By Sylvia Cunningham
UConn student Katheryn Maldonado addressed the Board of Trustees today about discrimination on the Storrs campus alongside Varun Khattar.
Chairman of the Board of Trustees Larry McHugh asked at the beginning that speakers keep their comments to a maximum of three minutes each. Maldonado and Khattar approached the podium together, reading testimonies they had collected from an anonymous online survey of UConn students. The stories spoke to issues of homophobia, racism and sexual violence and what students said was a lack of empathy and safe spaces.
UConn student Ashley Gravina also addressed the Board of Trustees. She said: “I am certain that all of you have access to a computer or television, but are you really tuned in? When you see UConn in the news, are you pleased?”
She also read examples of posts on Yik Yak, a social mobile app based on geographical location where users can post anonymously.
“Welfare, food stamps, free or discounted tuition for being inner city. Full ride for being good at a sport you probably skipped class to go play in the street. How come we don’t talk about black privilege?” Gravina read, quoting the words from a Yik Yak post.
After a few others used their allotted time to address the Board of Trustees, Chairman McHugh thanked the speakers and then invited Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Gilbert to the podium.
Gilbert said he thinks his goals align with those of students and echoed some of the concerns mentioned by the speakers.
“I think those of us who have spent time on campus in the past year have been deeply concerned with appalling, repugnant and hurtful expression on Yik Yak,” Gilbert said. “And I think we need to recognize that some of the views expressed have no place at the university.”
UConn senior Taijah Minor wore a sign on the back of her shirt which included various hashtags including #blackwomenmatter and #uconnhatesme. She said she hoped the words would spark a conversation.
“This is our university, we pay to go here, so I just want to be heard. I just want to be heard. I don’t care to understood or liked, or anything like that, but I just want to be heard,” Minor said.
Approximately 20 other students came to stand behind the UConn speakers this morning, many with duct tape covering their mouths in solidarity. The event entitled “Silent No More” had been publicized on Facebook with about 100 people RSVPing “yes.”
Although not all made it to the meeting, Maldonado said she still thinks the turnout made a statement.
Justis Lopez, a Masters student in the Neag School of Education, said the student presence during public comment was meant to send a message and spread awareness.
“It’s not to spread hate, it’s not to spread bickering or any sort…it’s to approach this through love and genuine care and compassion so people can genuinely understand and build empathy for one another about the student experiences and realities that are really here,” Lopez said.