UCSD Battles Another Racist Campus Incident

Students push for changes in curriculum while the administration remains silent.

By Thoai Lu Mar 02, 2011

My alma mater’s at it again. Students at the University of California, San Diego are dealing with another high-profile racist incident, nearly a year after an off-campus fraternity allegedly hosted a ghetto- themed party that mocked Black History Month. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, on February 9, a student hit "reply all" on an administration e-mail to all students about an upcoming survey. In the unauthorized e-mail, the subject line was "penis" and the only word in the message was the word "Nigger."

Victor Brown, vice chair of the Black Student Union, recently wrote to school leaders, including Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, to request that the university step up its efforts for reform. Brown said, "The e-mail that was sent demonstrates that there is continued hostility and violence targeted toward black students and other people of color on our campus."

Last winter, a series of events occurred on the campus that caused emotional distress to students of color, particularly African-American students, who make up about 1.3 percent of the population. It began when an invitation was sent out for the "Compton Cookout", an off campus party allegedly linked to Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. The invite insisted that "ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes…"

After that incident, someone hung up a noose in the main university library, and a KKK-like hood was found over a Dr. Seuss statue on campus. The events then triggered a series of sexist and homophobic incidents, where similarly demeaning posters posters were hung up in areas central to campus.  

Students and staff had huge emotional responses to the attacks. They organized protests, teach-ins and even had a few rallies by the Chancellor’s office. 

University representatives, however, responded minimally.  University officials refused to disclose the identity of the student who later admitted to hanging the noose. Now, Judy Piercey, a university spokeswoman, will not disclose the identity of the student who was found responsible for initiating the e-mail. She said, "Student personnel matters can’t be discussed."

Jeff Gattas, executive director of university communications and public affairs, said the e-mail has not stirred up last year’s issues. "We have no protests, we are addressing the situation and we are making progress," he said. "There is not and nowhere near the same atmosphere on campus or situation on campus that compares to what was going on at this time."

As a recent alumna of UCSD, I am wary that the university’s lack of reform efforts toward these petty acts of violence will result in in actual physical violence, particularly towards historically marginalized groups like the black student population, female students of color and the LGBT community. While those like Piercey may find the e-mail incident "minor" and contend that my concern is premature, the administration can no longer deny the sentiment of hostility that students have vocalized ever since "Compton Cookout." The campus has the smallest percentage of black students of all the UC campuses, and if swift institutional action isn’t taken soon, that’s unlikely to change.

Jorge Mariscal, a literature professor at the university, had this to say:

"I think that the extremely small number of black students and faculty we have and the invisibility of a curriculum focused on the black community and its history makes it easier for this kind of event to take place," Mariscal told the Union-Tribune. "There’s something about the climate here that drives black students away."