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Top 10 Courant Stories Of 2017 No. 2: Racial Tensions Brewed On College Campuses

On Oct. 17, Chennel “Jazz” Rowe was moving out of her dorm room when a neighbor approached the black University of Hartford student about troubling posts on her white roommate’s Instagram account.

On the private page, Brianna Brochu seemed to be bragging, police said. The 19-year-old Harwinton girl talked of smearing a tampon on Rowe’s backpack, spitting in her coconut oil and putting moldy clam dip in her lotions and her toothbrush “places where the sun doesn’t shine.” Brochu wrote she could “finally say goodbye to Jamaican Barbie.”

The story of Brochu’s expulsion and arrest went viral, becoming The Courant’s top read story of the year.

But Rowe’s experience was just one example of racial tensions on Connecticut campuses in 2017. The year also brought death threats to both a black Trinity College professor who made inflammatory posts on Facebook and a white community college adviser who heckled a conservative commentator at UConn and then plucked his speech from the lectern.

In The Courant's ranking of the top 10 stories of the year, issues of race ranked No. 2.

Across the country this year, an apparent increase in hate-fueled attacks and acts of intimidation shone a light on racial divisions.

In Connecticut, these took the form of racist graffiti in a Farmington park and white nationalist flyers on Southington street signs; chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump” at a high school basketball game between majority-white Canton High School and Hartford's majority black and Latino Classical Magnet School; and a series of high-profile incidents on college campuses.

At UHart, the NAACP urged Hartford prosecutors to file a hate crime charge against Brochu, who admitted to putting blood from a used tampon on Rowe’s backpack and licking her utensils. Brochu claimed Rowe was rude to her and posted videos online of her snoring to make fun of her.

Brochu was charged with breach of peace and criminal mischief and has pleaded not guilty.

Earlier in the year, a Trinity College professor fled the campus after his Facebook posts using an obscene hashtag went viral. Johnny Eric Williams said readers misunderstood his use of the hashtag “LetThem[Expletive]Die” as an attack on the victims of the Congressional baseball shootings, which had occurred days earlier, on June 14.

Administrators ultimately upheld Williams’ academic freedom to write the posts.

"I never intended to invite or incite violence,” Williams said at the time. “My only aim was to bring awareness to white supremacy and to inspire others to address these kinds of injustices."

In November at the University of Connecticut, a guest talk by conservative commentator Lucian Wintrich, titled “It Is OK To Be White,” devolved into a scuffle when one of his many hecklers, a community college adviser, took his speech from the lectern.

Wintrich grabbed Catherine Gregory, of Quinebaug Valley Community College, to retrieve the speech, prompting his arrest — police later dropped the misdemeanor charge — and a chaotic night in which a student broke a glass window and someone tossed a smoke bomb into the crowd of hundreds protesting outside the lecture hall.

Gregory was charged later with disorderly conduct and criminal attempt to commit sixth-degree larceny.

In response to the incident, which gained national attention, UConn President Susan Herbst has assembled a group of faculty, staff, and students to strategize ways to strengthen healthy argument, debate and discussion on campus.

Their efforts, and new protocols for planning and screening guest talks, continue to develop into the spring.

Note: Editors from The Courant selected the top 10 news stories for 2017.

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