By Sten Spinella
This year at the University of Connecticut was characterized by accomplishment and turmoil, civility and incivility, action and inaction.
There are, of course, the forces of inevitability. Midterms, finals, break-ups, make-ups, late night calls to Wings Over Storrs, and social maneuvering. Here is what UConn couldn’t account for, though, at the start of the year. Here is UConn’s year in review.
The Spirit Rock
On Sept. 29, the fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha (Pike) and the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) argued over the painting of the Spirit Rock. The incident was heavily covered by the Daily Campus, as well as discussed on social media and various meetings/classes on campus. The racism and sexism espoused by members of Pike that night towards the historically black sorority of AKA, including the phrases “fat black bitch” and “black whores” sparked campus-wide activism and reaction, as well as administration members attempting to put out a controversial fire.
There was zero administrative response to the event except for investigations, which yielded nothing, and putting Pike on probation for bullying (which they broke with violations of hazing and partying and ultimately had their recognition revoked from the university for four years). On Nov. 10, there was a town hall forum where students from UConn’s black community, and anyone interested in the topic, challenged university inaction and wondered why President Susan Herbst, members of Pike, and non-African-American sororities were not present. On Nov. 18, there was a march for equality and justice from a diverse group of students, demanding university action against Pike.
On Apr. 7, the RAs for Social Justice message on the Spirit Rock – “Black lives matter” and “Racism: In Storrs Now” – had the words “black” and “racism” painted over by unknown perpetrators soon after.
UConn’s Greek community continues to come under fire, especially from the university, with recent suspensions and recognition taken away from sororities Kappa Kappa Gamma, Delta Gamma, and Delta Zeta over the past two years, as well as Sigma Chi, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and the aforementioned Pike. This does not mean that these organizations are not still actively throwing parties (quite the opposite). It does mean they cannot hold university-recognized philanthropy efforts.
There are more than 2,000 UConn students who are affiliated with Greek life. UConn’s 34 Greek chapters (the original number, which has since dwindled) as well as the four Greek councils have racked up 30,000 hours of service as well as more than $100,000 in money for charity. While some Greek members have acknowledged the reason for public backlash towards their organizations, others ask why the good of Greek life isn’t exposed more often.
“I’m sick and tired of people belittling Greek life. I know so many people in our organizations who do great things every day,” Goetti Francois, a seventh semester nursing and sociology student as well as the Greek Community Affairs Board co-director of recruitment said. “Stop advertising your parties, and start advertising the great things you do. Until we choose what we do, and we keep our members accountable, nothing’s going to change.”
HuskyTHON was wildly successful at UConn this year, with 2,400 students dancing for 18 hours and gathering $560,105 dollars to donate to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
University President is a very public position, one that often comes with misplaced criticism. Still, Herbst’s main role as a fundraiser has been called into question when considering her reactions to the Title IX suits of last year and the Spirit Rock incident this year. With Herbst as president, the university has attempted to downplay these issues to the public. When Herbst’s salary increased, so did anger with Herbst, especially when taking into account rising tuition costs. Herbst’s new contract will keep her on as president through 2019, and will raise her salary from $585,000 a year to $758,000 a year. This does not account for bonuses or Herbst’s two expensive homes.
While Herbst has undoubtedly been doing a fantastic job with fundraising for the university, and UConn is ranked #19 in public universities in the country, this raise came at the wrong time – in a storm of criticism towards Herbst and the administration. Herbst has taken some measures to combat a negative image of her among students, putting together a program to have students shadow her for a day.
“It will hopefully make me understand students more,” said Herbst. “At all the big universities I’ve seen, there’s an automatic distrust of the president, or the vice president or anyone in authority.”
Protests and Demonstrations
“Claim our bodies, claim our rights, take a stand, take back the night!” demonstrators yelled at UConn’s Take Back the Night rally On Apr. 15 in an effort to raise awareness about sexual and domestic violence, before filing into the Student Union for a period of testimony. This was one of many demonstrations on campus this year.
About 100 UConn male students took part in the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event, literally walking a mile in high-heels. The event was meant to be in solidarity with victims of sexual violence and to promote gender equality. It took place during Spring Weekend.
On Apr. 22, 150 graduate students staged a sit-in at the Student Union in order to hopefully acquire the best possible terms in a university contract agreement. That same day, President Herbst released a letter with the terms of the agreement the administration had agreed to with the UConn Graduate Employee Union, including a nine percent pay increase over the next three years.
In yet another event of discrimination on campus, an exhibit for mixed identities was targeted, with the word “faggg” written in the guest book, which had many comments. The LGBTQ community was also assaulted when an art exhibit was vandalized with comments and disrespectful drawings.
In response to these events, on Apr. 7, about 200 students, faculty and those interested came together in the Student Union for an event entitled UConn Speak OUT. Speakers included State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, as well as State Senator Mae Flexer and Pastor of Storrs Congregational Church Matt Emery.
There was little election drama this year in UConn’s Undergraduate Student Government, mostly because the office of the president was won unopposed by Rachel Conboy and Adam Kuegler. Conboy is the first female president of USG in ten years. There was some anger from members of USG at Greek life’s campaigning for USG positions, although no rules were broken. In addition, a contentious senate meeting which caused a rift between Speaker of the Senate Kevin Alvarez and members of USG ended in a much-publicized call for a vote of no confidence by Alvarez, which he didn’t receive.
USG passed legislation in support of legalizing marijuana, and are also involved with a helpful Open Source textbook initiative. USG members are also looking forward to next year’s Wall Street Journal program.
Under the Weather
UConn’s roads, sidewalks, parking lots and staircases are in bad condition after a particularly lengthy and intense winter. There was 63.8 inches of snow this year, compared to the average of 38.4 inches.
Spring Weekend, Concerts, and Events
Schoolboy Q and A$AP Ferg ripped a set in front of thousands of UConn students at Gampel for this year’s Spring Concert. There were two arrests that night, and fifteen students were taken to the hospital, all after Schoolboy Q came on stage and said to the crowd that he had just recently been bailed out of jail in Hartford before playing the show.
Adam Devine came to UConn for a delightful stand-up comedy performance, and was very active interacting with students during his short stay.
EDM group Cash Cash performed in February to dancing students in the Jorgensen. Matt and Kim also visited for a performance. UConn students willing to travel saw Flo Rida for free.
Overall, Spring Weekend remained its uneventful self (since 2010), other than university-sanctioned events.
Current Gov. Dannel Malloy and challenger Tom Foley came to UConn during the gubernatorial race to debate in the Jorgensen. The debate was considered their most prickly and personal to date.
The UConn Women’s basketball team, by far the most dominant in the country, won the national title for a third year in a row in humdrum fashion.
This Year, in Things that Didn’t Change
The UConn Foundation is still not exempt to the Freedom of Information Act, despite public pressure. UConn’s professional bus drivers continue to be exploited by a legal loophole, disqualifying them from receiving unemployment benefits by being hired, fired then re-hired.
The Daily Campus
The Daily Campus, similar to the university at large, faced its own bit of tumult. The three section leaders of Life, News and Sports did not last the entire year, and were replaced by Associate Editors. Facing university financial pressure to conform to other Tier III organizations, the newspaper opted to become entirely student-run, dismissing faculty and alumni advisors.
Some may hope for a less chaotic academic year come 2015-2016, yet it always seems to hold true that the zeitgeist of college life is movement.