The University of Hartford’s student handbook explicitly details the violations the institution considers student misconduct. Violations include harassment, bullying or any threatening behavior and discrimination or oppressive behavior based on sex, race, color, gender identity, or sexual orientation. This should not be a challenging rule to enforce when a student comes forward with a claim against another who’s admitted to the accusations.
Yet when Chennel “Jazzy” Rowe, a black freshman living in student housing at the University of Hartford, reported being harassed by her white roommate to university officials. Rowe was instructed to keep quiet about the accused misconduct.
On a Facebook livestream, Rowe describes the events that occurred between her and her roommate, Brianna Brochu. As she was working on moving out of their shared dorm room, Rowe describes how Brochu approached her to ask if she was indeed moving out. After Rowe confirmed that she was moving, Brochu began texting on her phone. Only minutes later, Rowe receives notification from her friends with screenshots of Brochu bragging on Instagram about the harassment.
In the livestream, Rowe reads Brochu’s Instagram post: “Finally did it ya girl got rid of her roommate! After 1 1/2 months of spitting in her coconut oil, putting moldy clam dip in her lotions, rubbing used tampons on her backpack, putting her toothbrush where the sun doesn’t shine and so more I can finally say goodbye to Jamaican Barbie.”
Unaware of Brochu’s misconduct, Rowe began experiencing severe throat pain. After multiple medical examinations and doctor visits, the cause for the growing bacterial infection remained unknown. In Rowe’s livestream, she alleges that the possible cause for this bacterial infection was in part due to the harassment by Brochu.
Upon reporting the incident to university housing officials, Rowe was told she would be removed from campus housing if she spoke publicly of the harassment.
Ironically, the University of Hartford student handbook declares that “student found responsible for repeated student conduct violations, the Resident Director may recommend removal from housing.” While Brochu was responsible for student misconduct, it was Rowe who was threatened with removal from student housing.
Rowe took to a livestream on Facebook and it eventually went viral, along with the #justiceforjazzy hashtag on Twitter. Once public outrage surfaced from Rowe’s story, the university took action by presenting the incident to local authorities.
Brochu was then arrested and charged with two misdemeanors: third-degree criminal mischief and second-degree breach of peace. Upon Brochu’s release on bond, the university took further action by expelling the student. According to NBC Connecticut, the police have also requested the court to add a hate crime — intimidation based on bigotry or bias — charge.
Before her video, Rowe posted, “As a young African-American woman, I don’t want to become another statistic. When it comes to college incidents/crimes and racial cases justice needs to be served.”
Rowe and other students of color should be free from discriminatory and hateful acts, and protected by the institutions in place. Instead, Rowe was almost coerced into silence under threat of losing her housing accommodations for speaking up about the harassment she faced.
It was not until Rowe went public with the injustice that the university took action to ensure the perpetrator was adequately apprehended. Had Rowe kept silent, as the university housing administrators instructed, it is likely Brochu’s actions would not have been reported to local authorities.
It should not take a viral livestream, a hashtag and public outrage for a university to take action against a student perpetuating a hate crime against another student. Not only should adherence to a university’s own student conduct be exercised, but more comprehensive policies regarding diversity training should be instituted.
Paige Wisniewski is a junior majoring in interdisciplinary social sciences