Connecticut College officials react strongly to racist incidents

Jake Sokol

Last month at a small school in Connecticut, posters promoting Black History month were defaced with racial epithets, a cultural student group was sent a derogatory e-mail on its listserv, and a minority student received an anonymous racist phone call.

Connecticut College, a private liberal arts school in New London, Conn., has been dealing with acts such as these since fall semester.

But while some students at Northwestern said they are dissatisfied with the administration’s response to similar incidents on campus, Connecticut College’s reaction was praised by student leaders and officials alike, said Patricia Brink, the school’s director of media relations.

“Nearly all of the college’s 1,650 students participated in the campuswide response to racial hatred,” Brink said. “Our small size allows for a stronger sense of community.”

Classes at Connecticut College were canceled last Tuesday after a student received an anonymous telephone call. Student leaders marched to the home of College President Norman Fainstein, where they demanded a forum be organized to discuss the incidents.

“The students got their point across to the administration,” Brink said. “This is the first time in seven years something like this happened, and the students were alarmed.”

At last Tuesday’s three-hour forum, called a “Day of Community Building,” students and faculty members crammed into the main auditorium where they spoke directly with administrators. But Elli Nagai-Rothe, Connecticut College’s student government chairman for multicultural affairs, said the most meaningful part of the day took place when small discussion groups met in each dorm.

“There was a lot of good dialogue on how to address the issues of diversity,” Nagai-Rothe said. “It was a very effective way to have students express their feelings.”

According to student leaders at NU, university officials responded to similar acts with less alarm. Miriam Lieberman, president of Hillel Cultural Life, said stronger measures should have been taken to address the slurs and swastikas that showed up in residence halls last month.

Administrators posted “No Place for Hate” signs across campus, but Lieberman said the gesture fell short. She called a Feb. 24 forum with University President Henry Bienen “counterproductive.”

“It turned into an ‘us versus them’ debate,” Lieberman said. “I would love to have seen something more resembling what happened at Connecticut College.”

Lieberman also applauded Connecticut College student leaders, who urged administrators to equip private telephone lines with Caller ID and to make sensitivity training mandatory for faculty and staff members.

Although Connecticut College might have had a more unified response, student leaders said that doesn’t mean racial or religious vandalism won’t occur again — at Connecticut or at NU.

The crowd of almost 200 NU students who attended the forum at Norris University Center wasn’t enough to make a difference, said Jonathan Powell, president of Students for Israel.

“The likelihood of another incident is difficult to predict,” Powell said. “But if something does occur, the burden falls on Northwestern students and faculty to take stronger action.”