A racial bias incident submitted to the Black at UConn Instagram page (@black.at.uconn) earlier this month involving University of Connecticut’s Public Interest Group spurred controversial responses from both organizations.
According to the mission statement post, “Black at UConn is a space for BIPOC members of the University of Connecticut community to share their experiences. Students, staff, alumni, and faculty are encouraged to contribute. It’s imperative to highlight the racism and injustices that occur even in our own communities.”
The post by an anonymous class of 2023 UConn student critiqued PIRG’s “Poverty Simulation” event, which occurred on Nov. 18.
The student’s view was posted the following day, calling the simulation “one of the crudest examples of performative activism I have ever seen.”
A story of racism allegations witnessed by the student as a freshman was also included in the post. An African American volunteer was reportedly targeted by the PIRG leadership team, who mocked him and used stereotypical terms as insults.
…”When he left for the bathroom, the leadership team also happened to have their lunch break. In a mixture of mockery, laughter, and hatred, they had implied that the things kept in the room could not be kept there because the African American student would steal them, using words like ‘thug’ and ‘scary’ to describe him”Anonymous UConn Student, UConn PIRG Meeting Attendee
“I volunteered with them for a week before hearing the grossest thing I had heard on UConn’s campus from their leadership,” the student wrote. “When he left for the bathroom, the leadership team also happened to have their lunch break. In a mixture of mockery, laughter, and hatred, they had implied that the things kept in the room could not be kept there because the African American student would steal them, using words like ‘thug’ and ‘scary’ to describe him.”
PIRG is a primarily student led and funded advocacy group designed to support students through societal and political projects.
The PIRG website states, “We provide trainings, resources, and opportunities for passionate students to identify issues within their communities and work together to address them.”
The ConnPIRG leadership team later responded to the backlash in an Instagram post, claiming they were unaware of any past racism and apologized for the “Poverty Simulator” upset. The group emphasized it is a nonpartisan organization.
“We believe this action was carried out by staff members from an outside organization, one which we no longer work with due to moral and ethical differences,” their statement said.
The group later modified that statement in an email to the Daily Campus.
“We are extremely disappointed and sorry that this incident occurred in our chapter, and that we haven’t been able to take action. We are still looking to identify the persons involved — if anyone has more information on this incident please reach out,” the email by the leadership board stated. “We’re eager to make sure that necessary action is taken in the case that the persons involved are still active members in our organization.”
Another post by another student from the class of UConn 2023 on Nov. 23 was a critique of PIRG’s apology.
“It seems that UCONN PIRG and organizations like it represent only parts of the student body that they are familiar and comfortable with,” the post said. “I have completed poverty simulators in the past and the problem that they all have in common is the oversimplification of poverty.”
PIRG said it is striving for change in the future.
“We are taking the critiques from the post and the comments on the post seriously and are planning on implementing this feedback into our work — whether that be the way we talk about issues, how we spend our money or how we collaborate with other groups on campus,” the organization said.