I saw other students conscripted by the professor in order to help him out. These conscripts would do his work for him harassing me at times. By pulling others in it also provided reasons for others to keep quiet about it, as to speak up might mean incriminating themselves, and/or their fellow harassers. They used threats of intimidation and harassment against others to get them to participate when they wanted more help. If others did not participate and the harassment wasn't fully sufficient, they would simply use the power of authority and start dropping people's grades, etc.
People were relying on their GPA to stay in the program, stay in school and keep certain scholarships and not to mention the fact they had loans that would need to be paid off whether they stayed in school or not. Many just couldn't afford to do the right thing. Further, certain students were non-traditional older students with families and they needed jobs when they graduated. If their professors hinted at poor performance or character when called by potential employers or even if they could not list their professors as references, it would look odd. The professors might get a call anyway based on that alone, and if they were one of the people that supported me when they were my classmates, the professor would have to do nothing more than hint and use a certain tone to get their point across.
That is the power of authority figures, even corrupt ones and the professors involved in the harassment had that power behind them. It was cooperate with them or else. There could be repercussions in the immediate future and in the distant future also.
The harassment occurred starting in 2003 and pretty much never stopped while I was there. It was very soon after 9-11 and so with the atmosphere, even though I knew it was wrong, I understood the feelings of fear and tension people were going through. Thirteen years prior to my going to school in 1990, when I was seventeen years old I was tangentially involved in a violent student protest at another university in the same state.
That protest was not about any of the things related to 9-11 or any religion period. Nor were the protests anti-American. They were about South Africa and the system of oppression used by the government there during that time to hold down people of color in that country, which was one of the most blatantly discriminatory in the world in 1990. The college the protest was happening at had ties to the government of South Africa through investments and so the protests were primarily trying to get the college to pull out of those investments and stop supporting that regime. Secondary goals were to try and get the school to recruit more minority students and professors.
Basically they were about equal rights for people of color and religion was not even on the radar. I was not one of the main players, just around, but not active, during the planning, I had access to a car and I was one of the lookout people. I didn't actually vandalize anything myself.
But that's not the way it was spun to my classmates at UConn thirteen years later. To hear the professor tell it, I was a Muslim extremist terrorist, member of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden's right hand man and was on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001. Guess I parachuted off at the last minute and no one noticed.
The tension was understandable in all seriousness, but at a certain point it just went beyond what was acceptable and veered into the realm of the strange and criminal. But the revelations did not stop with the professor that seemed hell bent and his minions that apparently would believe most Latinos were illegal immigrants or most African Americans were criminals if an authority figure told them so. In my senior year I decided to file a formal complaint within the school and maybe pursue a lawsuit in a court of law. I revealed my intentions to another student named Ed.
Ed tried to convince me every way he could that I should not pursue a legal case and should not go public. When it failed he tried one last attempt. He revealed to me that he was an undercover law enforcement personnel and had been working in that capacity on the UConn campus for eight years and that if I went public it would blow his cover. I suppose he was trying to impress me, gain my trust and try and intimidate me all at the same time. It didn't work.
He then revealed others who were also there doing the same thing – in my degree program. They were apparently there watching me because of my past. But, my past was not only tangential involvement in something, it was thirteen years prior. Since that time I had never been involved with the law outside of a few traffic violations. I had never even broken the law outside of smoking a little weed in my twenties until I quit and occasionally driving home after having one too many from a night out with friends. That was the extent of it at that point.
If I was such a priority they would have followed my progress. If I was such a priority they would have known that. Seeing as it was after 9-11 I had no problems with some people watching me, that's fine. Have one maybe two taking notes or whatever in my classes. Fine. I wasn't doing anything except trying to get my degree so that wouldn't affect me. What was a problem was the fact that Ed and the people he pointed out were all involved in the harassment and many were some of those that were the professor's conscripts. In fact, the truth is the professor in the end may have been the real conscript (though a very happy participant), as these were people working in a capacity of law enforcement.
What they were doing was clearly illegal. Surveilling is one thing, but harassment? There's no law that allows police or any other law enforcement to do that. In fact, the laws of our country specifically spell out that that is illegal.
Ed would brag openly about the party's he threw where he had underage people drinking. He would brag openly about convincing his younger more impressionable frat brothers to get their underage female relatives to come to their parties, then get them drunk and sleep with them. He would hand out free passes to strip clubs and adult DVD's in class and not all the people in class were old enough to go to strip clubs or buy adult DVD's. This wasn't some college kid he was a cop!
It then made sense why so many were intimidated by him and the others he pointed out. It was not only having trouble getting jobs or dropping grades. It was the fear of what people as obviously corrupt as Ed and the others could do.
One of the things that came out during the Jerry Sandusky case was how people were afraid of what would happen if they came out and told the truth about him. As it turns out, “In 2000, three janitors at the football building at Pennsylvania State University saw Jerry Sandusky engaged in activities that one said he found more upsetting than the worst combat injuries he witnessed in the Korean War. This janitor watched Sandusky pinning a young boy inside a locker-room shower and performing oral sex on him. At the time, none of the janitors said anything to anyone.
“Bringing bad PR to coach Joe Paterno 'would have been like going against the president of the United States in my eyes. ... Football runs this university,' one worker told investigators this month as part of the independent report on the sex-abuse scandal at the university.
“From the janitors to top administrators, the scathing report released Thursday says, people at Pennsylvania State University kept silent about the crimes of Jerry Sandusky, sacrificing children out of fear for their jobs or damage to the university’s 'brand.'” (http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/college/football/view.bg?articleid=1061145507&srvc=sports&position=recent)
When I heard of people being afraid to come forward in the Jerry Sandusky case it reminded me of Ed, the professor and the people Ed pointed out. Just like with the women that claimed to have been attacked by President Clinton and the refusal by the State Department to talk about young male children being raped at party's thrown by US military contractors funded by US taxpayer dollars, the power of people in positions of authority is powerful. (http://www.lawsuitagainstuconn.com/statedepartment.html http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/213720) They can have your job, ruin your scholarship prospects, make your grades drop, allow crimes to go unpunished and set you up in incalculable ways. For people that go through harassment, just staying in the fight takes all your wits. When corrupt authority figures are involved it's even more difficult and seemingly uphill.
Yet, through it all I graduated. That was my goal, and by never veering or allowing them to scare me from my path I found it. I proved it to myself and others that corrupt people aren't all powerful, though they can be very powerful. You just need to use your head and think your moves through in order to survive them. At the same time, don't hesitate to act when the time comes. When you decide on a course of action, just do it. Harassment and other situations of people being preyed upon by the more powerful are not only survivable, but winnable. It only takes determination and the strength to move forward.
Think of the people that finally came forward against Jerry Sandusky as powerful as he was. If they hadn't he would still be doing those awful things he did from his position of power. Not only did the people that finally came forward do the right thing, in the end... they won. It just took that step of making the decision and coming forward. That's how you out and overcome the Sandusky's and the Ed's in life – with faith and real hope in the power of yourself.
To read about my inspiration for this article go to www.lawsuitagainstuconn.com.