Response to Charter Oak not about healing, but coercion

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In this photo taken Oct. 21, 2019, UConn Students representing the Black Students Association (BSA), the NAACP of UConn, and other student organizations representing Black students took to the center of campus and marched for their voices to be heard in lieu of recent events of racism.  Photo by Eric Wang/The Daily Campus

In this photo taken Oct. 21, 2019, UConn Students representing the Black Students Association (BSA), the NAACP of UConn, and other student organizations representing Black students took to the center of campus and marched for their voices to be heard in lieu of recent events of racism. Photo by Eric Wang/The Daily Campus

Former Chicago mayor and Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once remarked, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” The reason, he divulged, is because “it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” From former President Obama’s assertion that Trayvon Martin would look like his hypothetical son to his accusation of racial prejudice against the police force in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting, it’s evident that Emanuel’s credo has influenced the height of Democratic leadership. But if the reaction to the recent Charter Oak incident at the University of Connecticut is any indication, this attitude has trickled down and poisoned the fountain of youth as well.   

In response to the incident at Charter Oak, where several white students were filmed shouting racial epithets, UConn President Thomas Katsouleas took a clear and unequivocal stance against racism, declaring, “if you are not for equality and respect then I am not for you.” The university then launched an investigation which culminated in the arrest and criminal charging of the suspects. The university handled the incident properly. 

My peers thought otherwise.  

They marched through the Storrs campus to signal their opposition to the university’s handling of the situation; they wrote the student newspaper to criticize the response as “inadequate;” one professor accused the university of having a “not so little white racism problem.” State lawmakers descended upon the scene to remind that mere condemnation of racism was insufficient, that action must be taken. Even the caption in the video read: “UConn in 2019,” as though this were the type of routine behavior we’ve come to expect around here.  

I was told the response to this incident was about healing. Fair enough. The incident was egregious and words and students like that have no place on this campus. Students of color were understandably hurting, likely feeling betrayed by peers they rightfully expected to be unprejudiced. This could have and certainly should have been about healing, an opportunity for us to collectively stand together, denounce racism and protect those recently affected by it. 

Instead of admonishing the individuals who actually said the racist things, however, my peers attacked the university, accusing it of complicity and criticizing the president for not responding promptly enough. This wasn’t about healing, but coercion. Any doubts about that were dispelled when the UConn NAACP Chapter published in the paper a list of demands.  

An actual list of demands.  

They want the university to atone for an incident it was not responsible for, and one it harshly condemned and prosecuted at that.  

In my humble opinion, UConn is not a racist institution. The vast majority of students and faculty are liberal; the university ranks well above average in terms of racial diversity. The school bends over backwards to ensure that the campus is purged of anything which could potentially be considered offensive in any capacity, often at the expense of free speech and presumptive innocence.   

This was such a cynical response that it was possible to see the wheels turning. Accusing the entire university of being racist was a tough sell; so students shifted to its response. When the response turned out to be a scathing and unequivocal rebuke of racism, they complained that it didn’t come in time. Refusing to waste a good crisis, my peers then made outrageous demands on the university which under no other circumstance would be considered legitimate. 

The campus NAACP is demanding that the university require freshmen to take a First Year Experience course on “diversity, racial discrimination, [and] hate crimes,” that it begin a “large cluster hire” of no fewer than 10 black administrators and that the UConn NAACP be allowed to rewrite the guidelines in the Student Code of Conduct as well as determine the consequences for incidents of racism and what it considers to be “hate speech.”   

Yeah, right.  

Not only should the university refuse to meet these demands, but it should refuse to negotiate with hostile masses utilizing an unfortunate incident to manufacture a crisis and capitalize on it in full. Like England at Munich, the university thinks appeasement will stifle conflict and ensure peace. In actuality, it’s creating a monster, allowing coercion to fester and conditioning opportunists to be increasingly aggressive.  

Healing cannot begin until we establish that coercion is wrong, and that crises are for managing, not exploiting.  

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.


Kevin Catapano is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kevin.catapano@uconn.edu.

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