While recent national conversation among most Blacks has gone back and forth between when we will learn of the grand jury’s decision in #Ferguson and where Dr. Huxtable may have been using bad medicine on unwilling patients, there has been an ugly story developing in Storrs, CT on the main campus of the University of Connecticut. A few weeks ago on campus, young women who are members of the Lambda Tau chapter of the historic Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated were subjected to horrible name-calling and epithets by members of the predominately White fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha. The “Pikes” hurled insults at the AKAs including calling them “whores” and verbally accosting them. When a faculty member, who is also an AKA, intervened and identified herself as a university professional, the Pikes persisted further, allegedly calling her a "fat black b*tch."
Since that time, the University’s African American Cultural Center hosted a town hall discussion on campus racism and the Pikes were sanctioned by the university by losing their rock painting privileges. Because, well, everybody knows that if you’re not able to paint on rocks, you’re no real fraternity man. The individual members responsible for the offenses have yet to receive any disciplinary sanctions from the university.
Now, I went to an HBCU so something like this is completely unfathomable to me. Members of a fraternity blatantly disrespecting and hurling insults at women on campus in an open forum with no rebuke? Nah, B. Can’t see it. With the number of AKAs in my family and immediate circle, I read this story and immediately tried to place myself in the shoes of a student on UConn’s campus. The only thought I could conjure was: “I wish a (redacted) would.”
There are a host of issues at play here, with racism and misogyny come to mind first, but the overarching issue is that of privilege. There are privilege flags all up and through this mess and UConn’s continued botching of the situation has raised legitimate questions from voices within its own community who are now questioning whether the school is at all concerned.
1) Why haven’t we heard (more) about this? Good question. There’s been a fairly steady news cycle as the Bill Cosby and Don Lemon have been in discussion for all the wrong reasons, Kim K “broke the internet”, and we are now viewing a State of Emergency in Ferguson, MO. Still, despite all of these stories, this is one of considerable importance and the lack of coverage beyond regional outlets likely says more about the low regard that so many have for Black women and Black life. #blacklivesmatter. It also stands to reason that UConn is happy to keep this on the hush, hoping that it blows over and doesn’t tarnish the school’s image for any extended time. Even as a large state university, UConn takes great pride in its New Englander blue blood heritage. Press like this is just bad for business.
2) Well, why hasn’t the school done anything to address this? Better question. The school has claimed that the AKAs who were victimized would have to come forward and file individual complaints against the Pikes in order to have further action take place. This policy was not explained to any of the students and the Graduate Advisor who was insulted was not aware. I guess the school felt like revoking those rock painting privileges was really sending a strong message about UConn’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Oh. Ok.
On a serious note, it is worth considering what would have happened had members of a Black fraternity decided to spew the same sort of venom at White girls in a different sorority. Hard to imagine anything involving rock paintings other than a sanctioned stoning. Again, unabridged privilege rears its ugly head. The idea of the town hall is an understandable start, but town halls are not mandatory and it is highly unlikely that any of the offenders attended. That’s church hosted by the choir singing to the pastor. The folks needed for any real substantive dialogue or understanding weren’t there, weren’t forced to go, and could care less. And, when the administration doesn’t bother to come, what does that really say?
3)Where IS the administration on this issue? $64k question. I’ve been a member on the Board of Trustees at a major university. Twice. I can unequivocally say that the manner in which UConn’s top brass has handled this suggests that they all have their heads up their asses. (That’s a legal term if you’re keeping score at home.) The fact that UConn has a female president at the helm of this mess and she has been all but invisible from the discussion is not only inexplicable but inexcusable. It suggests one of two things: UConn aint all too concerned with verbal assaults on its female students or when it comes to women of color, they don’t really count.
If ever there was a time for Black Greeks to support each other, it is now. The undergraduate women on UConn’s campus as well as their Graduate Advisors are unfortunate examples of the disrespect and disregard that our women face on a daily basis. We cannot allow this to go unchecked and must all turn up the pressure on UConn and its administration to demand that they address this issue in a more appropriate manner.
If we do not stand up and declare that #blacklivesmatter, then who will?
Charles F. Coleman Jr. is a former Kings County (Brooklyn) NY prosecutor and federal civil rights attorney. He is also a proud member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Follow him on Twitter @CFColemanJr.