University of Pennsylvania senior Christopher Abreu, a black man who will graduate cum laude next month, alleges that drunk white students called him a “nigger” last weekend. Abreu described his experience in an op-ed that appeared in the April 19 edition of the student-run Daily Pennsylvanian.
“I was heading home at 2 a.m.,” he wrote, “which meant that students were stumbling out of bars and making their way back home as well.”
He says a drunk student asked, “Where can I get some fried chicken? ... You look like someone who knows where you can get fried chicken.”
Abreu writes that he suggested they “try Wawa if you’re hungry.”
The white student yelled out to his friends, “I’m gonna go get some fried chicken! This nigger just told me where it’s at!”
Minutes before, a separate group of students had spoken to him in mocked, black urban dialect: “Yo son, what up dawg? Wut’s good, a’ight? ... Word, really? Yo, what are you doin’ here? You belong here or what?”
The allegations have reignited an old debate on campus: Is racism a problem at Penn? If so, who is at fault and what should be done about it?
The day after Abreu’s op-ed was published, 200 black students and a smaller number of white, Asian and Latino supporters gathered at the College Green under Ben Franklin’s gaze. Everyone wore black and stood in silence.
Janelle McDermoth, a first-year student planning to major in English, created the event on Facebook.
“I was born in the Northeast Bronx [New York City] to a Jamaican family. In seventh grade, I moved to a predominantly white high school in Westchester County,” she says. “Some people haven’t ever had to deal with people who aren’t like them before.”
Most student onlookers were supportive—but surprised. “I think it’s definitely sometimes kind of an undercurrent,” says Wharton freshman Derek Livermont, adding that bad people are at their worst when drunk. “But it’s not a reflection of the entire population.”
“I guess I just never noticed,” said senior English major Rachael Freedman. “It’s disturbing, but I’m not sure it represents everything that happens at Penn.”
Many comments on the DP ’s website, however, harshly criticized Abreu.
One commenter asked, “How do you know the race of the people that approached you?” And another suggested, “It’s possible these weren’t even Penn students.”
Much of the criticism focused on one sentence Abreu had written: “I cannot in good faith recommend that minorities come to Penn.”
“It’s incredibly unfair the blame the university,” wrote a commenter named kasepiki, “because you feel like you don’t belong, or because you had a run in with some drunk racist students.”
One man suggested that blacks were equally racist. “Then you get to make blanket statements basically implying that every white person at Penn is racist. Am I allowed to be offended by that, or would that be racist? What about the countless times that my girlfriend has been harassed and called things by black men in West Philly while she is there volunteering her valuable time at a welfare center?”
Some commenters pleaded for empathy. “Can we please take some time and focus on the people who are actually in the wrong here? That is to say, the white upenn students who were extremely racist, with one white student actually calling Chris a nigger?”
Abreu says that racism is something he’s dealt with his entire time at Penn, from whispered comments to suggestions that he was admitted because of affirmative action.
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