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Following slur incident, UConn students demand speech codes, mandatory hate crime course, new black hires

Group even wants to punish private speech

A black student organization at the University of Connecticut is demanding harsh new speech controls and diversity policies after a racial incident on campus sent the university into turmoil. A student government representative, meanwhile, told The College Fix the campus is rife with bigotry and racism and that the school does little to combat it.

The university has been in turmoil in recent days after a video was posted to social media depicting three students walking through a school parking lot, two of them shouting the word “nigger” repeatedly. Those students were later arrested on charges of “ridicule” involving racist speech.

Following the incident, UConn’s student chapter of the NAACP released a set of demands targeted at the university. The demands include that the university issue a public statement condemning acts of racism on campus, that it institute a “large cluster hire of Black administration, faculty, staff and police officers,” and that the school implement a required first-year course that addresses diversity, racism and hate crimes.

The students are also calling on the university to consult with the group to create specific guidelines and consequences in its student code of conduct for “hate speech,” including punishments for “racism/hate speech directed at individuals in public and/or private areas.”

The student group also targeted the campus’s Delta Epsilon Psi fraternity. Student activists have alleged that a racist incident took place there earlier this month. The NAACP chapter demanded that the fraternity “issue a public apology to the victim of racial discrimination harassment that occurred at their fraternity party,” and that the frat be “thoroughly investigated and evaluated” for the incident.

An email sent to the group via an address listed on the school’s website was kicked back as undeliverable Wednesday evening. A phone number on that website routed to the school’s African American Cultural Center. A message left there Wednesday evening was not immediately returned.

The College Fix then reached out to the group via Facebook message. The Fix asked how the group defines “hate speech,” what consequences it seeks for instances of such speech, and if, and how, it will take care to ensure that such rules are in line with constitutional precedent on free speech. “[W]ould love to help but if your deadline is tonight, that’s too short of a notice and demands,” the group responded.

Culture of disrespect, racism, student argues

The video touched off student protests and demands that the university address an alleged climate of prejudice and racism on its campus.

Student government representative Avolyn Nieves told local news station WTNH that she wants the university to “stand behind black students” and impose the “proper consequences” on students who “commit any race related biases or anything of that nature.”

Nieves opened up at length about the “exhausting” racial status quo at UConn in a Wednesday email to The Fix.

Black students are “constantly disrespected, both implicitly and explicitly” on campus, said Nieves, academic affairs chair of the Undergraduate Student Government. She stressed she was not speaking on behalf of the organization.

She referenced a campus appearance two years ago of controversial Gateway Pundit correspondent Lucian Wintrich. Nieves provided other examples, including professors “calling on the only Black person in the class to speak on topics regarding slavery, racism, etc. as if the one Black student is a spokesperson for the whole Black community.” She also referenced “White students shouting the N word, or dressing up in ICE uniforms and ponchos/sombreros to mock Mexican students on Halloween.”

Nieves said that the school “needs to do so much more, and actually show that they care about Black students and ‘diverse students’, and not just say that they do.” She cited the school’s “painfully slow response” to the recent racial slur incident, claiming the university “did not even address the racist incident until an entire week later and did not directly address the specific incident that sparked outrage.”

Nieves also mentioned a controversy earlier this month when the school newspaper The Daily Campus ran a headline quoting a local town manager; the headline read: “I hate black people.” That headline generated pushback from students on campus; the newspaper later apologized for running it.

Nieves said the student government “support[s] the NAACP and their demands and will help in any way possible to make sure [its] demands are met.”

‘No exception for hateful speech’

Addressing the specter of a public university’s arresting students for offensive speech, one campus watchdog group bluntly stated that the arrest of the two students for shouting racist slurs violated the United States Constitution.

“The use of racially-derogatory language — without more — is protected by the First Amendment,” the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said in a statement on its website.

The organization said that the statute under which the students were arrested, one that forbids “ridicul[e]…on account of race,” dates back to 1917 and was “intended to address advertisements for businesses, not every use of derogatory language.” The statute is “plainly unconstitutional,” the group argues.

“However offensive their language, the students did not direct it at anyone in particular or take physical action. If ‘ridicule’ on the basis of a wide array of classes is alone enough to sustain fines, arrest, and incarceration, a significant range of speech, commentary, and artistic expression could be criminalized at the discretion of police and prosecutors,” FIRE continued.

President ‘grateful’ for arrest of students

Responding to the controversy, the school’s president, Thomas Katsouleas, released a statement reading: “It is supportive of our core values to pursue accountability, through due process, for an egregious assault on our community that has caused considerable harm. I’m grateful for the university’s collective effort in responding to this incident, especially the hard work of the UConn Police Department, which has been investigating the case since it was reported.”

The court date for the suspects in the case is set for Oct. 30.

Claiming a need for “policy change to properly protect Black students and Students of color,” Nieves said black students at the school are fed up with the reported hostile environment there.

“It is exhausting to be a Black student on this campus as many of us feel that we constantly have to fight for our rights, safety, and dignity,” she told The Fix.

“Racial incidents are rarely taken seriously and are constantly swept under the rug, and we are sick and tired of being hurt and invalidated.”

MORE: Campus in turmoil after some people reference a racial slur

MORE: Police arrest two students for shouting racial slurs on campus

IMAGE: UConn / YouTube.com

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Maria Lencki -- Franciscan University of Steubenville