Sorting Through Race Relations At UCSD
Editor’s note: It was the Associated Students of UCSD who have suspended Koala, a student media outlet. The UCSD website for information on the issue of diversity is www.battlehate.ucsd.edu. The “Compton Cookout” did not take place on the campus of UCSD. We regret these errors.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
The now infamous "Compton Cookout" has become a catalyst for a broader discussion on the climate at the UC, San Diego. Some student leaders are describing a toxic environment for African-American students on campus. We'll explore what's happening with race relations at UCSD and beyond.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Just when some in politics and the media were happily pronouncing America with its first black president as moving beyond race comes the Compton Cookout. UC San Diego has been roiling in the aftermath of publicity about an off-campus party which mocked black history month. The Facebook invitation urged student party-goers to indulge in some revolting racial stereotypes, including wearing gold chains, using poor English, and eating watermelon. And then a broadcast on UCSD's student TV station, criticizing the outrage over the party, reportedly included the use of the 'N' word. Some black students at UCSD are pointing to these incidents as merely the tip of the iceberg. It seems in this post-racial, post affirmative action world of ours, we still may have a lot to learn about injustice and prejudice and when the joke stops being funny. We’ll be hearing from many voices during the next hour as we discuss the fallout from the Compton Cookout, including yours. Call us with your reactions and comments. Were you surprised to hear about this racially offensive party? Were you surprised at the anger it triggered among black and minority students at UCSD? Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS, or you can post your comments online at KPBS.org/thesedays. My first guest is the KPBS reporter who’s been following this story, our education reporter Ana Tintocalis, and good morning, Ana.
ANA TINTOCALIS (KPBS Education Reporter): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us, give us a rundown of what’s happened this week at UCSD in response to the Compton Cookout party.
TINTOCALIS: Well, the fallout from this party has been quite dramatic, very fast moving. It seems like there’s a new development every day. But this has been a very emotionally charged and draining week for the students and for the administrators in terms of dealing with all this. And so what you saw this week, though, was the Black Student Union coming together and bringing minority student groups together and saying this is – an injustice to one is an injustice to all. So let’s organize and let’s really put pressure on the university to force itself to take a look at itself and deal with these racial inequalities and inequities that they say students and professors have been calling out for for many years. So the students got together and planned a series of marches and protests and rallies which culminated yesterday. The administrators, on the other side, have been really trying to do damage control and they themselves formed this teach-in, and I think the administrators were hoping this would be kind of a healing moment for the university but that actually fell quite short.
CAVANAUGH: What happened at the teach-in?
TINTOCALIS: Well, so, the entire university was invited to come to this teach-in and it was supposed to be this kind – academic in nature, like how can these incidents happen on – in today’s society? And I think they were hoping that the students would fall in line with that, you know, let’s all get together and talk about this. And the students did, they actually let their presence known (sic). They marched in, they were wearing black tee shirts that said ‘real pain, real action.’ They were holding their fists in the air. And they sat down and they listened to what folks had to say for about an hour and Black Student Union leaders were invited to talk. And they got up to the podium but once they did, they took the opportunity to, again, criticize the university for what they say has been a long time practice of shutting out students of color. And I wanted to give you a sense of what that was about. One of the Black Student Union leaders, her name is Jasmine Phillips, she got to the podium and she said a teach-in is not going to solve the problem. We want real action. And this is what she had to say before she escorted several hundred students out of the auditorium.
JASMINE PHILLIPS (Black Student Union Member, University of California San Diego): A teach-in, a teach-in organized by and controlled by the administration reflects the hierarchical approach the university is taking to address the issues – to address the issues of racism and misogyny on campus and their failure to take the experiences, needs and demands of the students seriously.
TINTOCALIS: And with that, they said let’s walk out, we have our own teach-in on campus, follow us. And then everyone pretty much filtered out. And I did notice the only people remaining were pretty much white administrators and students left at the teach-in.
CAVANAUGH: Where did they go? Where did the group of black activist students go?
TINTOCALIS: They congregated a few steps away from this ballroom. It’s the – a teach-in took place kind of in the center of campus and they moved everyone out to the steps of the Price Center and they held their teach-in there.
CAVANAUGH: And does the university, I mean, have you asked, do they look at that teach-in as being a failure then?
TINTOCALIS: Well, I think – I don’t think they’ll call it a failure. And I don’t even know if you can say it backfired because they still held it. But they – I think they were hoping to get the buy-in of the students and the students defiantly said no, what we want is real action. And they referenced this list of 32 demands and they say we won’t be satisfied and we’ll keep on putting pressure on this university until we get a detailed report of their implementation.
CAVANAUGH: How are students on campus responding to the suspension of the student-run media, the newspaper and the TV?
TINTOCALIS: Well, I think students are happy. This particular group of students who have really incited a lot of the racial – racially inflammatory language and sit-ins, the Koala, it’s an alternative newspaper and they have – the Associated Students Government has frozen media funding so – to take a closer look at the situation. And I think students would rather just have the university shut down the Koala. This alternative newspaper is known for its provocation and its race baiting in the past, and they say it’s unfortunate that media funding has been frozen for all, you know, student media organizations because that’s not fair to them. They’re practicing in line with the student code of conduct. This particular one is not. So, university, [Editor's note: It was the Associated Students of UCSD who have suspended Koala, not the University] just shut down the Koala. So they’re upset about that.
CAVANAUGH: And I’m wondering when you speak with students, the black students who attended the teach-in and walked out, there’s a lot of talk about feeling threatened. And I wonder if you could expand on that. Did you talk to any students who said that they don’t feel comfortable on campus?
TINTOCALIS: Yeah, I talked to two students in particular, Bijon Robinson and Eliz Diop and, you know, this was after a very heated exchange between students and administrators. They were angry. They were hurt. But they say aside of all that, they are afraid. You know, there was one note found on campus that said ‘Compton lynching,’ referring to the Compton Cookout. And that really shook them to the core. And this is what they had to say. They say, you know, we’re getting this from fraternity members and we’re getting this from this, you know, alternative, fringy newspaper. And it speaks to a larger issue, and this is what Bijon and Eliz had to say.
UNIDENTIFIED: Being that they know where I live and they’ve been to my house before, I’ve been called a nigger by them before, yeah, I’m feared for my life, exactly.
UNIDENTIFIED: It’s real and this is a tense situation. I’m walking around campus and I’m getting stared at and I know the people who are staring at me, they’re not polite stares.
TINTOCALIS: And so I think there is a sense, you know, there is a sense of fear on campus although I think students are rising above that and they’re calling for collective action with other student groups, saying we’re not going to tolerate this. So I think the mood now is much of determination that we’re going to get some type of structural change done.
CAVANAUGH: Now you mentioned a 32 point manifesto basically, or changes that are being urged by the Black Student Union. What are some of the main points that they’re asking the administration at UCSD to change?
TINTOCALIS: Well, the list ranges from really basic things like, you know, let’s have a safe place for black students to organize on campus, to other things like we need significant funding directed toward the recruitment and retention of black students, Latino students, Native American students. They’re also calling for other kind of admission policy changes. And so those will take some time, I believe, to kind of be sussed out. When I spoke with Vice Chancellor Penny Rue, she’s a Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, she says, you know, a lot of these things, a lot of the demands, have been put in place but students are saying, well, double your efforts because we’re not seeing any real impact. And she says that they’re looking at the demands. Some of them have cost, you know, questions around them and we’re in a budget situation so they’re trying to figure it out that. She did say that they’re working on this kind of project template, you know, they’re itemizing all these demands and figuring out how long it might take, what’s already been done, how can they double their efforts, and they’re expected to come back with a report but student leaders say they haven’t heard anything yet. But Vice Chancellor Penny Rue, you know, she says we realize we have an issue with diversity on campus. We’ve been trying to work on this. And she says she – they remain dedicated to fixing the problem. This is what she said about the whole situation of what’s taking place on campus.
PENNY RUE (Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, University of California San Diego): I guess I’m a student affairs educator so I’m a glass half-full person, so I’m seeing this as an opportunity for the institution to get its story out there and to work with members of the community. We had a wonderful educational summit in November with some key leaders where we named this problem ourselves and asked for their help and said what can we do?
TINTOCALIS: But students will say, well, you’re not doing enough. The university has created two websites for folks to know what is happening. One is called battlehate.com, they’ve also – or dot-org, [Editor's note: website is www.battlehate.ucsd.edu] and they have also created this public outreach campaign called “Racism, Not in our Community.” They’re looking to meet with more community members in San Diego, community members of color, and they say they’re continuing to look at this issue.
CAVANAUGH: And just my last question to you, Ana. Is there anything else planned? Are there any more rallies or teach-ins planned on campus that you know of?
TINTOCALIS: I would expect there will be. The last I heard is that, you know, the students are reaching out to alumni of the university and bringing them in. They’re also reaching out to other student groups at other universities. Yesterday, we saw a lot of students from UCLA, USC, UC Riverside, who are equally upset because they say this is not a UCSD situation, this is a UC problem. You know, there’s this feeling that there’s – there – UC is this defacto private school posing as a public school and something has to change.
CAVANAUGH: Ana, thank you so much.
TINTOCALIS: You’re welcome.
CAVANAUGH: That’s Ana Tintocalis, KPBS Radio’s education reporter. We are going to take a short break and when we return, I’ll welcome my new guests and we’ll continue to talk about the fallout of the Compton Cookout on the UC San Diego campus [Editor's note: the Compton Cookout did not take place on the UCSD campus], and start taking some of your calls. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS, and we’re continuing our hour-long discussion about the fallout on the UC San Diego campus from the Compton Cookout. And we are – have a whole new panel of guests to welcome. Glynda Davis is Assistant Chancellor of Diversity for UC San Diego. Glynda, welcome.
GLYNDA DAVIS (Assistant Chancellor of Diversity, University of California San Diego): Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Sara Clarke Kaplan is professor of Ethnic and Gender Studies at UCSD. Sara, welcome to the program.
SARA CLARKE KAPLAN (Professor, Ethnic and Gender Studies, University of California San Diego): Thanks, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And Andrea Guerrero, is U – I’m sorry, ACLU San Diego Field & Policy Director, author of “Silence at Boalt Hall: The Dismantling of Affirmative Action.” Andrea, welcome to These Days.
ANDREA GUERRERO (Field & Policy Director, ACLU San Diego): Thank you, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know we made repeated efforts to invite a leader from UCSD’s Black Student Union to be part of this discussion but for one reason or another that did not happen. And we are taking your calls, 1-888-895-5727. If you can’t get through online, you can post your comments at KPBS.org/thesedays. Glynda, I want to start with you. As Assistant Chancellor of Diversity at UC San Diego, when you heard about this off campus party involving UCSD students, Compton Cookout, what was your reaction?
DAVIS: Well, since we’re on the radio, I can’t really speak to my first reaction. But it was one of I – I cannot believe that somebody in this day and age, after these kinds of themed parties have occurred coast to coast for a long time, how somebody could think that it would be okay. I mean, the outcry, wherever it happens, is real. But, still, somebody would think that it could be okay and even funny.
CAVANAUGH: Now, many people are linking, however, what happened at this party with the very low admission rate of black students at UC San Diego. And as – in the diversity party for – in the diversity section of UC San Diego, you must know this, you must know that there’s a problem with this very low enrollment of black students at the school.
DAVIS: Absolutely. We are well aware of this and we immediately felt that this party was going to compromise the efforts that the campus had been engaged in for the better part of a year to increase the yield of not only African-American students but all under-represented students.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, Sara, because you teach Ethnic and Gender Studies at UCSD. Tell us your reaction, if you would. I don’t even know how to phrase the question right now. Just tell us your reaction to not only the party but also what’s happened on campus this week.
KAPLAN: Absolutely. And I just want to clarify one thing and, Glynda, correct me if I’m wrong. But I actually believe that UCSD’s admission rate of African-American students is, in general, according to the 2006 Yield Report, about on par with some of the other top UCs. The problem I think that UCSD has is not one of admission but one of acceptance, and that’s the sort of question of yield. It’s not that students – that there aren’t tons of very qualified if not over qualified young African-American students who are being accepted to UCSD, about at the same rates as at Berkeley or UCLA, it’s that we actually can’t seem to get them to come.
CAVANAUGH: Exactly. I read a statistic where there’s about a 13% acceptance rate among black, qualified black students who are accepted to UCSD, as opposed to about 44% up at UCLA.
CAVANAUGH: So what’s – why is that?
KAPLAN: Well, and I think, you know, this is interesting, Maureen. I haven’t been on KPBS for a year, onThese Days for a year, and the last time I was here we were talking about Black History Month, and we were talking about whether there’s still a need for Black History Month post Obama.
CAVANAUGH: Yes, indeed.
KAPLAN: And at the time, I said I think that, of course, you know, I do still believe in Black History Month but I think the bigger question is not Black History Month but what does it mean that we don’t learn the history of African-Americans and other people of color in the United States the other months of the year outside of the classrooms like Ethnic Studies, outside of the classrooms like African-American Studies. If this was, in fact, part of what we think about as part of what makes up America every day, we wouldn’t need Black History Month. And I guess I would say about both the student reaction on campus and I think, more broadly, the faculty reaction and staff reaction is that like Black History Month, this is not about the Compton Cookout. The problem is not that the Compton Cookout happened, though that is a problem, or even that the Koala then used campus resources and campus television to directly violate the code of conduct and principles of community, I think the broader problem is that we have a longstanding campus climate which the students, faculty and administration have been well aware of for at least, you know, this administration since Chancellor Fox, with all due respect, came into the position, that has yet to be fixed. And that the incredible sense of hostility and alienation toward African-American students and other students of color is what made this kind of event permissible. So when we say how could this happen? How could they think this is okay, I think honestly as teachers and as administrators, we have to look at ourselves and say they think it’s okay because we have not created an educational climate that tells them that it’s not.
CAVANAUGH: That it’s not. Andrea Guerrero, I’m in no way going to put you here as apologist for the people who created the problem on campus with the cookout and with the broadcast, but I do want to get some sort of idea on where free speech enters into this question of what’s going on at UCSD.
GUERRERO: Free speech is a serious concern in the way that the university has reacted to the incident. The ACLU absolutely abhors what was said and we stand with the students and with communities of color in asking the university to change its climate to become more welcoming. The incident of the Compton Cookout was tragic, and unfortunately, it seems like that’s led to other race baiting and other abhorrent behavior. But that in no way should be an excuse for the university to violate the free speech rights of the students at that campus. The freedom of expression is embedded in our Constitution, it’s essential to the way we govern ourselves, the way we live. It has been critical to protecting abolitionists, suffragists, labor organizers, pacifists through the years and we need to protect it for all people regardless of the point of view. What the university has done is use the Compton Cookout and the TV appearance to shut down the media outlets at the university. This is absolutely unacceptable and, we believe, illegal behavior.
CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm. Let me stop you there because I know that we want – are going to get involved in a larger conversation that’s going to encompass some of the points that you made. I want to let everyone know that we are soliciting your comments, most especially online right now at KPBS.org/thesedays. Let’s take a phone call, though, right now from Pablo calling from Tijuana. Good morning, Pablo, and welcome to These Days.
PABLO (Caller, Tijuana): Hi. Thank you. I just want to say that the people who organized this, they think they’re being funny. They’re comparing themselves like to people like Dave Chappelle and Stephen Colbert although they have no understanding or use of sarcasm or irony. The Koala has printed stuff like how to rape women. And then the culture of victimization that these frat boys have used, I mean, notwithstanding the ascension of Barack Obama that there is no – there is no question that African-Americans are the most vulnerable citizens of our nation still today. And this incidence speaks to UCSD’s culture of lack of appreciation of African-American culture and there’s a very – yeah, we have to distinguish between free speech and hate speech and so this is a cultural problem. So I just wanted to put that out there.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you. Thank you so much, Pablo, for that. And, Sara, you want to comment.
KAPLAN: Pablo, thanks so much for your comments. And I think, you know, a few things I do want to say that I’m always, you know, a little nervous when we start talking about the most vulnerable versus other vulnerable students. I have, you know – so many of the communities of color and underrepresented communities, the poor, you know, women in general, I think, find themselves very vulnerable. And I think that, you know, you do bring up a good point when you talk about the limits of free speech and I, of course, am a huge advocate for free speech but I also think that it is always interesting when the racial dynamics around constitutional law break down in such a way that the First Amendment right to free speech is given primacy over, say, the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection. And part of the way that that works out on campus is, is that students, faculty, staff are guaranteed a workplace and a place to get an education that is free from hostility and harassment and where they can experience equal protection. And one of the things that we do have to ask in the question of the Koala in particular is whether, in fact, students of color and particularly women students of color on this campus have been experiencing equal protection. And I should just sort of clarify because I was actually at the meeting when campus news was shut down, when SRTV was shut down, and to be clear, there were many options put on the table for the Associated Students who, in fact, are the ones who run SRTV and were the ones who closed it down rather than the administration, and I’ve been having tense conversations with the administration but we should note that it was not the administration that shut down SRTV, that, in fact, SRTV was shut down because all funding for it was cut off while Associated Students took a step back to reassess how they give out funding. And they’ve made it very clear that it’s a temporary freeze in order to decide how to negotiate precisely the issues of free speech at hand that made it possible for students who were not given approval to be doing the show, who did not legitimately gain access to that space, which is a campus resource in which students are supposed to go through AS to get, then used that space and did not follow basic protocol like always recording the show as it is being aired so now there is no evidence of what happened and what was said. So, you know, or the fact that those students, before they went on the air, used the opportunity as a way to harass students from the parking lot, to call them the ‘N’ word, to call them the ‘B’ word, to threaten them, to…
KAPLAN: …make jokes about them. So I think we’re really actually entering an area that hits the limit of where free speech hits equal protection and I think that’s always important to remember.
CAVANAUGH: Andrea, you wanted to comment.
GUERRERO: Yes, I think it’s important for people to understand what that dynamic is and to talk about how hate speech fits into all of this because there’s a lot of confusion about hate speech versus hate conduct. Hate speech is protected speech under the First Amendment. Why is it protected? Because we don’t want the government deciding what is hateful because history has taught us that the government is more apt to use its power to prosecute minorities, numerical minorities…
CAVANAUGH: Right, right…
GUERRERO: …than to protect them. So – But hate speech is different than hate conduct. Hate conduct is not protected and absolutely should be prosecuted to the fullest.
CAVANAUGH: So it’s a different thing from leaving a swastika somewhere and saying something to someone. There’s a big – two big differences in that, is that correct?
GUERRERO: Well, hate speech, or speech in general is not protected when it’s intended and likely to produce imminent harm to a specific person or…
CAVANAUGH: I understand.
GUERRERO: …or group of people. So speech that intimidates, speech that harasses, speech that threatens is not protected speech and it should be investigated. Our concern is—and we are only seeing the information that’s appearing in the news or that’s being reported out to us directly so we don’t have complete information about what’s going on on campus—but what we’ve seen on the university website are declarations of investigation of content of speech, which is problematic because speech, regardless how hateful it is, is protected under the First Amendment.
CAVANAUGH: I want to tell everyone that we are talking about race at UCSD and in the UC system as a fallout from the Compton Cookout event that happened off campus last week. And I’m speaking with Andrea Guerrero from the ACLU, Sara Clarke Kaplan who is professor of Ethnic and Gender Studies at UCSD, and Glynda Davis, Assistant Chancellor of Diversity for UC, San Diego. Glynda, part of our reporter Ana Tintocalis’ report was about the fact that some students that she’s been talking to see the UC system as a sort of a glorified private school system where there is no real outreach, no real diversity, and it’s just, especially UCSD, sort of like just almost a whites-only school. And I wonder, first of all, if you could give me your professional reaction to that and also tell me what that makes you feel like when you hear somebody say that as a person who’s working for diversity on campus.
DAVIS: The students are responding to what they see. A lot of what they can’t see is the people who are solidly behind them, administrators, faculty and staff who are doing what they can to meet the concerns of those students and bring more students of color in. The problem that we’re having is there are not enough people who see the concerns of the students as valid and are willing to work at all levels to effect a change that is going to create the kind of climate that will be better for everybody, the educational as well as work environment for everyone.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us what kind of resistance you’re meeting from other areas in the school to make that kind of climate that you’re talking about.
DAVIS: Well, as the students so eloquently put it in their talks over the last few days, we have faculty and staff who don’t see why this is important or don’t understand what their role in it should be. And that is our challenge today and for the next week and for the next month and, you know, for the foreseeable future, to get more administrators and more faculty, more staff and more students to understand what their role in this is if we’re going to have a campus climate that supports everybody in a meaningful way.
CAVANAUGH: Have you – you have probably looked over the 32 demands. Does any of them look – do any of them look as if you might want to go forward with them?
DAVIS: I know that, as we speak, there are people working diligently on those 32 demands to determine, as was mentioned earlier, what can be done today, where there are financial issues that have to be reconciled, who is responsible for the change that has to take place that is relative to the particular demand and who needs to partner around this in order to move it forward. And it’s complicated.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, it sounds complicated. And, Sara, let me come to you. You know, several years ago when the UC Regents basically said no more affirmative action policies, you know, across these campuses, we were basically kind of told that we were in a different world now, that the playing field was if not equal at least more level than it ever had been. And yet we see this problem with diversity not only at UCSD but on campuses throughout California. So what happened?
KAPLAN: I think that’s a question that we’re all constantly trying to figure out. And I think that, you know, there’ve been many studies and there are some things that we know what happened. We know that, for example, that the guarantee of admission for the top 4% actually doesn’t take into account the fact that fourth and fifth quintile schools offer different courses which means that the GPAs of those students look very, very different, right? Because students get extra credit for taking APs, they get extra credit for honors, and so when you’re in low income schools, which tend to have higher representations of historically underrepresented minorities, what you will see is that they simply don’t have access to those kinds of classes, that there are many, many schools in the state of California where you can’t take the basic requirements you need to take to get into a UC. You actually cannot even apply. In fact, you can’t even apply to a Cal State with what they offer. You have to go to community college and transfer. And those, again, traditionally are schools with low income students and students of color. I think also what we have to recognize is that what we saw with Proposition 209, what we saw with Proposition 227, what we saw with Proposition 187 was, in fact, I think less of a claim that we were in a post-racial state and more a profound backlash by voters in the state of California against the perceived increased access and visibility of people of color in the state of California, anxieties about it becoming a majority-minority state and that rather than that being a sort of moment of propositional politics that said oh, few were done, I actually think it was a moment of profound racial backlash against people of color and their success and that’s why it had precisely the result you would imagine it had.
CAVANAUGH: And you would argue…
CAVANAUGH: …argue it had that ripple effect…
CAVANAUGH: …in even down to admissions at UCSD.
KAPLAN: And particularly, I think, down to campus climate. If you go online right now, you can find a Facebook re students of color and white students, not just – and I say this because I want it to be clear it’s not just white students…
KAPLAN: …saying that African-American students want a free ride, saying that they don’t work hard, saying that the reason that there aren’t more black students at UCSD or the other UCs is because, you know, they’re just not qualified to get in. So, clearly, there’s a problem.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a short break. When we return, we’ll continue our conversation, take some of your calls and also invite you to go online and post your comments at KPBS.org/thesedays. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. And we’re continuing our conversation about the fallout from the Compton Cookout and what it says about prejudice and equality and race relations on UC San Diego campus. My guests are Glynda Davis, Assistant Chancellor of Diversity at UC San Diego, Sara Clarke Kaplan, professor of Ethnic and Gender Studies at UCSD, and from the ACLU, Andrea Guerrero. She is with the San Diego Field – she is San Diego Field & Policy Director for the ACLU. And let’s go to the phones right now and take a phone call from Rolf in San Diego. Rolf, welcome to These Days.
ROLF (Caller, San Diego): Hi. I think you just called me. Can you hear me?
ROLF: Okay, it is me. Well, I just called to say I honestly believe that this is a double standard. Earlier, I think his name was Pedro (sic) from Tijuana called and he mentioned Dave Chappelle and basically gave him a free pass for the stuff that they say about whites. You know, it’s not just Dave Chappelle. We hear it in the media all the time, black comedians making fun of white people, even using their derogatory term for whites, which is honky. Everybody laughs and so forth and just blows it off. You know, granted, I don’t – I certainly don’t agree with what these kids did. I think it’s kind of stupid but at the same time I think it’s overblown. And I think we’ve come a long way and I’m afraid that it’s doing more damage than good giving this issue so much attention. You know, I think that the blacks, the way they should – if they’re really so offended at this event, they should’ve responded. They should’ve hosted a hootenanny and making fun of the whites.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for your comment, Rolf. I really appreciate it. You know, Rolf is talking about a lot of things that are out there, that are – people are talking about. Glynda, I want to go to you first, if I may. People, I think, some people, are very surprised at the level of anger among black students at UCSD. And I’m wondering if perhaps you don’t feel that some of this is a bit overblown?
DAVIS: No, I don’t feel that this is necessarily overblown because there is a back story here that helps to explain why the cry was so strong. As I had mentioned earlier, the administrators and the students and the staff and the faculty had been working for the better part of the year to enhance the yield or the number of African-American students and other underrepresented minorities who come to UC San Diego. They had been working hand in glove. We had recently announced that there had been increases this year in the number of applicants for underrepresented students and, in particular, a 20% increase in the applications from African-American students and healthy gains for other underrepresented student groups. There was momentum, there was a sense that we were really going to move forward on this, and then everything happened. And so the students had – the students, they are studying, they are working, they are working on this. It’s a tremendous effort, heart and soul, that they are putting into this to work with the administrators and the staff and the faculty who want to get this outcome. And it was a gut blow…
DAVIS: …and that’s what was felt. It is not overblown when you know just how hard people have been working in this direction.
CAVANAUGH: To try to increase the number of black students at UCSD.
CAVANAUGH: I understand. Sara, let me ask you a kind of an additional question to that, and that is, one of our producers, Angela Carone, wrote a blog on our Culture Lust blog, wrote an entry about how the larger culture, how pop culture has worked into the idea that there’s so much up for grab (sic) now that can be satirized, that can be made fun of, and that basically what we have here is a generation of kids who might’ve been completely desensitized to what’s proper in terms of historical context because they see all this satire and all this really hard-edged comedy all the time on television and online.
KAPLAN: I did actually read that and I think, unfortunately, the nerdy professor part of me just has to apologize and say it’s just simply – that’s always the argument that’s used, and it’s simply not true, and this is actually just a historical issue, is an issue of, you know, race and gender. And as a scholar of race and gender, I have to say that this is nothing new, that, in fact, the tradition of white Americans, particularly working and middle class white Americans, dressing up and throwing parties and having – experiencing certain kinds of illicit and enjoyable pleasure that’s frequently gendered, as, in fact, this party initially was, goes back to the early 19th century. It goes back to the very first form, as I think Nadine George said yesterday, of ostensibly authentic American culture, which was black-faced minstrelsy. And, in fact, this is where I think Rolf—and I was actually going to try to say this to you directly—was that, Rolf, this is, in fact, why we have to say, oh, this is actually very different than Chappelle and this is the big deal because the tradition of white Americans dressing up as African-Americans, as black people and making fun of them and particularly talking about the ways in which they’re ignorant, undeserving, animalistic, hypersexual, etcetera, was the primary form of cultural production that was used to justify African chattel slavery for the majority of the 19th century, was used to justify the massive lynching campaigns that went on after the end of slavery the beginning of – the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. And, in fact, was considered an anthropological sight for many years as well as a performance sight where people as esteemed as Mark Twain said that this was the most authentic example of African-Americans that he could imagine. And so this is a particularly loaded issue. I think that when we talk about Dave Chappelle in this—I teach this to my students when I teach Minstrelsy—when we talk about Dave Chappelle what we have to look at is his function as a comedian who seeks to take particular stereotypes that are about how we imagine that white people imagine blackness and push those to the point of exploding them to show how ridiculous and violent they truly are and that, in fact, when we look at Dave Chappelle’s videos and particularly the DVDs that were released after he stopped performing, he makes it very clear that the reason he stopped was because he felt that audiences could no longer tell the difference between what he was doing and the Compton Cookout.
CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know that we are getting an awful lot of online comments and we appreciate all of them at KPBS.org/thesedays. And one of our online commenters has asked what’s the difference between white trash parties and this? Aren’t they all offensive to groups of people? And that comes down to power dynamics, doesn’t it? I mean, really, Sara, if you could.
KAPLAN: Well, I – personally, I think that white trash parties are horribly offensive and I think that actually they’re classist. I think they often tend to be sexist, misogynist, I think they often tend to be incredibly homophobic. And that said, I think that part of what we often see is that I actually cannot think of a time when African-American students or other students of color have thrown a white trash party and so if middle class white students make fun of poor, white students, that’s offensive. If people with any kind of power use that power to both appropriate the sort of identity of others and then use that to degrade that identity and to strip it of dignity, that’s a problem and, in fact, I would argue it’s not simply offensive, it’s racist, it’s sexist, it’s classist, it’s homophobic and we all should be standing against this instead of trying to hierarchize who has been more harmed and who has been less harmed, who has the right to be upset and who doesn’t.
CAVANAUGH: Glynda, we’re getting into the final minutes of our discussion here although we do still have time to talk about a lot of things. I’m wondering, where do we go from here? You talked about the heartbreak suffered by the students on campus and some administrators, yourself included, working so diligently to try to get these dismally low numbers of black enrollment at UCSD to increase and to increase the visibility of students of color on campus and then comes this Compton Cookout and you wonder how many black students might even want to come here to UCSD. So I wonder, what are you going to do now?
DAVIS: That’s a very good question. There’s a lot of things that have to be done. Our very wise students yesterday started to talk out loud about how to bring in the new allies, the people that may now get it or the people that may not necessarily ever understand completely but know they have to do something now in support of not only the students but the entire campus in making this move, how to engage them. And so our very wise students have begun the process and now, you know, the faculty, the staff and the administration now have to locate the people who may have not known what their role in this was, what stake they had in it. The people now who see that they may not get it now and they may never really get it but they need to move and locate them and get them into activities that allow them to help people move this forward.
CAVANAUGH: And Andrea Guerrero, I know that you’ve done an awful lot of work about how – affirmative action and how schools can move in this climate that we’re in to have a more diverse population. What are some of the things UCSD might consider?
GUERRERO: Well, I think some of these recommendations that are being put forth by the Black Student Union pick up on the idea of recognizing other factors that are important in the admissions process, including the socio-economic factors. The ACLU is working diligently to try to bring about structural change in the K-thru-12 system by making sure that schools offer the UC required courses to all students because right now they don’t. You could go to one school south of 8 and have half as many A-thru-G courses, half as many AP courses, twice as many JRTC courses, and you’re being put into a competitive admissions environment that doesn’t recognize that so I think there are a number of things that could be done. And, unfortunately, what I’ve seen over the last ten years since the dismantling of affirmative action is that universities used affirmative action as a crutch. They did not use it as the cast to heal the broken leg. They used it as the excuse for not doing anything else. Well, now we don’t have that excuse. There is absolutely no excuse for the university not to fix the structural inequities that exist in the admissions process, in the recruitment process, in the outreach process, in their curricular offerings process, in the faculty hiring process. There are things that they can do to be more sensitive, to – just to open up the process and eliminate the things that favor those who have come before. Eliminate the processes that are normed on the usual. The usual being predominantly white students of color, predominantly wealthier students of color, and then faculty as well.
CAVANAUGH: And, Sara, you wanted to comment.
KAPLAN: I do, and I’m hesitant to say this because I have so much respect both for – for the entire Diversity office at UCSD and the work that Dr. Daley’s been doing and, you know, that Glynda’s been doing that’s, you know, yeoman’s work but I do have to say that the notion that the university doesn’t know what to do, that the administration needs to think more about this, to be frank, asinine. The students, the faculty, administrators have issued report after report. There’s been task force after task force which students, faculty, administrators have spent their blood, sweat and tears producing, and they’ve come up with recommendation after recommendation, the same recommendations that the students then rephrased as demands and at this point, I think, as, you know, the Black Faculty statement and the statement of UCSD faculty in general states, the time for task forces and investigations and thinking about what we can do really has passed. We have a very active set of recommendations that would suggest what we need to do to increase yield, to improve campus climate, to improve retention, to increase our representation of underrepresented faculty as well as students, and yet the administration has had these recommendations for years and has failed to implement virtually all of them. And so I think at a certain point we have to ask where the administrative commitment is. I look at these students and I think, in fact, it’s easy for us as faculty or administrators or staff to say, oh, we do this work. But the fact is we do about a tenth of the work. The students at UCSD are doing 90% of the work to recruit and retain to make access for others on that campus, and they’re doing it for free and they’re doing it instead of studying. And that’s our failure as teachers and faculty.
CAVANAUGH: Well, we have to leave it there. That’s a powerful place to leave it. I want to thank my guests so much, Glynda Davis, Sara Clarke Kaplan, Andrea Guerrero. Thank you for coming in and taking part in this important discussion. I also want to thank our education reporter Ana Tintocalis for setting the scene for us earlier in our conversation. If you have comments, please go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. You’ve been listening to These Days. Stay with us for hour two coming up in just a few minutes right here on KPBS.
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