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Monday, December 18, 2006

We don't see it

Andrew Henderson for The New York Times

An Inward Look at Racial Tension at Trinity College

Published: December 18, 2006

HARTFORD, Conn. — James F. Jones Jr. had been president of Trinity College for two years before a black student pointed out to him that he always ate lunch on the side of the dining hall where white students gather.

Since that day last month, Mr. Jones, who is white, has made a point of taking a table on the other side, with the minority students.

He also bought the book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” for his office, and recently handed out 45 copies to the college’s trustees and senior administrators as “required reading.”

“I didn’t even know I was eating on the white side,” Mr. Jones said.

Trinity officials, professors and students have been forced to reexamine their daily interactions with one another this semester after a series of racially polarizing events that have drawn widespread complaints from minorities over what they see as a climate of incivility and intolerance within their privileged campus of Gothic spires.

From classrooms to hip-hop concerts, the angry dialogue has led to some student protests and focused an unusual level of scrutiny on the college’s practices and policies.

Since October, two minority women have reported that racial slurs were scribbled on message boards outside their dorm rooms.

Another student, who is white, painted himself black for a Halloween fraternity party and then posed for pictures that turned up on a popular Web site, Facebook.

In addition, many of Trinity’s minority students said they had long felt discriminated against.

Some black students said they were regularly stopped at the campus library and asked to show identification while their white classmates just walked in, and at least one Hispanic professor complained to his colleagues of being mistaken for a janitor.

Minority students and their supporters have staged protests, including one in which students spread out in the dining hall to desegregate it for a night, and called upon college officials to improve social relations by taking steps such as spelling out a racial harassment policy in the student handbook, incorporating race issues into the curriculum, and providing more financial aid as a way to broaden the socioeconomic diversity of the student body.

“I feel more tension here than ever before,” said Ashlei Flemming, 19, a junior from West Palm Beach, Fla., adding that white students have avoided making eye contact and turned away from her because she is black. “There are times when I want to feel good about Trinity, and then I walk out and I’m reminded of the underlying disgust that we have here for each other.”

But other students like Chandler Barnard, who is white, said that they have not seen any discrimination against minorities on campus. “I kind of think it is blown out of proportion a little bit,” said Mr. Barnard, a 20-year-old junior who said his hometown, Lubbock, Tex., is much more conservative on such social issues. “I don’t see it as that big of a problem.”

posted by Steve @ 1:53:00 AM

1:53:00 AM

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