In an article entitled “Response to Charter Oak not about healing, but coercion,” writer Kevin Catapano claims that UConn is above reproach in regards to its handling of the racist incident that took place at Charter Oaks. In addition to that, Catapano denied the existence of any type of institutional racism taking place on campus and claimed that the organizing surrounding the incident was nothing more than a moment for student groups like the NAACP UConn to manipulate UConn’s administration.
Yes, President Katsouleas showed up to the march on Oct. 21 and dropped a few cliché lines from a bullhorn but no official statement specifically addressing the student body about the incident was made until Oct. 18, which was a week after the event. In the meantime, students of color looked at their president – the face of the university – posing for photos at the rec center for the Daily Digest. Now, Mr. Catapano may think that a few cliché lines at a march is sufficient enough to assuage the fears of students of color on campus, but I don’t and I doubt my friends and peers of color do either. What kind of message does a delayed statement from the administration send to students of color who are pained over the recent events? And in regards to the police investigation, as of today, it hasn’t yielded any substantive results, except for the fact that the perpetrators were caught.
Catapano accused the UConn Chapter of the NAACP of using the Charter Oak incident as a way to hold the administration hostage in order to have its larger demands met. As a member of the NAACP e-board, I take exception to that charge because I know the work that went into organizing events. I also doubt Mr. Catapano’s understanding of how activism works. It usually begins with an event that negatively impacts the community involved, which in turn sparks outrage and larger issues are addressed from there. Did Dr. King not “use” the martyrdom of Emmet Till to challenge segregation and white supremacy in the South? Catapano’s analysis of the event connote undertones of racism as well. He said he hoped the march would bring “healing” but all he heard was “egregious words and students like that have no place on campus.” Descriptions like that only serve to perpetuate white stereo-types of black people as disrespectful and irate.
I think Mr. Catapano’s last point that institutional racism does not exist at UConn is mistaken. The number of black faculty members is around 7% and the same number for the black student population, which I think even President Katsouleas is willing to admit is a problem. I would also encourage him to look more deeply into the history of racism at UConn. For instance just last year, UConn’s communications department produced a promotional video called “What Women In STEM Look Like” and failed to include any women of color. I also think Mr. Catapano’s definition of racism is far too simplistic and like most conservatives he wants more extreme forms of racism to be treated separately from institutionalized racism. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. The Charter Oak incident should serve to clue us into the complex racism happening institutionally and culturally. Racism is not an event, it’s a structure.
Jordan Noto is a third-semester journalism major. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.