Revolution #195, March 14, 2010
UC San Diego: "Don't UC Racism?"
Over a thousand students, joined by faculty and campus workers, held a powerful, defiant march and rally on the campus of the University of California San Diego (UCSD) March 4. Their protest was a part of the statewide and national protests against the attacks on education represented by the dramatic increases in tuition and cuts in classes and programs. But the day's actions were intensified by the anger and outrage that's been unleashed in recent weeks in response to an ugly series of openly white supremacist (racist) and male supremacist (misogynist) events on campus.
Backdrop to March 4
UCSD has been in turmoil since February 15, when a group of white campus frat rats held an off-campus party for UCSD students, announced in advance as a "Compton Cookout." The invitation featured degrading, racist and misogynist caricatures of inner city Black people, with special vitriolic hatred for Black women.
The party was not only meant to humiliate Black and other minority students, but to deliberately mock Black History Month. Over 200 people had confirmed to the party on Facebook. Word of this celebration of racism quickly sparked widespread outrage among students and faculty, only to be followed three days later by students on the UCSD Student Run Television Program (SRTV) defending the "Cookout," using racial slurs targeting the Black community.
Coming after a long series of similar attacks on different sections of minority students, this escalation of open racism was the last straw—a section of the campus community of all nationalities erupted in protest.
Their refusal to put up with openly white supremacist and male supremacist intimidation of Black and other minority students, and gay, lesbian and transgender students, is a welcome breath of fresh air long overdue. This bold and determined resistance has been gaining strength and resonating with more and more students and the whole campus community at UCSD with each new provocation.
The UCSD Black Student Union (BSU) demonstrated the next day, declaring a "State of Emergency: Real Pain, Real Action." The administration's attempt to smooth over the conflict with a campus assembly titled "Mutual Respect" led to a walkout by a majority of the students who held a counter-rally outside.
When a noose, a threatening symbol of the era of lynchings of Black people, was found hanging in UCSD's Geisel Library on February 25, 300 students responded by occupying the Chancellor's office, while hundreds more rallied outside, chanting, "We've got your back." Two days before the March 4 protest a KKK-style hood was found draped over a statue on campus, leading to the defiant outpouring of rage at the March 4 protests.
"Don't UC Racism?"
The March 4 protest began with a march through campus, followed by a rally at the library. The crowd was large, boisterous, and very multinational, the atmosphere charged and militant. Students had signs and t-shirts that said "Don't UC Racism?" And they chanted, "We're fired up, won't take it no more." One sign connected the tuition hikes and budget cuts with the rise of racist incidents: "Our Education Is Dying and Racism Is Intensifying," with the word "Education" hanging from a noose.
The students listened closely and shouted or cheered in response to the speakers and artistic performances. Speaker after speaker spoke with passion about the attacks on education, and linked this with the threatening situation on campus that had been brought to light by these racist attacks. And they spoke about their determination to not back down. A faculty member spoke about the harm the tuition hikes and budget cuts will cause, and the need for a rebellion against the privatization of the university. He described the atmosphere at the school as "cold, hostile and callous," and spoke of an attempt to "re-segregate" the campus. Gay and transgender students described their fear of being assaulted.
Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks wrote in her March 6 column that so many students have missed classes or gone home that university officials have agreed not to penalize them academically. She spoke with the head of the campus Black Student Union (BSU), a graduate of a mostly Black charter school in South LA, who is one of those who has stopped going to class. "It's hard to sit in class thinking one of those people at the party might be sitting next to you." And he called the atmosphere "toxic." Banks spoke with another UCSD student who grew up with a diverse group of buddies. The student said she's embarrassed not just by the vile things her white classmates are saying, "but that they say it out in the open; they don't care who hears."
Two days before the protests, a forum was held in support of the students at a church in the Black community in San Diego. A thousand people packed the church, and gave the BSU president a standing ovation when he rose to speak. He told them the most pressing issue for Black and other minority students was safety, that many don't feel comfortable being on a campus which often appears intolerant. "Under this campus atmosphere, it is difficult to sit in class... to go around school, to walk around campus." Banks quoted a pastor of a local Baptist church who attended: "I grew up here. San Diego has never been kind to Black people."
Think about what it means for students to feel fear of racist, misogynist and anti-gay threats on a college campus where they should expect to feel safe. A professor of ethnic studies called what was happening on the campus as "Not a budget crisis, but a moral crisis."
But all that is being challenged, and changed, as a result of the determined resistance of these students. A theme running through the March 4 rally was that the campus has undergone a dramatic change in a matter of weeks. A once lethargic campus was now bristling and boiling. Many people at the protest were commenting about it saying, "I can't believe it's the same school," and welcoming this. One campus worker who has worked there for 30 years said he'd never seen anything like this on campus before.
Spreading the Resistance
The firestorm raging at UCSD brings to the surface what has been taking place at public colleges and universities throughout California. And the actions of the UCSD students have inspired and awakened students at the UCs and other public colleges throughout the state to take actions in solidarity—and to confront the increasingly threatening atmosphere for Black, Latino, and other students of color, those who are gay, and those whose religion is under attack on their campuses.
On February 24 at UC Irvine, a group of about 20 UCI students and employees barricaded themselves inside the UCI administration building to show support for the UCSD protests. They issued 15 demands, including increased funding for the ethnic studies department. This was followed by a "student solidarity speakout" to condemn the racist incidents at UCSD, and another incident at UC Davis aimed at a Jewish student.
Two days later, at UCLA, about 100 protesters occupied the office of UCLA Chancellor Gene Block demanding he pressure the UCSD Chancellor to act decisively against racism at UCSD. Then on Tuesday, March 2, a multinational, but mainly Black, group of students lined up on two sides of Bruin Walk, the main campus walkway, so the students would have to walk between the rows, which narrowed until by the end their classmates could only pass through one at a time as they chanted, "We're here; deal with it!"
On March 1, 200 Black students at UC Berkeley held "Blackout 2010," a silent protest of the increasingly threatening academic climate for Black students and in support of their fellow students at UCSD. Dressed in black, with mouths covered with black scarves, they blocked Sather Gate, the main entrance to the campus, for two hours.
There has been a dramatic drop in Black and Latino enrollment in the University of California system since the November 1996 passage of Proposition 209, which put a halt to affirmative action by prohibiting public institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity in determining enrollment. As a result UC enrollment of Black, Latino and Native American students is among the lowest in the nation. UCLA's 2006 freshman class had only 96 Black students. And UCSD's Black population is only 1.3 percent of the total student population. The attack on affirmative action has contributed to encouraging and emboldening the reassertion of white privilege.
The significance of what the students at UCSD have done cannot be underestimated. It is sending shockwaves throughout the UC system, and beyond, and showing the potential to resonate among middle strata broadly, as well as in the barrios and ghettoes, among all those disgusted with the open intimidation, racism and male chauvinism, and more that are growing in this society. They are giving voice to a courageous section of youth who are striving to live in a different world; who don't want to live in a world where the gap between Black and white is widening; where women are treated as less than men; and where education isn't a right, but a privilege only for those who can afford it. In refusing to accept all of this, they are striking at an Achilles heel of this society, whose racism and male domination are bone-deep and fundamental.
The question is where is this struggle going to go? These students must be given broad support and encouraged to continue their resistance. The lessons must be deepened, and the debate opened up about what is at the root of this, and why a radical solution is both necessary, and possible.
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