Students and professors concerned about pervasive racism; seeking stronger administrative response
April 26, 2011
A racial incident at Trinity College last week has outraged students, faculty and the administration, and students plan a protest rally Tuesday at noon.
Juan Hernandez, a sophomore from Chicago, said he was dropping off a friend at a dormitory about 2:30 a.m. Friday when a white male threw a beer at Hernandez's car.
Hernandez said he got out of his car and said, "Are you serious?" Hernandez said the man yelled "Get off our campus." Hernandez responded, "I'm a student here, idiot." He said the man replied, "Sure you are" and used the "n-word."
"I ask him, 'So you're going to be racist?'" Hernandez said. The man responded, "Hell yeah," Hernandez said.
Hernandez e-mailed an account of the incident to top administrators at the college, who are taking it seriously. In his e-mail, Hernandez said, "Somebody needs to pay for the damage that they have caused me and other minority students on campus. … I am very tired of these incidents going unpunished."
It is the third racially motivated incident reported on campus this semester. Frederick Alford, dean of students, said Monday that he knows of two other incidents in which racial slurs were made, in one case written a white board, and in another, on note paper.
"We are all dismayed by it," Alford said. "The faculty are redoubling their efforts to look at what can be done within the curriculum and within … classrooms to address these issues."
Although efforts have been made, Alford said, "Unfortunately it seems that the problem persists."
Alford said there have been charges brought against a student associated with the incident involving Hernandez, but would not provide details.
"One of the very horrible aspects of these things," Alford said, "is that it makes a group of very valued students feel that they are not welcome on campus."
David Cruz-Uribe, a professor of mathematics, said, "We simply cannot tolerate this kind of behavior."
"Students tell us that incidents happen all the time, but they very rarely get reported," Cruz-Uribe said.
Cruz-Uribe was one of more than 150 faculty members who signed a letter that said that for many students of color, "their experience is that racial bigotry and racism are pervasive."
The letter went on to say that similar sentiments are shared by "many women on campus and by many gay and lesbian students" who feel that "acts of sexual violence, misogyny and homophobia/heterosexism are routinely dismissed."
College President James F. Jones, in a letter to the college community, recalled his childhood in the "segregated South."
"I joined with classmates at the University of Virginia in the mid-1960's to dismantle what we hoped would be the last vestiges of discrimination," Jones wrote. "So to see that regressive attitudes based on race, sex or sexual identity persist more than forty years later at Trinity leaves me confused and dismayed."
Professor Pablo Delano, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, said professors of color have students of color confide in them about racial incidents that they haven't reported. "They suck it up and move on," Delano said. "They see it as the price of attending a place like Trinity."
Delano said it's important to acknowledge that "the administration's heart is in the right place."
But, he said, a "broader, more holistic" approach is needed. "What is it about Trinity's student culture," he asked, "that enables this kind of behavior to go on and on despite sincere attempts to combat it?"
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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