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Trinity Students Call For 'Zero Tolerance Policy' On Racist, Homophobic Incidents

Rally prompted by sense of pervasive problems on campus; students of color say they experience repeated examples of racist behaviors

Kathleen Megan

April 27, 2011

About 250 Trinity College students rallied Tuesday, calling for a "zero tolerance policy" on incidents of racist or homophobic behavior.

A series of racial incidents on campus this semester, including a confrontation last week, prompted the rally.

"Today is the day where all of us decide that racism, homophobia and all other kinds of bigotry is more than just 'unbecoming' of a Trinity student," said Brandon Lewis, addressing the crowd outside Mather Hall.

Lewis, a sophomore who is the student government vice president for multicultural affairs, said students and faculty of color do not believe that the reported incidents are "isolated' events, but rather "speak to more ingrained institutionalized issues."

"We are demanding a zero tolerance policy," Lewis said, "against verbal and physical acts of discrimination and bigotry."

PHOTOS: Trinity Student Rally

Other speakers said that students are tired of receiving "touchy-feely" e-mails from administrators, and instead want systematic change to hold individuals accountable.

The crowd included students as well as supportive faculty many describing a climate on campus that allows racist or homophobic acts to continue despite efforts by the administration to stop them.

Frederick Alford, dean of students, said it's "clear evidence that a significant part of this campus is in support of the ideas that were expressed today. We are pleased to see students and members of this community stepping up and speaking out against things they believe are wrong. That's part of what we teach."

Alford said he isn't entirely certain what a "zero tolerance policy" would mean, but he will talk to students to learn more. At present, he said, the campus judicial system evaluates each case on its merits.

Students complained Tuesday that this system often leads to endless e-mails with no clear indication of what happens to offenders. They said zero tolerance would mean that a student who committed a racist or homophobic act would be expelled.

Alford said Monday that charges had been brought against a student involved with the latest reported racist incident, but Tuesday he said he couldn't comment further because the case is in the campus judiciary system.

Juan Hernandez, a sophomore, reported that last Friday about 2:30 a.m. a white student threw a beer at his car, told him to "get off our campus," and called him the "n-word."

At the rally, Hernandez said that the event wasn't so much about his case, but about the recurrence of such problems. Earlier this semester, racial slurs were written on a white board and in a note hung on dormitory doors, and a gay pride "Rainbow" flag was torn down.

Hernandez said the rally made him "very happy ... I know I saw people I didn't know ... Normally, we see the same people all the time, but this was great."

Several students of color said that white students on campus often mistake them for "Hartford locals" a term they said is used in a derogatory way.

When students use the expression, Hernandez said, it means "you're no good, you don't belong here." That's a message he said some students of color have gotten from other students at Trinity.

Alicia Ortiz, a junior and vice president of a campus organization for black women, said she believes there is a "general resentment of African-Americans" on campus. "It may not always be visibly present, but I think everyone can feel it."

After the rally, some students went into an administrative building and talked in a stairwell with a few deans.

Trinity Professor Davarian Baldwin, who attended the rally as a supporter, called it "an amazing first step."

"The reality is these kids are not activists at all," Baldwin said. "They come from pretty much the middle class. They believe in the American Dream. They got here and were confronted with a different reality ... Now they are being pushed into speaking back."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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