UConn must change its problematic environment for students of color

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Classrooms were ranked second in the locations where students of color surveyed felt uncomfortable, with sorority and fraternity houses ranked first. Photo by Eric Wang/The Daily Campus

Each year, when a new class enters the University of Connecticut, there are always statistics presented about the new students, including the number of students, their academic achievements and which campuses they are attending. One statistic mentioned year after year is UConn’s increasingly racially diverse student body. Yet the mere existence of a diverse student body does not ensure a supportive and inclusive environment for students of color. 

This is corroborated by a recent Racial Microaggressions Study, which showed the environment at UConn does not always support students of color. The survey was conducted between Spring 2019 and Winter 2020 and completed by 1,129 students of color. Out of these students, 77% reported that race relations at UConn ranged from a little to extremely problematic.  

UConn clearly has an environment in which many students of color do not feel comfortable. Many likely remember the incident that occurred last year near Charter Oak apartments where two White students shouted racial slurs — to which the University responded rather slowly. Additionally, over the summer, numerous students of color anonymously reported their experiences through Instagram accounts such as Black at UConn, BIPOC at UConn SFA, Black at UConn School of Engineering, BIPOC at UConn CAHNR and BIPOC in Greek Life.  

In response, UConn administrators encouraged students to anonymously report these experiences through the Office of Institutional Equity. UConn also later created InForm, which allows students to anonymously submit reports of bias, among other incidents. UConn also offers UNIV courses on  U.S. Anti-Black Racism (UNIV1985 and UNIV3985). However, especially given the information provided in the survey, these measures simply are not enough. 

When so many students are reporting they feel uncomfortable and unwelcome due to racial microaggressions they have experienced on campus, it is imperative that all levels of the University make meaningful steps to change the environment. According to the survey results, students of color who responded to the survey avoid certain locations on campus because they feel uncomfortable, with 31% of students surveyed reporting they felt uncomfortable in or avoided classrooms. Classrooms were ranked as the number two location for where surveyed students of color felt uncomfortable, with sorority and fraternity houses ranked number one. 

“Students of color should not feel uncomfortable on campus.”

Additionally, over 40% of surveyed students of color reported experiencing racial microaggressions, over 30% of surveyed students of color reported they were singled out in classrooms and other settings to speak about diversity and 46% of surveyed students reported they had been made to feel intellectually inferior due to their race. 

Students of color should not feel uncomfortable on campus. The sheer number of students reporting these incidents should be concerning, and this survey should incite change at UConn. 

At the end of the survey, there were numerous recommendations made for faculty, staff and students, as well as policy changes and suggestions for University Communication and Public Relations. For faculty and staff, suggestions mostly involve creating mandatory training programs regarding racial microaggressions. For students, the suggestions encompass workshops for students to better understand racial microaggressions, supporting students who have documented their experiences and funding more student-led initiatives regarding diversity, equity and inclusion. One major policy change recommended was to mandate the aforementioned UNIV course about U.S. Anti-Black Racism. For Public Relations, it was recommended there to be more transparency and awareness of bias incidents.  

All of these suggestions are very well-outlined by the UConn Racial Microaggressions Research Team. Students of color should not endure racism, racial microaggressions and a reduced sense of safety and belonging on campus. It is high time that UConn changes this problematic environment. 

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