New Cohort: CT University Professes Racism

In Connecticut, a public university provides parable of shocking race and gender biases. The raw data suggests the reality that is ghastly. From professors openly professing racism to campus newspaper promoting horribly sexist comic strips…. welcome to Conservative America, 2007. In a revealing article on New Britain Herald, Fran Morales writes at length about this unfortunate and criminal fold of events that characterize the Central Connecticut State University. State University? Yes, it is.

The recent publication of a controversial comic strip in a student newspaper is just one example of discrimination at Central Connecticut State University, say minorities on campus and their supporters.

Students and faculty were dismayed by a comic strip published Sept. 12 in The Recorder that they called “hateful speech,” but also complain the administration has been unresponsive on other issues, and that there is not enough diversity on campus.

“This is not a safe environment for the students, and that’s the message the students want the administration to know,” said Serafin Mendez, a communications professor at the school. “It’s for the administration to come up with remedies, not to use the clever bureaucratic strategy to throw it in the laps of students [saying] that ‘It’s your problem.'”

Moises Salinas, chairman of a campus diversity committee and an associate professor of psychology, said the comic strip – in which colored shaped called “Polydongs” discuss kidnapping and urinating on a 14-year-old Hispanic girl – is just a starting point for discussing CCSU diversity problems.

“The fact the editorial staff approved publishing the comic strip speaks to the culture of the campus,” Salinas said. “Overall it’s a feeling that this is a university that does not welcome diversity.” The Herald failed to contact CCSU administrators for comment Tuesday. The school’s chancellor, David Carter, didn’t return a call for comment.

About 5 percent of the university’s 9,600 undergraduates are Hispanic. Among full-time and part-time students, 2 percent are black.

The school senate’s Diversity Committee, in a “Diversity Climate” survey of 121 faculty and staff for its 2006-07 report, said there was an increase in offensive incidents reported by ethnic and other groups.

While 64 percent of white respondents said they had never faced discrimination, only 14 percent of blacks and 9 percent of Hispanics could say the same.

Nearly all black respondents reported discrimination by their supervisors, with 86 percent saying they were frequent victims of discrimination and 14 percent saying it was occasional. Among Hispanics, 73 percent reported frequent problems.

Among gay or lesbian faculty and staff, 29 percent said they felt similar tension.

A straight, white teacher said she got hate mail after announcing a study of bisexuality.

A packet passed out Monday included copies of documents – sent on Connecticut State University letterhead – with pictures of black teachers doctored with speech balloons in which the educators speak in black minstrel dialect and are identified by slave names or African-style names. Their hairstyles are mocked and one professor is made to make reference to “guilt-ridden honky liberals.”

Salinas said he’s received numerous complaints from faculty and staff about the unwelcoming climate for minority groups, including Jews and Muslims. He is also critical of the administration for its lack of efforts in fostering diversity.

“There is racism on this campus, and what we are seeing here … is symptomatic,” said Dr. Warren Perry, an anthropology professor at the university who spoke on behalf of students who protested Monday. “We are not going to stop until something gets done.”

Mendez and other members of minority groups on campus, including those advocating the rights of women, blacks and gays and lesbians, want university President Jack Miller to take action.

Despite Miller’s requests for a committee to conduct a basic study issues related to gender discrimination, and launching a journalism integrity task force after The Recorder printed an essay last year saying rape was “magical,” survey respondents said Miller does not do enough to foster diversity on campus. Twelve percent said otherwise.

The essay, “Rape only hurts if you fight it,” said rape benefits “ugly women.”

“The fact that the writer and publisher of The Recorder were able to publish such an offensive and misogynist piece without having to pay any serious consequences helped cement the image of CCSU as a place that is unwelcoming to women,” Salinas said in the report.

Liz Aaronson, an associate professor of teacher education, called the school a “revolving door for faculty of color.”

Aaronson and Joanne DiPlacido, a psychology professor at the university – both white – stood in support of students at Monday’s demonstration and complained that all but one position in the administration were held by white men. The exception was an African-American man.

“That speaks volumes at the administrative level,” DiPlacido said. “I’m horrified that there are no women that have been hired.”

Dr. Carolyn Fallahi, who volunteered to conduct the study, concluded there were significant differences in starting salary between men and women on the faculty. The mean starting biweekly salary for female faculty members is $1,945, while for men it is $2,104, according to the diversity report.

“There is no significant gender difference in teaching load or number of students taught, but female faculty have a higher number of nonteaching load credit hours than males,” the report said.