based on (real or perceived) race, ethnicity, sexuality, and academic achievement. Repeatedly, I hear from parents that the schools’ administrations do nothing substantial to punish offenders nor to change the climate of the school so that future incidents do not occur.
Walk by teenagers or young adults and you will likely hear words like “faggot” and “retard” used incessantly. Even adults who have reached the age of “should definitely know better” weave such words into their everyday language. There are some who, on the radio, have referred to Mayor Segarra using the term pato, and others who attempt to make an issue out of his sexuality for political gain. If grown adults are modeling these behaviors, is it any wonder when youth begin to replicate them?
From a few years back, you might recall some UConn law students taking part in a “Bullets and Bubbly” party which consisted of participants dressing according to racial stereotypes. Future lawyers.
No, this is not a problem contained on the Trinity campus; it’s everywhere and it is intolerable.
Note: I debated with myself for hours whether to abbreviate the hateful slurs or whether to spell them out, as they have been used. They are ugly words and I think that by dancing around what exactly is being used to hurt others, we are actually distancing ourselves from just how harmful and hateful they happen to be. I do not like them up on my blog and I hope never to have occasion to publish them here again.
UPDATE 5:21pm: The Dean of Students at Trinity College issued an email about ten minutes ago that states the following:
The Dean of Students Office and the SGA have agreed to work through the Campus Climate Committee to create a new policy on bias-related harassment that is more explicit in conveying that the College community does not tolerate such acts and that individuals who are found by the College judicial process to have committed targeted acts of harassment based on race, sexual identity, gender, or other forms of bias will face serious consequences up to and including expulsion from the College.We invite all members of the community to contact Leslie James, Vice President of Multicultural Affairs Council (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Chaplain Read, Co-Chair of the Campus Climate Committee (email@example.com) with ideas, sample policies from other institutions, or any other suggestions.