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UCSD Community Speaks Up Against Racism
Teach-in among campus responses to racially themed off-campus party

Ioana Patringenaru | March 2, 2010

Mentha Hynes-Wilson
Mentha Hynes-Wilson, dean of students at the university’s Thurgood Marshall College, was the moderator of last week's teach-in.
Photo/Betsy McCue

More than 1,000 members of the UC San Diego community turned out Wednesday for a teach-in at the Price Center to discuss why events that draw on racial stereotypes still take place and the impact they have on the community. The forum was designed to help the community heal after a racially themed off-campus party and an unauthorized broadcast by Koala TV.

Audience members heard from Nadine George, a UCSD theater professor, and Shaun Travers, director of the campus’ LGBT Resource Center and a campus diversity officer. They also got a chance to go up to the microphone and speak.

Teach-in moderator Mentha Hynes-Wilson, dean of students at the university’s Thurgood Marshall College, noted “I am encouraged. This is the beginning of many dialogues. I’m so proud of our students; it’s obvious there are different ways for people to express themselves about these issues and I encourage peaceful, productive events.”

There is no quick fix to the situation, she told the audience. But there will be both short-term and long-term resolution, she promised.

In addition to the teach-in, several rallies took place on campus last week. Tensions increased after an incident at the Geisel Library. Chancellor Fox met with leaders of the campus’ Black Student Union and both parties are hammering out a blueprint for future actions to protect and boost diversity programs at UCSD. Talks are set to continue in coming weeks.

“As we continue to meet with the UC San Diego Black Student Union and leaders with San Diego’s African-American community, we are committed to working together to keep our students safe and to discuss and address the issues on our campus so that we can heal and rebuild,” said Fox.

“We are making significant changes based on the BSU’s recommendations,” noted Fox, “and we are creating a campus climate in which students will know, each and every day, that this university respects them and their communities.”

Photo of teach in
Hundreds of members of the UCSD community turned out for the teach-in.
Photo/Betsy McCue

Student concerns

Students, alumni, faculty, staff members, elected officials and others who traveled from as far as Compton, spoke during the second half of Wednesday’s teach-in. Many expressed their frustrations and concerns but also looked for solutions.

The off-campus party was completely unacceptable, said Shunya Wade, a freshman and member of the Black Student Union. Wade explained that she was called the “n word” for the first time when she was 10 years old.

“This is an issue because these people were making a mockery of my people, of our struggles and our triumphs,” she said.

Students want to have a dialogue, said Wade, who is from South Central Los Angeles. They also want to be safe and feel welcomed. “We do believe in people coming together and cultures crossing,” she said. “We want justice.”

At the beginning of the teach-in, several hundred students entered the Price Center Ballroom chanting slogans in support of the Black Student Union. The students listened to the two talks by Professor George and LGBT Resource Center Director Travers. Then, two of their leaders read a statement and asked the audience to join another, impromptu teach-in, which took place outside. News outlets reported that students from San Diego State University, UCLA, the University of Southern California and other campuses joined UCSD students for the event.

photo of Chancellor Marye Anne Fox
Chancellor Marye Anne Fox and Vice Chancellor Gary Matthews take a question from an audience member.
Photo/Betsy McCue

The need for dialogue

Some students later said they were disappointed so many decided to leave the Price Center Ballroom. “I felt deflated when everyone left the room,” said Elizabeth Caviness, a first-year transfer student. Faculty and administration needed to be brought into the discussion rather than blamed, she said. She added she was grateful the administration provided a forum where students could make their voices heard. She also had a message for prospective students who now might be hesitating to come here.

“Any college you go to is going to have racism,” she said. “Come here, make a change with us.”

Some audience members said they wanted to heal tensions but weren’t sure how. Kristine Breese, a staff member at ArtPower!, said she didn’t understand the students’ pain, wanted to help, but wasn’t sure what was appropriate. “What right do I have to take this journey?” she asked.

Photo of students marching
Students marched on Library Walk.
Photo/Betsy McCue

The need for respect

Many made a case for more empathy and respect. “When we talk to anyone, anyone, we need to speak with civility and listen and try to understand and love for a moment,” said Maggie Souder, the campus’ sustainability coordinator. “If we can do that, maybe we can all make progress.”

Some said they supported the university’s administration. Chancellor Fox and the campus’ vice chancellors are committed to student safety and to recruiting underrepresented students, said Yvonne Borrego, a Financial Aid Office staff member.

“I have a dream and I have a hope that I’ll see this university being diverse,” she said.

During the talk that opened the teach-in, George, the theater professor, urged students to take classes to better understand why the two incidents were offensive. The off-campus party was rooted in the tradition of minstrelsy, where white people would wear blackface to perform crude comic skits, the professor explained. “This is where racial profiling comes from,” she said.

Travers urged audience members who were not part of underrepresented groups to reflect on the privileges they enjoy. “When I think about my gender and I know that I’m male, I know that gives me a lot of privileges,” he said. “But when I talk to other men, they don’t know that.” Both he and George called for systemic change on campus. “Real structural change has been an on-going struggle,” the theater professor said.

Edwina Welch
Edwina Welch, director of UCSD's Cross Cultural Center, spoke during the teach-in.
Photo/Betsy McCue

Measures taken

Some measures are already under way. University officials met with African-American leadership including San Diego City Council member Tony Young, the Reverend George Walker Smith, representatives from the Urban League and the NAACP, as well as other community leaders and have agreed to work together on ways to rebuild and heal issues caused by hate and bias. A “Racism: Not in Our Community” campaign has been launched to reinforce campuswide the message against racism and hate.

During the teach-in, state Senator Christine Kehoe pledged to be part of an on-going conversation to make sure that the City of San Diego isn’t perceived as racist. “My message today is that we support every student on this campus,” she said. “Every student on this campus deserves to feel safe and nurtured.”

The Associated Students has formed a campus climate committee and has launched a review of media funding. A.S. also has closed SRTV after the Koala broadcast. University officials also have committed funding for the vacant program coordinator position that supports the African-American Studies Minor Program, as well as for recommendations and strategies for a campaign to increase African-American enrollments based on the recent “Do UC Us?” report.

Chancellor Fox will appoint and charge a commission of diverse students, faculty and administrators to continue the progress made in discussions between the senior administration and students. Officials also have launched aggressive investigations into the incidents.

Safety measures also have been increased. The UCSD Police Department has increased on-campus patrols. Counseling and Psychological Services counselors are available for personal and confidential conversations with individual students. Residence Hall Advisors in the colleges are meeting with groups of students to hear concerns and provide advice.

“I strongly condemn the offensive acts of hate and bias that have occurred over the past days,” Chancellor Marye Anne Fox said in a video statement Friday. “It is deplorable that while our students, faculty and staff work to heal the campus, a few misguided individuals tried to divide it. We are feeling real pain, and we will take real action. The safety of our students, faculty, and staff is my primary concern .”

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