Sudhama Ranganathan Alleges Hostile and Intimidating School Environment
For three academic years the Landscape Architecture Department at the University of Connecticut put me through harassment, hazing and discrimination which started off subtle but soon this behavior became more and more overt. To me by junior and senior years it felt like unwritten policy within my graduating class in the department of Landscape Architecture to treat me to racism and harassment. The accompanying credo being never let it become too blatant. It started off being murmurings and mumblings about my being an Islamic “terrorist.“ This was in reference to my race and criminal convictions from thirteen years previous to my entering UCONN for my involvement in a student protest turned violent. The racism happened when certain professors painted me as a Muslim terrorist by preying on post 9/11 fears.
The ensuing abuse and harassment worked in concert to produce a state of constant stress. It effectively created a hostile environment around me within the Department of Landscape Architecture. Some professors and students in the program made it difficult for me to get good grades. Physical assault ranged from outright shoving and jabbing to repetitive brushing & jostling. The cumulative effect was meant to get me to quit from the stress; flunk out as a result of feeling discouraged and uninspired; or to get kicked out as a result of my being pushed so far I would react to stress through some kind of act of violence or retribution. It was a daily struggle to keep a smile on my face.
The way I paid my tuition at UCONN was through a scholarship granted to myself and my brother through Wesleyan University as a result of my father having been a professor at Wesleyan. A stipulation of the scholarship was that it could only be used towards a bachelor´s degree. It also required going to school full time and straight through a four year degree without any semesters off. The scholarship paid for my tuition and was the only thing my father left me and my brother upon his passing
I did not want to lose this scholarship which to me represented an inheritance of education. I felt awful about what I had done concerning the arson. By getting my degree at UCONN I felt I might right some of my wrongs. Transferring out was difficult as most Landscape Architecture programs last five years, however based on the professor´s unique philosophies at in the Landscape Architecture program at UCONN it was four years in length. My scholarship required maintaining certain grades otherwise my shot at a college education could be vanquished. Neither my mother nor I had the capital to fund a degree in landscape architecture. It does require an intense amount of time to pass classes and maintain grades. The following are examples of some of what happened to me at the University of Connecticut´s Landscape Architecture department:
Professor Alexopoulis actually got physical with me to intimidate and scare me and/ or to get a reaction from me to get me kicked out of the program. First semester of sophomore year professor Alexopoulis insinuated knew about the arson at Wesleyan University. These insinuations came as indirect conversational hints about fires; bombings etc when the topic had been landscape architecture. These hints were dropped with obvious sarcasm. Eventually I got the point.
I figured I'd have to deal with some minor expressions of negative opinions toward me on occasion. Minor post-9/11 taunts and humiliation I'd consider tolerable. The line was crossed when professor Alexopoulis actually touched me. One day when passing through the sophomore studio on the way to his office he decided to stop behind my seat. My back was turned to him. He took his right hand and began jabbing it into my lower back about 3 or 4 times repeatedly. I was shocked and felt pangs of fear and discomfort in my stomach. I was even more troubled when he said nothing afterwards. He just turned and walked to his office. He did this once more sophomore year.
During sophomore year an older student in his forties named Jim T. Leblanc who was walked up behind me and jabbed his fingers into my lower back three times the same way as professor Alexopoulis. He committed this act without saying anything afterwards also like professor Alexopoulis. He just walked straight to his seat. He put his stuff at his desk, walked past again and went into the hall. I followed him to where I found him hanging his coat. In a very direct manner I asked him not to touch me, to stay away from me and not speak to me again. I avoided him after this and hardly spoke 3 words to him again for the rest of my time in the program.
Jim had told me during sophomore year that he owned an import/ export company and didn't need to work. That's how he could afford to attend a time intensive program like landscape architecture and not have to worry about his family's finances. He later switched the story to his working for a large construction company as a designer. If my memory serves me correctly the company was located in his hometown of Unionville, Ct but I might be wrong about that. People in the class hinted that Jim was some kind of private investigator or something hired to watch me due to my previous crime at Wesleyan University to make sure nothing like that happened at UCONN. However he also actively participated in the harassment and it is my belief he also helped in the planning and strategizing for such. As of yet I have no proof of him being a private investigator, and the students who said it could have just been trying to intimidate me again. To read more about this click here.
During junior year, starting with the first big project of junior year, the redesign of the UCONN visitor´s center, we had crits in which the senior year students played an integral role. On certain projects they were the main critics. For the visitor´s center project we spent a lot of time doing analysis and research. We did design after design until we came up with our final designs. The night before the final presentation the juniors, myself included, were up late working on drawings for the next day. Some seniors came back to the studios late that night from a trip to the race track.
The seniors came in & were asking questions about our drawings & offering suggestions. I asked questions and got help from a student I´ll call Greg for now. He came to my desk many times that night and helped me by giving me perspectives and suggestions. He had also given me help earlier in the week regarding my drawings and design for the visitor´s center project. He eventually said he thought the design looked good, and that he liked the presentation. His tone & manner indicated to me he was being genuine.
The next afternoon at the presentation Greg and a senior I´ll call Fred for now both came in to guest critique the class along with other seniors. They critiqued the juniors in groups of three and four senior critics at a time. The juniors presented (one at a time) their own individually prepared presentations on the redesign for the UCONN visitor´s center redesign. I was a junior and when my turn came to present, Fred and Greg were critics.
They laid into my presentation in a manner that was over the top, rude and mean even by typical critique standards. They went so far as to say “it´s just bad.“ Quite a change from it looks fine. They gave it a B- which isn't a bad grade. Greg commented they were being nice by giving it that grade. The rude and obnoxious attitude of the critique was worse than what other people in my class were getting. I got upset and started to argue a bit not at the grade but at the obviously mean spirited critique. Another junior student, Eduardo Colon (who later made some interesting revelations), told me it wasn´t worth it. I ceased my complaints. It was a departure from the comments made the night before. Greg critiqued some of his own suggestions as “bad.$#147
After the critique people came up and told me they felt what Greg and Fred did was wrong. There were more junior critiques that year. However, when my graduating class became seniors we did one or two helpful critiques, but never with weight or that counted like when we were juniors and were critiqued by seniors.
During Junior year professor Alexopoulis physically assaulted me some more. In the first instance I was talking to a member of my graduating class, I´ll call her Jessica, at her desk. I was in a small space between groups of desks and one had to pass through this space to get to the other side of the room.
The way I was standing was slightly blocking the way for anyone to pass from one side of the room to another. This was not purposeful I was just casually talking and unaware of the fact that I was blocking the passage. Instead of asking me to move professor Alexopoulis grabbed me by the hips with his hands (one on each hip) and threw me to his left. He kept walking to the back of the room without ever saying excuse me. I was shocked. I looked at Jessica and she looked back at me with a look of confusion. She said, “don´t ask me“ acknowledging the inappropriateness of the act.
Professor Alexopoulis also jabbed his fingers into the small of my back once while I was standing at my desk during my junior year in the L.A. program at UCONN. This was a repeat of similar actions occurring sophomore year which I outlined previously. I, again, said nothing as I did not want to suffer any negative repercussions as a result of reporting the professor.
Second semester of my junior year I took land grading with professor Alexopoulis. Admittedly I was nervous and worried due to previous experiences with him, but I pressed forward determined to make it to graduation. For this semester professor Alexopoulis set policy of giving most information the class would need to know for each project at the beginning of each of his classes. The rest of the information would be passed on to certain students in the class. It would be up to each individual student to get the missing information from those given the missing pieces of instructions. Thus, it was at the discretion of the students given the rest of the information to tell each of the rest of us as much of the information as they wished. As happened most of the students who got the information were those who harassed me, people who were on the fence about the treatment towards me or people who kept their mouths shut about their feelings regarding my treatment within the program.
In this way my ability to do well was hampered in the classes. I was discriminated against and the power structure of the hostile environment was established. The message sent out to the class read if you support Sudhama or complain about the harassment he receives your grades could suffer. If you support Sudhama you will be cut out of the process and you will receive similar harassment as him. When people withdrew their support for me, stopped subtly complaining or just stayed quiet any negative repercussions directed at them lessened or stopped. The convenience of silence put people behind a protective corral from which they could peer out and see me being abused without having to worry about being treated as I.
At times Professor John Alexopoulis would deliberately mislead me, give me little bits of help but not significant amounts or he´d just be real vague while he treated some other students differently; those students who were his conscripts. After the assigned seating move I was seated next to a student named Barbara Yeager who said before studying landscape architecture at UCONN she worked in the nursery industry, but would elude to a non specified job with the State of Connecticut. I suppose she meant Southern Connecticut State University. On a particular land grading assignment there was a house located towards the top of the proposed design area. We had to grade the design in such a way as to figure out how the lines of topography would be navigated in and around the house. Eduardo Colon suggested I should just run the lines of topography into the part of the drawing representing the house. Professor Alexopoulis told me I could not do this when he stopped at my desk. He told Barbara she could. When I brought this to her attention later on she said, “don´t let it get to you.“ But it was eating away at me. Of course this let me know Barbara thought it was wrong too.
In the same way a student named Joe Ross, for now, told me before the assigned seating move I should just ask him instead of the professor should I have any questions regarding the course. He said this was because Professor Alexopoulis was just going to pick on me. This respite was limited to things Joe Ross understood which was further dictated by his inconsistent attendance which might explain his having already been on campus six years, according to him, because of consistently poor academic performance. Of course after the seating move I did not have even that help. I sometimes would sit alone in the sophomore studio studying as it was quieter there when the sophomore´s weren´t occupying it. When no people were there it had the added advantage of being away from the junior and senior studios where no one was there to pick on me or distract me. Once, when professor Alexopoulis was passing through the sophomore studio to his office and I was in the room, he said to me, “What´d you get deported?“
During the end of my junior year the seniors had a special guest critic for their final presentation. I was in the junior studio working on my final presentation for my own final critique for a professor I´ll call professor East for now. The time that I finished my work in the junior studio for the day happened to coincide with a break in the senior´s critique. Some of the seniors and a professor who usually did not get involved were standing in the hallway close to the door that leads out of the basement LA studios.
Among the senior class students standing in the hallway was Greg the student I mentioned previously. As I came out of the junior´s studio he was standing leaning against the left wall. The way out of the basement Landscape Architecture studios was blocked by senior students milling around talking with this other professor between senior presentations. Greg is taller than me and I was kind of hunched over with my heavy backpack on as I was leaving the studios. My head was about at the same level as Greg´s elbow. I said, “excuse me,“ at which point Greg turned his head and saw me coming. He then lifted his elbow & quickly jabbed his elbow back catching me straight on the point of my jaw. I looked up at him his face was red and he was smiling.
I was stunned & couldn´t believe he had done it. I pushed him back against the wall with my left hand and he snickered, but did nothing more to me. The other professor stood with his arms crossed looking upset & staring at Greg with a look simultaneously conveying disappointment and anger that Greg had let the efforts to keep me from graduating become overtly physical - or overt period. In response to this Greg said to the other professor,“He deserved it.“
This goes to show the level of animosity and anger that had been built up towards me in the program as a result of my being painted as a terrorist, an anti-American foreign invader something that needed to be eradicated. The other professor never said anything to me about this. Greg never apologized. I was even more scared of retribution at this point and said nothing to the authorities.
During the second semester of junior year a professor East announced something unprecedented in the Landscape Architecture program. Professor East announced the classroom had become too loud. She said it had become so because people were too comfortable with the people seated closest to them. Professor East claimed this was to break up the “marriages“ in the class. A lot of students were upset by this because they were happy where they were and did not want to move - most students anyways.
Sophomore year professor Miniutti allowed us to redesign the classroom as we saw fit saying it was the tradition in the Landscape Architecture program to allow the students to choose the seating arrangement. Some people had taken it upon themselves to redesign the desks and general layout of the room. Where I was seated was on the outside of the desks towards the front of the room. As the semester went on people would often kick my stool and brush past me as they would walk back and forth in the room. This would have the effect of making me nervous and unable to fully focus on my work in class.
I believe the decision to rearrange the seating during my junior year in the junior´s studio was done because of my initial seat position in the junior studio. In the beginning of junior year the other professor allowed us to select our own seats by picking names out of a hat. I selected a seat away from any passageways in the beginning of the semester. No one could bump & brush me because I was located in a corner in the back of the room & was sitting next to Joe Ross who at the time was fairly innocuous in his treatment of me. Jessica was also located close to me and a student I'll call Dianna as well. These two people helped me junior and sophomore year. Previous to our class the tradition had been to allow students to sit where they wished.
The new move took away a lot of my support as the call had been put out to keep the noise level down. The position prevented me from walking around and asking people for help especially from Joe Ross who was now at the other side of the room along with Dianna and Jessica who had provided me with most of my help as professor Alexopoulis was usually not helpful to me. Since most of these people were out of my earshot and vice versa it was much easier for people to harass me. It made it easier for those against me to encourage those people who supported me not to support me as I was now isolated from them.
This is how most of my support system to get around professor Alexopoulis´ racist behavior within the class started to erode. Moving the seating in the classroom helped facilitate the effort to undermine my confidence and to stress me out in order to get me to quit, flunk out or get kicked out of the program. It also contributed to my reputation disintegrating among my peers even beyond the damage done by leaking my past and felony status had already done. In a small field like Landscape Architecture a damaged reputation would no doubt follow me in my future career.
Senior year the seating plans which had originally been in the hands of the professors was assigned to two students Eduardo Colon and Vivian Lee. These assignments left me with Joe Ross sitting next to me, which was fine for the most part. However what it also left me with was a seat right next to the door in the middle of the classroom traffic. I was now open to brushing, jostling and bumping from passers by. The physical intimidation made life in the room scary which made it difficult for me to concentrate on my work.
The position of my seat was important to any goal of trying to get me to quit, flunk out or get kicked out. The physical jostling didn´t happen once but over and over. It would increase in it´s frequency the closer to a presentation we would get until it was just constant. The constant repetition had the effect of raising my level of anxiety, breaking my level of confidence, distracting me, making me fearful, making me angry, bitter and feeling betrayed. No matter how far in away from the edge of my drafting table I'd move, people would half circle around the desk and brush and jostle me. When I´d complain to one person others would continue so it made no difference.
The idea was to slowly raise my level of stress till I was sufficiently unable to fully focus on my work. It can be compared to putting a frog in a pot of water then slowly turning up the heat. If you do it too fast it alerts the frog to the perilous temperature and the frog will jump out of the trap. If you do it slowly the frog tries to adjust until it is too late and the frog is cooked. Because being too blatant could be used as obvious evidence and get them caught, this frog in the pot style fit their goals of harassing while not getting caught. Pressures brought by the professors and their cronies forced people in the program who indicated displeasure at my being harassed to occasionally harass me or turn a blind eye to my being harassed. If I reacted I would be penalized or kicked out of school. If I complained I was afraid I would be moved against and it was subtly insinuated I would be openly branded paranoid, a liar, a trouble maker or some combination of all 3. It was a trap I tried with all my heart not to dip even one toe into.
On Monday September 19th 2005, roughly a week after the four year anniversary of 9/11, I came into class and Joe Ross asked me if I had ever been involved in a bombing or something. I was surprised and asked him what he meant. He told me Bill Weckman (who happened to be one of the people who harassed and discriminated against me the most) had searched online to find information (biographical) online about classmates and found I had been involved in an arson. He wanted to know whether or not I had done it and what I thought about it. This was at the beginning of senior year and set the tone for how I would be treated, how many people would be supportive of me and my how I was to be looked at by my peers for the remainder of my time in the program.
During the first semester senior year the notoriously difficult 1 credit course taught by professor Peter Miniutti was set to meet. All the students were tense and essentially resigned to a tough workload. Professor Miniutti announced we would be working on a newsletter. He essentially proclaimed he would be taking it easy on us with this assignment.
Professor Miniutti said the newsletter would produce a grade for each student based on individual participation in developing the newsletter. If you participated and completed the assigned responsibility for yourself you would get an A as a grade if not a D or F. His words not mine. The only two positions assigned to people by professor Miniutti were to a student I´ll call Bridgett and a student named Tim Clarke. Tim graduated from high school in 2002 in Somers, Ct and was said to be the youngest student in the class. He was allowed to skip the mandatory sophmore design competition. Both students were people who had demonstrated their disdain for me.
These two would be at the top of the food chain within the paper. No matter what happened they had final say as to what happened regarding the paper. Everyone else got selected by volunteering and voting for open positions within the paper. Based on everything going on I volunteered to write an article on minorities in Landscape Architecture I thought it would be appropriate. I also thought it would make certain people harassing me afraid of doing anything wrong to me as they might feel they were now in jeopardy of being exposed.
There was an immediate reaction from the class loud and overtly against my suggestion. But, there was a little less than half the class saying “why not!“ Open support for my idea quieted people on the other side of the class and my suggestion went through.
Back in the class room a student I´ll call Marla for now, often on the fence regarding the hostile environment towards me, gave me the first sign of things to come. She said,“I´m warning you to be very careful about how you write this article.“ Marla thought I should stick to something subtle, non-confrontational and that wouldn´t cast the department in a negative light.
I don´t know what made her feel that way as I had never had any kind of discussion with her or anyone else in the room outside of Eddie Colon about any feelings of mine regarding race or racial issues within the department. Eduardo came in as she was saying this and reinforced her idea. She suggested I did an article on Eddie George the pro football player who had a degree in landscape architecture and owned a landscape architecture firm and is African American. After a bit of work Eddie George proved himself a genuinely nice person and let me interview him. This seemed a big deal for our little department and our small newsletter. Vivian Lee was assigned editor of my article. She initially said my first rough draft was ok, but that the article needed some minor adjustments citing some of Eddie George´s quotes were hard to understand and “didn't sound intelligent.“
I made some adjustments to the article and it still didn´t seem to be enough. Vivian suggested I go to the UCONN English department´s writing center for help. The person I met with there suggested changing some quotes by paraphrasing. When I interviewed Eddie George he had just gotten off a plane and was driving from the airport. The interview was conversational and when in print some of it wasn´t exactly clear like almost any conversation would be. It was my first foray into journalism, but the English Department´s writing tutor related to me that in journalism the style of writing I was using was OK. This as long as it conveyed the meaning behind what the person being interviewed was saying. I was also asked by Vivian to cut down the length of the article.
I cut down the length and paraphrased where necessary. This still wasn´t enough for her. She asked Marla to help me cut down the length some more. Vivian wanted me to cut Eddie George completely out of the article because according to her “the whole class“ wanted that as his words were “unprofessional sounding“ and “didn´t sound intelligent.“ I struggled with her over and over to cut down the interview and ended up with only a couple of Eddie George quotes from a five page interview with him. Eddie George appears on television doing talk shows, MTV documentaries, infomercials and other positions in which he has to speak. I had real trouble accepting Vivian´s assertion he sounded neither intelligent nor professional. But, when Marla wrote me out an outline using only two of his quotes and cutting the article to one page I followed it.
Vivian Lee, my editor, at first said it was fine then said she wasn´t sure. She told me “the whole class“ was saying they wanted all mention of Eddie George taken out of the article. I didn´t understand why but kept pressing forward. I gave her what I had hoped would be my final draft.
The next day I got to class and found the article I had handed in taped up above my desk with corrections on it done by Bridgette (not my editor), one of two people assigned by professor Miniutti to have final say over the paper. Although the article I handed in was for a small departmental paper and not to be the main article it seemed to be getting a lot of heat. Eddie George said nothing controversial and was positive and uplifting as he is when seen on TV. He had been gracious enough to take time from his busy schedule to grant an interview to help promote our small department. I started to get upset and challenged Bridgette on this. She got upset and started yelling. I reached my end and started yelling back unfortunately.
After this Bill Weckman, Tim Clarke, Bridgette, Eddie Colon and one other student informed me the article was not liked by “the whole class“ and that it was the “whole class´s“ decision to not include an interview with Eddie George. Eddie Colon said he liked the idea originally and Marla said she still liked the idea. So what changed? Now “the whole class“ felt it was better to focus on the class at UCONN and it´s relationship to minorities there. That would be three people in my class. Most of the people giving their opinions were overwhelmingly white. I wondered why they were so concerned about an article which could only make our department look good. It felt surreal.
My writing skills were at least good enough to get a submission into a one page article in a small departmental paper. The writing skills displayed in other articles weren´t exactly New York Times material nor should they have been expected to be. This was an inter departmental newsletter in a small Landscape Architecture Program. I was a minority writing an article on minorities in Landscape Architecture from my perspective as a minority in a positive and healthy way. Eddie George is a prominent African American who holds a Bachelors degree in Landscape Architecture and owns two Landscape Architecture firms. He was giving me his opinions on minorities in Landscape Architecture. Based on this I felt reasonably assured an article on Eddie George had at least something to do with minorities in Landscape Architecture.
I decided to show the article to other people in the department and when I threatened to go above Bridgette´s head she claimed she had the support of all the professors in the department. Before I made a big issue out of it I decided to show it to people who I knew had intellectual abilities I respected who were outside of UCONN. I eventually got it into the hands of a friend of my family who is an author, English professor and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for writing. She said the article was essentially fine. Some of the points were technically correct, but overall she cited the criticisms as being ridiculous.
When I cited this to the afore mentioned group of classmates they said it didn´t matter, and it was what “the whole class“ felt and the class´s opinion on grammar that counted. I hadn't realized grammar was judged subjectively. I submitted the article anyways saying it was final and that was all I was going to do. Eventually I was told the article would go in with no real explanation why. Eddie Colon said it was because he told them to. Given the rancor from before I was skeptical about this alone convincing people to change their minds.
Besides, he was one of them. Now he was for my article and refused to give an explanation why he kept changing his mind. It seemed strange to say the least. Of course as a parting shot, when the paper came out the final printing had this picture of Eddie Colon (the student) where the picture of Eddie George should have been. Brian told me that it was up to Tim Clarke, the other student assigned by professor Miniutti to have final say, to put in the picture of Eddie George which I had given to Tim Clarke myself. He never put it in. If you wish to listen to this interview and see if he sounds “unproffessional and unintelligent“ you can click here. I'm sure you'll agree with me when I say he does not. The entirety of this event was meant to get me to quit, drop out or react out of emotions and get kicked out. I refused. This incident gave rise to the next incident.
This next event began before the newsletter came out. Professor Miniutti finally called a meeting of the class to discuss his opinions on the newsletter. We gathered in the presentation room. Professor Miniutti claimed he liked the newsletter noting there were some minor adjustments needed. He got to my part of the newsletter and commended me on my efforts. He offered critiques specifically on picking a picture of Eddie George for the article.
No mention was made about the efforts made to keep my article out of the newsletter. There was no explanation why Tim Clarke and Bridgette had just relented on Eddie Colon´s say so. Especially since Eddie himself was so against it. Professor Miniutti moved on to Eddie Colon´s article which was originally supposed to supplant mine due to its “whole class“ favored status. I was getting the inkling professor Miniutti had put Tim Clarke and Bridgette in charge on purpose and was perhaps directing things behind the scenes.
He said essentially that it was fine then got to a quote of mine where I listed myself as biracial. He said, “Biracial? Sounds like bisexual!!!“ and started laughing loudly. The way he said it sounded as if his comment was meant to demean my racial classification. Of course the comment was also demeaning to people of alternative lifestyles. He did this blatantly, cruelly and did not apologize for doing so. I was begining to get confirmation on my feeling the efforts made against my arcicle getting into the paper had been purposeful, and the professor knew about it.
He also never apologized for the fact that when the paper came out this picture of fEddie Colon got printed instead of Eddie George´s. I wasn´t upset by this because of feeling entitled to an apology , but after all the harassment I finished the article and strived to make it good for him and the class. For that I felt I deserved an apology or at least some mention of it. Once when in his office the following semester I brought this up to him and asked why this was never brought up in class. He smirked and said he did but I was absent on that day.
Next semester there was a survey being done around the campus by a private company. The survey asked students questions about the upcoming spring weekend. Among the questions being asked was one about racial classification with biracial as a category. Professor Miniutti was in the hall outside the studio talking with Jessica. I showed him the page that had the question and pointed out the classification. He looked at the form and said, “yeah it still looks weird to me. “ I kept pushing on. This incident and the paper were investigated by the school’s Office of Diversity and Equity. They concluded nothing inappropriate was done including Eddie George being cut out of the article for sounding “unprofessional and unintelligent.“
1st semester senior year I took a course entitled design of subdivisions with professor Alexopoulis. He was up to his old tricks of giving pertinent information to certain students only. New tricks included more thorough ways of keeping me out of the loop, isolated and upset. For instance on September 7th 2005 I got to class to work on a project with my teammates, Joe Ross and a student I´ll call James. We had been told at the previous meeting with professor Alexopoulis the project in its finality would not be due until the 9th of September. The professor said on Wednesday the 7th there would be a preliminary critique. This he said involved just him and each individual team for last minute advice. He specified to the three of us Friday the 9th would be the presentation. However when I got to the classroom on Wed the 7th it was the day of the final presentation.
Professor Alexopoulis told me and my teammates the 7th would be a run through critique with us and himself. He told us we would not need to have the Power Point presentation finished just halfway done. When my teammates arrived their suprise confirmed professor Alexopoulis told us all three of us the run through was the 7th. We scrambled to get our half done project completed in the ten minutes before class started and ready for our presentation which was in a half an hour. When we brought this up to professor Alexopoulis he said, “too bad you heard wrong.“ This was yet another attempt to get me to quit from stress, flunk out from bad grades or get kicked out of school. I never did, but that does not make it justified.
Our presentation was half done. Since we could not rehearse it we shot from the hip the whole time. I believe this was done on purpose to demoralize me and get my grade point average to lower. This was yet another attempt to get me to quit from stress, flunk out from bad grades or get kicked out of school. I never did, but that does not make the abuse, harassment, & discrimination justified.
During the research phase of the first presentation for professor Alexopoulis´s senior design class Joe Ross, James and myself took a couple of trips to the neighborhood we were to be presenting on. Joe Ross and James were obviously overcome by the neighborhood which was economically depressed. It´s pretty safe to say they were scared. When Joe Ross was taking pictures he was so scared he could barely hold the camera to his face and shoot. When the research and picture taking was over I went to my car Joe Ross and James walked to Joe Ross´s car. I opened my door, looked up and Brian was driving away like somebody was shooting at his back tires. I only relate this story to help explain what happened next.
About a week or so after the last research trip I came into class and found a large piece of paper hanging on the post next to my desk. Written on it was the quote,“ it was so ghetto. I was walking with my head down.“ This was posted with regards to James´s feelings about the neighborhood he expressed during a private conversation with some other people. I was not upset by the fact he said it, but by the fact someone else wrote his words next to my desk. It made me feel humiliated, embarrassed and angry. Everyone knew my feelings on people of color especially as I had a picture of Martin Luther King taped above my desk. This spoke to the sometimes subtle - pretend to fly under the radar - prejudice and hostility often directed towards me which had the effect of permeating the class as a whole.
On Monday October 3rd 2005 professor Alexopoulis told me, at my desk critique for a project called the Bovino One Acre development, I could not use flag lots which are property lots that have a driveway that comes up the side of it making it look like a flag on a pole in plan view. I asked professor Alexopoulis what I could do alternately to change this error. He replied he did not know and my grade would be reduced if I could not fix it.
Joe Ross pointed out to me other people had done the same as I and had been told by professor Alexopoulis that it was OK. At least one of them named Dan Gallagher was to have such a design featured during the guest critique the day of the project deadline Wed. Oct 5th. Dan had been to UCONN previously but was kicked off campus, according to him, for two years and attended another college. He was allowed to forgo the mandatory sophmore competition because professor Alexopolous permitted him to join our class instead of having to compete with the next entering class.
On the day of the deadline I overheard professor Alexopolous speaking with Martha. He was telling her how flag lots could be fixed. Martha had already finished her design and he was reaffirming what he had told her previously, which he would not tell me. There wasn't enough time for me to fix mine before the deadline. This seemed pretty blatant.
The class had a presentation that day with a guest critique. The guest critique happened to be the founder of the Landscape Architecture Program at UCONN. I asked him about the flag lots. He gave me the same answer professor Alexopoulis gave to Martha. After the presentation I brought this fact to his attention, asking him, as Joe Ross had suggested earlier, whether my grade would be reduced due to his not sharing this information with me earlier.
Professor Alexopoulis snapped back at me saying the grade would still be reduced. I asked him why and he replied it was because I “should have known.“ Joe Ross said, afterwards, that I was right in correcting him but that I should not have reacted to him that way I did. Jessica said to me I should just bite my tongue, and that I didn´t “want to make it any worse“ on myself than it already was. These statements indicated the degree of discrimination towards me by professor Alexopoulis.
During final semester of my senior year at UCONN my most important class was without a doubt the Advanced Design Class taught by Professor Peter Miniutti. I was distraught by the experience of the newsletter, but was hopeful that life might somehow bring me some kind of change. Professor Miniutti started us off with a small project at the end of which we all did informal presentations of our projects. I missed one of the design criteria.
Thus, I had low hopes for my presentation as it had what was referred to as a “fatal flaw.“ However, the actual presentation turned out to be different. Professor Miniutti gave me high marks and said it was a really good. He complimented the minimalism in the design and said it was a good design in front of the class. After the next small project we had one on one interviews with professor Miniutti. During my private interview he informed me the project he originally said was a good project and the current one were not “senior level“ work in his opinion. He told me I was in danger of flunking and that if I did not raise the level of my work I would not pass his class. This meant I would not graduate.
I was informed by two students they had been told by professor Miniutti they would fail. However those two students had half - heartedly dragged their way through the program the whole 3 years and readily admitted that. They both indicated on numerous occasions during all three years there were more important things in life than landscape architecture in their opinions. That was not the case with how I felt about trying to do well in the program and making an effort. In addition I had to consider my scholarship requirements. It seemed odd as up till then my grades in the Landscape Architecture Department from all the professors including professor Miniutti had never dropped below a B-. I figured there would have been some previous warning or indication up till then. But I decided he must have had his reasons.
I was determined to work hard and prove myself. Professor Miniutti, however, halted his help for me. He would spend ten to twenty minutes at the desks of other students and one or two minutes at mine. His comments would be brief, terse and generally negative. I asked him about this and he would give me run around answers. He continued this throughout the entire semester. This continued to the final project at the end of the semester. My mother and myself wrote letters of complaint to professor Miniutti´s superiors and then suddenly I wasn´t in jeopardy of failing anymore.
The culmination of so much harassment over the course of my time in the Landscape Architecture Department came to a point at which I did react coming at graduation. I had been celebrating my graduation with a friend the night before and admittedly showed up to graduation slightly hungover. Part of my drinking that night was because I knew the next day I had to go on with all this hatred dumped into me over my time getting this degree and the people who dumped it in would get away scott free. I became full of anger. That anger mixed with my hangover caused me to seethe at the thought of what had happened to me. This tension boiled over when I saw some of the students who had harassed me standing in a group.
After three years of holding back I finally reacted. I called some of the perpetrators white trash, bigots and things of that ilk. I was so intoxicated by anger and residual alcohol I just couldn't stop myself. I am ashamed of myself for this and can admit that. I only hope I didn't ruin graduation too badly for my classmates. For that behavior I apologize.
If I hope to hear the people who committed wrongs against me at UCONN admit to those wrongs then I must admit to my wrongs in all fairness. There is no excusing my behavior that day. It was a reaction to years of abuse at the hands of professors and students. And that is what this is about. Each incident taken alone might or might not be excused, but taken together they form a pattern. This pattern is of intolerance, abuse, harassment and discrimination. It is because of the totality of these events that the racism demonstrated against me weighs so heavily on me and I believe must be addressed.
I have audio, video and printed forms of evidence of the harassment, abuse and discrimination I encountered at UCONN. Pieces of this evidence can be seen here. Feel free to investigate these and decide for yourself.