Monday, February 19, 2018

Wake Up World: Showcasing discrimination at Trinity

CHRIS BULFINCH ’18

NEWS EDITOR

Nov. 16, 2015 marked a point of change in the social dialogue of Trinity’s campus. “Wake Up World,” a walk-out from classes followed up by a public forum, sought to address the way that issues of race, gender, and identity are treated at Trinity. Hundreds of faculty members, college administrators, and most importantly, students, congregated in the Washington Room of Mather Hall. There was a buzz of both excitement and uncertainty in the air. In the middle of a vast circle of seating stood a jar and a lone microphone.

The jar and microphone served as the lynchpin for the entire event. Attendees were asked to record stories of discriminations, both directly experienced and witnessed, on pieces of paper which were collected in the jar.

A few at a time, people approached the microphone and shared their stories. The narratives were as varied and unique as the people presenting them. They told poignant and compelling stories of aggressions large and small, wholesale discrimination, and the feelings of isolation that are unfortunately all too common at a college as small and often homogeneous as Trinity.

Primo Levi, a noted chemist and survivor of the Holocaust, once said that “We are in fact convinced that no human experience is without meaning or unworthy of analysis and that fundamental values, even if they are not positive, can be deduced from this particular world which we are describing.” This was precisely the spirit of “Wake Up World.” The cause of creating understanding, mutual respect, and community needs to come from a place where everyone’s experience and perspective has value. In that spirit, this article has been composed to showcase just a few of the many powerful stories shared on Nov. 16. All of the stories shared at “Wake Up World” were significant and profound, but space and time prevent a more thorough exploration of the fascinating constellation of narratives, forcing us to focus on just a representative few.

1. “When I came to visit Trinity prior to my acceptance, I was let into a frat because they said I looked ‘exotic’, while the friend I was with (who has a darker skin tone than me) was not.”

2. “I was told on Yik Yak that my boyfriend was only dating me because he has an Asian fetish.”

3. “I have not experienced an instance of discrimination on this campus. This does not exempt me from the conversation; it puts me in a position of responsibility to support; fight for those who have experienced discrimination.”

4. “My freshman year, I was carded to get on the campus shuttle – my teammate who was white had no problem.”

5. “I have witnessed my friend’s Jewish identity be invalidated.”

6. “My friends and I don’t feel safe at night when there are men around.”

7. “As a young woman on this campus, I have been catcalled, whistled at and looked at as an object by other male students.”

8. “I was told by someone who lived on my floor that he would never hook up with me because of the color of my skin.”

9. “When meeting people who are not minorities, many people assume I am part of the POSSE program because I am a minority, or they assume I’m Mexican because I’m Hispanic.”

10. “Being asked whether I go here, and being told that I speak well because of my mixed ethnicity.”

11. “When I’m in psychology classes and I bring up intersectionality of race/class, everyone looks at me like I’m crazy or that I’m wrong for bringing it up.”

12. “Can you teach me how to twerk, whip, nae nae, etc. has been asked of me many times by non-black students.”

13. “There have been many STEM professors, Bio and Engineering specifically, who have told me, ‘maybe you should pick a different major’ or have just made me feel very uncomfortable in our class of ‘snow’ because they know I don’t know something.”

14. “Last year in the fall I had two friends from NYC come visit for the weekend. We were walking back on campus and a campus safety officer shot us a mean look and followed behind us as we walked, until I took out my I.D. and opened North’s front door.”

15. “When I’m in the frats dancing with a girl, I feel discrimination and unwanted attention just because of who I am dancing with because it is two people of the same gender.”

16. “I experienced racism through hearing racial slurs in general from my hallmates’ conversations.”

17. “As an Asian-American, people always assume that I’m part of a so-called privileged minority if there is such a thing. My opinions are often silenced and my struggles disregarded – I feel invisible Other times, I’ve had white students ask me whether I was a worker here or if I were a student. Obviously white people don’t consider me white yet I am also not a POC? How does that make sense?”

18. “Being stopped by campo numerous times because I looked suspicious walking back from the library late at night.”

19. “I was in a classroom where we were discussing crime and criminal organizations. The professor turns to the class and says ‘but you have networks like POSSE that takes kids out of crackhead neighborhoods and brings them into prestigious institutions like Trinity.’ I then had to take another seminar with him for my major, and I had to pick a research topic. He discouraged me from my topic because he didn’t feel I had the right ‘educational background’ and my ‘modest upbringing just didn’t train me for the task.’”

20. “In freshmen year, one of my friends told a white student, who was smoking a cigarette inside of North Campus, to put his cig out. The student, who was clearly intoxicated, told my friend that he was a ‘chink’ and that he wasn’t paying full tuition.”

21. “One night, I was studying very late in MECC. A faculty member told me that I wasn’t allowed to be there. I responded, ‘I go here! I’m an engineer!’ She responded, ‘You? An engineer?’ With a face of disbelief.”

22. “At a frat one night I was with a friend and he saw a girl being pushed up against a wall forcefully by a brother. He approached them and tapped him on the back and my friend said ‘I don’t think she likes that, or wants that.’ My friend was then kicked out of the frat by several brothers.”

23. “Last year one of my roommates was bisexual. When our other roommate’s mom was coming to visit, she asked our roommate to ‘act less gay’ while her mom was here.”

24. “As a mixed person, I have been told time and time again that I am either not Hispanic enough or not white enough. I often receive off-handed comments when I don’t understand something in a particular dialect. People say ‘oh, and you say you’re Puerto Rican?’”

25. “One time I asked a girl not to say “Hartford locals” in such a demeaning way and she asked me not to be one of those black people.”

26. “I have been told that I am not black enough to be a part of the black community.”

27. Professor: “All inner city kids are drug dealers.

Me: “I’m from an inner city and I’m not a drug dealer. There are groups of us on this campus.”

Professor: “And that’s what makes you all exceptional…”

The stories shared at “Wake Up World” were very meaningful and speak to the experiences that many people have had on Trinity’s campus. In the days and weeks following the event, discussions of diversity and campus culture have become significantly more prevalent, particularly in the context of past years.

The catharsis, both personal and cultural, that occurred in the Washington Room for “Wake Up World” should not be understated. The process of sharing stories and perspectives helps to bring the Trinity community closer together, and helps to address issues that otherwise might not have found their way into the public discourse of Trinity College.

The energy of “Wake Up World” has helped to reinvigorate the intellectual and social fabric of the college, and the above stories, though they may not give the entire picture, help to give a glimpse into the kind of action and change that will likely transpire in the coming weeks and months. As more time and new events continue the conversation, more stories like those shared here will allow everyone in the Trinity community to bear witness to the world of diversity and the way that Trinity reacts to it.

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