In October, Chennel “Jazzy” Rowe, a black University of Hartford student, was silently, yet violently, terrorized by her white roommate Brianna Brochu.
Unbeknownst to Rowe, Brochu was contaminating her personal care items, poisoning her food, and tainting her backpack with bloody tampons. Rowe became suspiciously ill one month before Brochu’s infamous Instagram post was leaked.
The school was slow in responding to Rowe’s claims. To be exact, two weeks passed before there was any police involvement and it only happened after Rowe took her angst to Facebook. Due to social media exposure and outrage, Brochu was eventually expelled from the college. Her scholarship was revoked and she was arrested for breach of peace and criminal mischief, pending charges for hate crimes. In the midst of it all, Rowe clearly maintained her composure.
On Wednesday, Brochu was sentenced to probation, which includes writing two essays and completing 200 hours of community service. It was a much lesser charge than the NAACP hoped for in the case. Several news reports of the sentencing claimed that Rowe's presence at the court was because she was in full “support” of her attacker. Connecticut’s News 8 states that she supported Accelerated Rehabilitation, that she did not oppose the lenient plea deal and had hopeful words for her underhanded ex-roommate. People who followed this twisted tale were quite disturbed by this news and raised a million dollar question: why do some black people feel the need to appease white tears in the face of their own black injustice?
The infamous internet troll Tariq Nasheed accused the 19-year-old of "mammyism" and the number of attacks Rowe has received since these reports surfaced is astounding. She's experienced injustice and now anti-blackness. One Instagram user scornfully accused her of having Stockholm Syndrome. Rowe begs to differ. Her responses on social media are in stark contrast to those reports and attacks. Over four months, I personally reviewed how frequently she tweeted her anger, Facebooked her disappointment and Instagrammed her lack of faith in the criminal justice system.
For an exclusive interview with Blavity, in her innocent but gutsy voice, Chennel “Jazzy” Rowe gets candid about her horrifying ordeal. She wastes no time establishing herself far from being a stool pigeon, but rather a black woman who understands the politics of race and bullshit in America.
Blavity: What were your initial thoughts after finding out you were violated by Brianna Brochu?
Rowe: When I first found out, I couldn’t believe what was going on. Literally, when the two resident assistants told me my entire body started shaking uncontrollably. I couldn’t believe it. I was mad as hell and at the same time in disbelief, and realizing I was sick the whole time because of what she was doing. I felt blindsided because the things she was using were right in my face and I didn’t realize it. I thought I was sick because of something else.
Did the discovery incite rage?
JR: I didn’t want to be violent toward her. When I thought about it initially — her being white — I felt like me touching her would make my situation ten times worse; regardless if she were in the wrong or not.
What was the reaction of your peers? School faculty? Your parents?
JR: My peers automatically wanted to fight her. I had to convince them that it would only make it worse for us. They were upset — hella mad. My professors were telling me to go reach out to different people on campus to help me, but I was getting the runaround because no one knew what to do or how to approach it. I told my parents over the phone. My mom was crying; she couldn’t believe what she was hearing was real. My dad was mad. He couldn’t even stay on the phone; he was like "Jazz, I need to call you back.” He was furious. My mom was contacting the school like crazy and couldn’t get answers until I did the Facebook Live. My dad reached out to lawyers.
A lot of kids were mad. I was getting glares and side-eyes from the white kids as if I stepped out of my boundaries. I was really anxious walking around campus and looking around at who was following me. I was paranoid.
What support, if any, did you receive from the school? The public?
JR: The entire black student body was by my side. They related to me. After they found out about me, they started speaking up about incidents they were having on campus with white students and public safety. The Black Student Union had big meetings, where all the black kids showed up. That’s one thing about it, the black community on campus stuck together. I appreciated the public support. The public helped get things moving. If the public didn’t get involved the school wouldn’t have acted. Once the school realized their reputation was on the line, they started responding.
Would you share your medical prognosis? How has the incident affected your mental health?
JR: I had to have a lot of testing done. I had to go to doctor appointments a lot. I was missing a lot of school. I was hospitalized. I had CT scans to track the bacteria. The bacteria affected my nasal and sinus passages to the point my face swells badly. I was on a really strong antibiotic to get rid of it and that also has a lot of side effects. I have to be treated with this strength of antibiotic, for now on, for the slightest sickness I may feel. I’m able to take on a job now. I have to take medication. I lost a lot of weight and we’re working on that getting it back. This has affected my mental health to the point I’m not sleeping at night. I see a psychologist once a week and take long-term meds for that, too.
Why are you not currently enrolled in classes?
JR: The doctor said I was stressing myself and healthwise I wasn’t ready and need to focus on getting better. My health is interrupting my ability to go school. I’m upset by that and feel like time is being wasted. I have a lot more schooling ahead of me.
Was this a racially motivated hate crime? Why do you think it was not treated as such?
JR: When I first mentioned the situation online, I never framed it as racial. The only thing I said about race was how things were being handled. If the roles were reversed and I did those things to her I would have been locked up. But when I observed who she hung out with, the people she associated with on social media to bash me they were all white. The prosecutor said based on their investigation and interviews (of all white people) and because she doesn’t use racial slurs or anything it doesn’t classify as a hate crime –even though she referred to my ethnicity, it is not a racial slur.
Why do you think she received a lesser charge?
JR: I asked my lawyer that question, and why she couldn’t get charged with attempted murder and basically he said: “it's because she didn’t try to kill you.” The proof that we had just didn’t support it.
Do you hate Brianna Brochu?
JR: I don’t hate her. I just strongly dislike her for what she’s done to me. Till this day she has no explanation for why she’s done this.
How do you feel about the sentencing? Do you consider it fair and reasonable?
JR: I don’t. I really don’t. Even though [Brochu] was eligible for the rehab program and everyone knew she would get it, we had some request for her to do in addition to the rehab program and probation. One of them was for her to volunteer and serve in a civil rights or nonprofit organization so she could learn about the struggles of black or oppressed people. The judge told her she could do community service wherever she chose — like she could tutor kids in her own neighborhood. It’s unfair because Brianna has always stated she never wanted to go to college in the first place only went because she won an art competition and scholarship to Hartford. Being expelled from school meant nothing to her. She’s working and going on with her life as planned. She gets what she wants inadvertently by almost, and possibly, killing me if I didn’t find out. Her criminal record will be cleared, she will do community service and write two little essays about her experience doing 200 hours — that’s nothing, a middle schooler can do that. In New York, you have to do 100 hours of community service just to graduate high school. If she finishes her service early her probation ends. Where’s the punishment for her crime?
Was there #JusticeforJazzy?
Do you think race played a part in the leniency Brochu received?
JR: I don’t think race played apart in the judge’s decision. She was just eligible for the rehab and probation. I feel like he had no choice in that, but I do feel like he was wrong for denying my request.
Do you feel slighted as a black woman or vindicated in any way?
JR: Yes, I feel like if I was [white] and she was [black] she would have gotten a real punishment. I feel like what they gave her was child’s play. It’s frustrating. She gets to go on with her life unaffected and unpunished for what she’s done to me, and I have to go on with my life affected — and punished by what she’s done to me.
Your statement at court, even though it was mature and dignified, it gives the impression that you have forgiven Brochu, have you?
JR: In my statement, I said nothing about forgiving anybody. It started with me expressing who I am as a person and all the things I faced because of what she’s done. I don’t forgive her. She has no remorse. The reports about her lawyer apologizing to me on her behalf are untrue. Her lawyer never apologized to me and she never apologized to me. I got no apology whatsoever. They didn't even look at me.
The media has given you backlash for not responding a particular way. Even I am taken back by your poise and control. Have you suppressed your anger?
JR: People haven’t seen my anger. I feel like the media, the public wants to see that stereotypical crazy black woman reaction from me. A huge part of me is not the person that’s gonna go off in public. Yes, I’m really upset. People say I’m too calm [about the incident] and they can’t take me seriously. There are times my parents have to calm me down or I’m in my attorney’s office extremely frustrated and crying uncontrollably. There are certain [things] I wasn’t allowed to say or do. It’s frustrating when I have to sit back to let people talk for me or allow people to assume things that aren’t true about me. I cry out all my anger because I feel trapped.
What are your thoughts about National Walk Out Day? Do you wish there was a similar response to calling out racism in schools and cases like yours?
JR: Yes. There could have been a bigger response because lots of students go through similar things. They can relate to the racism. Because most people ignore it, kids ignore it and think that’s how they are supposed to be treated; this is especially true for black women. It’s one thing to be black, but it’s harder to be a black woman. They expect you to take further abuse — not stand up yourself, not say anything.
What else do you want people to know about your experience?
JR: That this wasn’t a case between her and me, and I had no control or input on the outcome. I did not go to court support her. I, along with my family, the NAACP and the general public attended to see a glimpse of justice served. It wasn't. Please stop spreading the fake news.
What is next for Chenell "Jazzy" Rowe?
JR: I hope to be cleared by the doctors so I can return to school by next spring. I’m working to cover these medical bills. I hope to be less guarded moving forward.
What is your takeaway from this experience?
JR: I’ve learned what people are capable of.