Race Relations Spark Conversation at CCSU
By Ruth Bruno
The community of New Britain is finding ways to form discussions regarding race and its relation to the criminal justice system through Central Connecticut State University.
Last year the campus was a hotspot for protests and rallies following the verdict of Darren Wilson in relation to the Ferguson incident. As time has moved on, professors and students are hoping to keep the momentum and continue discussions about race.
“People wait for some sort of traumatic event or outrage to happen, but the fact is, those things are happening every single day,” says Joshua Perlstein, a full-time theatre professor at CCSU.
Perlstein teamed up with students to host the talk held last Tuesday in the Clock Tower Room of the CCSU Student Center. The meeting was open to students, faculty, administrative professionals, and the community.
As the meeting continued that evening, talk frequently turned to issues regarding the criminal justice system’s relations with race. “My husband identifies as black, my son is black. My boy faced every day being stopped by the police, every day being followed in the store, because of the color of his skin and the texture of his hair,” said Kim, a New Britain resident in attendance.
As the others in attendance responded, they brought attention to the lack of involvement and accountability within local police stations.
“I think the reason we have so many instances of police brutality is because people don’t pay attention to their local government, and that’s not a certain color’s problem; that’s everyone’s problem,” said CCSU student Josh Quintana.
“I’m not in the hood all the time,” said student Anthony Valentine in response to Quintana. “But if I do go to the hood, I know that they’re not going to vote because they don’t feel that anyone is going to change the circumstances that they are in. They may vote; they know that they aren’t getting out of the hood.”
Perlstein echoed Valentine’s feelings of frustration and lack of change within the system prior to the meeting.
“If we spent as much money on education as we do on prisons, everybody would be in school. If we didn’t devote so much of our resources to criminalizing and incarcerating people when they don’t need to be, maybe we wouldn’t have these problems,” said Perlstein.
Perlstein hopes to rid society of the stigma that often follows youth once they have been institutionalized. He shared with the others in attendance that he has partnered with the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown to teach theatre to young adults in the hope that the process will help them take charge of their futures.
“I believe our criminal justice system is telling people of color that they are ‘X’ and this is their story and this is their destiny. If we can re-tell that story, then we’ll have a whole new generation of very creative and successful people,” said Perlstein.
As the night wore on, a majority of the group concluded that in order to make changes within the political and criminal justice realm, it is necessary to hold open discussions about race.
“Students don’t feel comfortable talking about race on campus and that’s a problem, it really is. We’re trying to hold events where students can share their thoughts candidly without feeling judged,” said student Mercedes Mckelvie of the Black Student Union.
Valentine and Perlstein suggested ideas they have been considering to get a reaction from students on the CCSU campus. Perlstein suggested taking confederate flags and having students who were offended by the flag tie it around their mouths as a symbol of repression.
“We have to get an uprising going. We just need to get some momentum moving here,” said Valentine as the meeting came to a close. However, he reiterated his opinion that many African-American students like himself are less inclined to feel that they have the potential to make a difference in political and social movements.
“Look around this room and it’s evident that we can see skin color,” said Valentine, pointing out that the majority of participants at the meeting were Caucasian. “So I look around and I see three darker skinned individuals in this room. I’m here for the individuals who want to be here, but aren’t because they don’t think the opportunity exists. I’m fighting for them.”