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Months after racial slur incident, university silent on what it’s doing in response

Students had demanded significant changes at the school

A state university is remaining silent on its plans to address a controversial incident on campus this semester in which two white students were arrested after shouting a racial slur.

In October the University of Connecticut was thrown into turmoil after the two students were videotaped yelling the word “nigger” while walking through a campus parking lot.

In the aftermath of the event, students demanded the university adopt several new policies to combat the allegedly pervasive atmosphere of racism on campus, including mandatory diversity training, the hiring of multiple black faculty and staff, and punishment for any “hate speech” uttered on campus.

Yet several months later the school is refusing to reveal whether or not it has changed or implemented any policies in response to the controversy.

The College Fix reached out to numerous different individuals at the university, including the school’s president Thomas Katsouleas, student government representative Avolyn Nieves (who had previously spoken to The Fix about the controversy) and UConn’s student NAACP chapter, which had issued a list of demands to the university at the height of the controversy. The only official to respond was campus spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz, who told The Fix via email: “UConn continues to meet with students and others in our community to discuss ways to ensure our campus is a truly inclusive environment.”

In October, Katsouleas had indicated some of the school’s intentions for responding to the incident. The Hartford Courant reported at the time that Katsouleas said the school “would not tolerate speech or actions that promoted intolerance.” Katsouleas also stated his intentions to hire “a new permanent chief officer of diversity” and mentioned “an upcoming strategic planning retreat [that] would include a focus on diversity and inclusion.”

A new permanent diversity officer does not appear to have been yet installed. The university’s website still displays Dana Wilder as the school’s interim chief diversity officer.

Campus NAACP chapter demanded major initiatives

A letter from the campus NAACP student group, issued shortly after the controversy broke, included a cutting criticism directed at the university itself, as well as a list of demands directed at the school. The group said that the incident “displays a lack of compassion, morality, and respect amongst the UCONN community.”

The numerous demands in the letter included “a public statement [from the university] condemning acts of racism,” the creation of “specific guidelines in the Student Code of Conduct and consequences by the Office of Community Standards for instances of racism/hate speech,” a “First Year Experience course on diversity, racial discrimination, hate crimes, and consequences of such acts, that every student is required to take,” and “a large cluster hire of Black administration, faculty, staff and police officers.”

The group stipulated that the demands should be met by the spring semester of 2020.

Students were not the only ones criticizing the university. Several days after the incident, UConn sociology professor Noel Cazenave wrote a letter to the campus newspaper directed at Katsouleas. In that letter Cazenave told the president that while he has “done some good things; by not responding quickly and decisively to UConn’s most recent incidents of racial hostility you have stumbled out of the gate and left the impression that you are both ignorant of and uncaring about our concerns.”

“Even more importantly, by your painfully slow response– following more than a week of silence–you have unwittingly condoned campus racism in ways that makes people of color here at the University of Connecticut feel both unwanted and unsafe,” the professor added.

Around the same time, The Daily Campus ran an editorial in which the editors berated the administration for its perceived lack of response in the controversy. The school said that Katsouleas had “enjoyed a honeymoon in his first months as president” but that the “honeymoon” ended with what the editors saw as his tepid response to the racial incident.

MORE: UConn students demand speech codes, mandatory hate crime course, new black hires

MORE: ACLU joins NAACP in demanding mandatory antiracism course at UConn

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About the Author
Ava Magalei -- Snow College