Ibrahim Diallo ’11
May 3, 2011
The media descended upon Trinity’s campus on Tuesday. They grabbed every student they possibly could, hoping to catch sound bites of how racist Trinity College really is. Tuesday was not the first time and I am sure it will not be the last time. Students were asked leading questions, such as: ”Would you have come to Trinity if you knew the college was this racist?” How do you respond to such questions about a college you love dearly? Students chanted “Zero Tolerance Policy Now” and stormed into the Dean’s Office demanding that policy. I was part of that group of stu· dents who called on the college to institute a zero tolerance policy towards despicable acts of racism, sexism, and homopho· bia. We are not lawyers or judges; therefore we could not legally articulate what we want· ed. The sentiments, however, were there and they were clear: as students, we wanted our col· lege to start taking responsibility for what was happening on campus.
We were angry and frustrated that time after time, when these incidents happen on campus, we are told that as students, we need to treat each other better and that we must start reaching out to one another and be more civil. As for the administration, to my knowledge, there isn’t the same level of critical reflection to look into what the college must do to ensure that it is fostering an environment that is welcoming to Trinity students from all walks of life. We celebrate the Trinity students who are doing phenomenal work-whether that is students who win national competitions or students who are recognized for their scholarship. We credit the faculty for helping support students and Trinity for fostering that environment. It is a no-brainer; such a great institution would obviously produce great students. Yet, when an act of bigotry occurs, we are “confused” and “puzzled” and “surprised” about where it is coming from. I find such a reaction to be insincere. We must recognize that while only a small portion of the student body may be bigoted, that portion is not insignificant. It speaks volumes about our campus climate that we have had four reported incidents of bigotry this semester alone. The college must recognize that there are systemic and institutional structures that contribute to this toxic atmosphere that looms over Trinity. While as students we must continue to work harder to make Trinity a more welcoming environment, the administration must start taking responsibility for the bigotry that poisons our campus environment.
The students protesting last week asked for a zero tolerance policy as a first step. Of course we were met with much resistance from the administration, some of which was genuine and practical. The administration argues that a zero tolerance policy would mean “mandatory minimum sentencing” or “predetermined sanctions.” Some even equated it to “what took place in the Bush Administration,” during the so-called “War on Terror.” On the faculty side, we have seen fundamental, ideological and philosophical arguments both for and against the policy. Some have called it a “speech code,” while others argued that such a policy would hinder “provocative dialogue” in an institution of learning. Regardless of where you fall in this debate, you may very well have some convincing arguments for or against this policy.
Yet, what we are overlooking here, as we lunge for each other’s throats in this debate, is what this policy would mean to our campus. The reality is that our com· munity is fragmented; many students in my class are graduating saddened about the negative portrayal of a college they love dearly. There is a segment of the stu· dent body that feels like Trinity is not the place for them. While the administration cannot change these sentiments, there is now an opportunity to say to students “We hear you and as administrators of YOUR College we will take the steps necessary to fix this.” A first step is to send a message to students that such behavior will not be tolerated. Hate speech is not acceptable and is outlawed in the state of Connecticut and Trinity would only be in accordance with the law by adapting a zero tolerance policy. Such a policy will significantly improve the climate on this campus.
Frankly, I don’t foresee a zero tolerance policy really convicting anyone, because the reality is that perpetrators of these hateful acts are rarely caught. What I do foresee this policy accomplishing is sending a clear message that the Trinity College administration does not tolerate acts of bigotry. Such a message will force perpetrators to think twice before they commit these heinous and despicable acts of hatred, knowing Trinity College will not tolerate it.
We have an opportunity to send this message. This week, the Student Government Association, the Dean of Students Office and the Campus Climate Committee will meet to rewrite the policy on bias related harassments. It is my hope that we will make this moment worthwhile and send a clear message that Trinity College will not tolerate bigotry.