A Racist Message Forces Discussion Of Campus Polarization
November 3, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB and ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writers
Trinity College sophomore Shantell Scott was stunned Saturday morning to find a racial slur scrawled on her message board outside her room in Elton Hall.
Thursday evening, about 150 students and faculty marched with her from Gallows Hall to the dining room in Mather Hall to confront what they see as an entrenched racism on campus.
Scott thinks "a drunkard" who doesn't know her wrote the slur after seeing her picture on her door. Still, she thinks the use of the racist term reflects a broad disdain for people of color on campus.
"It goes to the mindset of this campus," she said, three African American friends standing close and agreeing with her assessment. "Colored students don't go to the frat parties, and when you look in the classrooms, you see the black students sit together and the white students sit together."
So Thursday, the large group of minority students and a handful of white students assembled by Scott's friends took a step toward unifying the campus: they desegregated the dining room at Mather Hall. Generally, both black and white students said, white students sit on one side of the hall and students of color sit together on the other side.
When the demonstrators poured into the dining hall just before 6 p.m., they fanned out to sit with their peers of different races and ethnicities and introduced themselves in an effort to make new acquaintances.
Scott is from South Carolina and said she never had experienced racism until she got to Trinity. "No one ever called me a derogatory name at home," she said.
Earlier in the day, Trinity President James F. Jones Jr. sent an e-mail around campus pledging to try to identify the person who wrote the slur and denouncing the incident as "small-minded and cowardly."
In his note, Jones said officials at the private college hope to find out who scrawled the epithet on Scott's message board.
"It is hard to imagine what would move someone to commit an act so senseless and cruel," Jones wrote. "Whether it was hatred and bigotry, a mean-spirited and ill-formed sense of humor, or both, it leaves me and everyone with whom I have spoken about this heartsick and angry.
"While we would like to believe that this kind of incident occurs only rarely, here at Trinity - as at colleges and universities across the country - incivility is all too common."
If the person who wrote the slur is identified, he or she would be subject to disciplinary action after review by the dean of students and a student judicial board, said Rama Sudhakar, a Trinity spokeswoman.
Sudhakar said the incident is expected to be discussed at a series of meetings starting this week on diversity and campus social issues. The meetings had been scheduled prior to last week's incident, she said.
In his letter, Jones said, "although we are better than these small-minded and cowardly behaviors, such actions challenge our determination to be an inclusive and accepting community."
Scott's friends were disappointed that Jones didn't join them in their demonstration. "It shouldn't just be an e-mail sent. E-mail is so impersonal and it was from the president's secretary," said junior Cagney JeanBaptiste. "I think the president should come out of his office and address this in an assembly."
Courtney Drakes, a sophomore who grew up in Hartford, said she was shocked to find an undertone of racism on campus. "This is an anomaly in this city. A lot of times I question why I'm here. But I'm here for an education."
After the demonstrators sat down throughout the dining hall, a group of professors dimmed the lights to quiet the group and delivered short but impassioned speeches encouraging all students to speak out against racism, homophobia and any other forms of intolerance that they encounter.
"It's one thing to have freedom of expression," said Luis Figueroa, associate professor of history, "It's another thing to have a climate of fear."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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