The details of the allegations are as gross as they are disturbing: A University of Hartford freshman from Harwinton is accused, among other things, of smearing bodily fluids on her roommate’s backpack.
Brianna Rae Brochu, 18, was initially charged with third-degree criminal mischief and second-degree breach of peace, and on Wednesday, police added the charge of intimidation based on bigotry or bias — a hate crime. It’s reassuring that West Hartford police and the university responded quickly to the claims. But there’s a question of whether the university — and all universities — are doing enough to educate students on race on the front end.
Roommates don’t always get along. It happens. Freshmen especially who are living on their own for the first time might lack the emotional stability and experience needed to negotiate the delicacies of a shared space.
As the grown-ups among us know, the solution to problems like these is to talk about them, not to go behind a person’s back with vandalism or potentially abusive behavior.
But more troubling are the racist overtones of the incident. Was Ms. Brochu’s behavior racially motivated? It’s not unlikely, given the “Jamaican Princess” moniker she used in an Instagram post to describe her roommate. That kind of attitude doesn’t belong at the University of Hartford or anywhere else. But schools have to do more to get out in front and hit racism head-on, before it sprouts such ugly shoots.
University President Greg Woodward, in a note to the university community, responded to the allegations of racism by saying, “I hear and share your anger and frustration. Acts of racism, bias, bullying, or other abusive behaviors will not be tolerated on this campus.” On Wednesday, he added that Ms. Brochu is no longer a student and that “It is clear there is work to be done at our University.”
The incident is an embarrassment to the university community, normally a highly diverse and inclusive campus. But the University of Hartford — and all campuses, for that matter — should re-evaluate whether it is doing enough to combat these attitudes before situations like this arise. Are residence hall staff properly trained to deal with these situations and attitudes? Are incoming freshmen fully prepared to deal with the diverse cultures they’re bound to encounter? Does the campus truly foster an inclusive atmosphere of respect and acceptance? Are behaviors like these clearly and explicitly denounced?
There is room to improve. Now is the time.