When Brianna Brochu, a freshman at the University of Hartford, poisoned and harassed Chennel “Jazzy” Rowe because Chennel is African American, she may well have violated federal and state fair housing laws. The federal Fair Housing Act was passed almost 50 years ago to eliminate housing discrimination and includes a strong provision to protect people from harassment, intimidation or coercion because of race, national origin, religion, sex, color, disability, or familial status. “The acts by Ms. Brochu may be construed as harassment, intimidation, and intentional behavior to displace Ms. Rowe from her housing,” said Lisa Rice, Executive Vice President of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA). Rice added “the University of Hartford must provide fair housing education to its students, dorm monitors, resident managers, maintenance workers, police/security teams, faculty, and other employees and contractors so everyone understands their rights and obligations under the law. The only way we will stamp out hate and discrimination is if people report it and take action against it.” Hate crimes can be reported via NFHA’s website.
The U.S. has seen an uptick in the number of hate crimes over the past year. According to 2015 FBI statistics, 31.5% of hate crimes occur at someone’s home or residence. That includes dormitories and student housing which are both covered dwellings under the federal Fair Housing Act. There is an imperative for universities to take these matters seriously, particularly since there has been a rash of hate crimes at colleges across the country, including incidents at the University of Michigan, Cornell University, and American University. Universities have an obligation to make sure their students are not discriminated against and to pursue every potential act of discrimination with vigor and diligence.
Rice added, “What happened to Jazzy Rowe is appalling, and we are pleased that the authorities are adding a hate crime charge to the criminal charges being brought against Ms. Brochu. However, there may have also been a violation of civil law. It is NFHA’s mission to make sure that everyone has the right and opportunity to freely enjoy their housing without being poisoned, threatened, or harassed. If someone believes they have been a victim of housing discrimination, we encourage them to contact NFHA right away.”
Founded in 1988, NFHA is a consortium of more than 220 private, nonprofit fair housing organizations, state and local civil rights agencies, and individuals from throughout the United States. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., NFHA works to eliminate housing discrimination and ensure equal housing opportunity for all people through leadership, education, outreach, membership services, public policy initiatives, community development, advocacy, and enforcement.