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Racial Tensions At UCSD Continue


The fallout from the "Compton Cookout" continues. We'll tell you why hundreds of students walked out of a UC San Diego-sponsored teach-in earlier this week.

ALISON ST JOHN (Host): And you’re back on the Editors Roundtable with me, Alison St John, in for Gloria Penner. We also have David Rolland from San Diego CityBeat, John Warren from San Diego Voice & Viewpoint, and David Ogul from the San Diego Union-Tribune. So we’ve seen some scenes of student protests on UCSD campus that are both unsettling and stimulating this last week. The Compton Cookout invitation last week was just a match that seemed to set a fire alight and now we have a full blown debate raging about racism and about free speech. And before we get into the topic any further, we should just comment that we’ve got the latest breaking news is that a noose was found hanging from a bookcase on the 7th floor of the Geisel Library. This has resulted in calls for another student protest this morning. The police have issued a crime alert bulletin. Things are not getting any better at this point. But let’s talk a bit about that. Now, Dave, you have written an article about this in CityBeat. You talked about this as the circus of the absurd. Events like this, does that still fit into that kind of a description?

DAVID ROLLAND (Editor, San Diego CityBeat): Well, parts of it do. You know – Just to back up a little bit here. I think we have a situation that is sort of born of social media. You know, in – not long ago, a few years ago, you know, these knuckleheads would’ve had their stupid racist party and nobody really would’ve known about it, you know, because you invite people by word of mouth or whatever and – But now you invite people by Facebook and soon as you do something like that, it goes viral immediately. Everybody sees it and it turns into a big thing. Now I think this could have been – this could have died down a lot earlier but then you have even worse knuckleheads on campus who thrive on this kind of thing and I’m talking about Kris Gregorian, who’s the, you know, the most recent editor of this thing called the Koala on campus, which exists only to push people’s buttons for their own amusement. That’s, you know – So what this guy and his, you know, cronies did were, you know, they went on and did a TV broadcast where they just inflamed the situation just for their own enjoyment.

ST JOHN: But, Dave, at this point it looks like – I mean, you could argue that if it hadn’t ever, you know, gotten out into the public we wouldn’t have heard anymore about it but when we look at what is happening this week, it suggests that there’s something going on that was tapped into that was there and that now is really coming to light; it’s all being exposed. So it’s not, you know, it’s not just that one event at the beginning, you know, it’s more like what is actually going on? You know, what does all this represent? John.

JOHN WARREN (Editor/Publisher, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint): Well, I’ve written two articles in terms of this issue and an editorial, and what we have here is we’re seeing symptoms being dealt with without dealing with the cause. I believe that the people, even though they were off campus and the activities that happened on campus, those attitudes are reflected in mores that people brought to the university, number one. They didn’t come there and become racist or bigots, they were when they got there. And so that’s important. The second part of this is that although the campus has been somewhat isolated physically because of how it sits in La Jolla with 29,000 students and 3% African-American, there is still a isolationist – isolationism that takes place in the attitudes on the campus and it’s not only at UCSD but the same thing happens at USD, that you have these schools that feel that – the people who have money who come feel that they belong there and people who don’t look like them don’t belong there. And so this gets to be a part of the problem and it’s further complicated when the administration responds from a defensive posture rather than oftentimes a corrective posture which says that, yeah, we can buy some of what you say but we’re not going to buy all of what you say because we’ve done A, B and C. And so we have to allow for those who are coming into the picture who are off campus who want to further agitate the situation. And you have to put all these factors together. I think the people that did the Compton Cookout should be sent to Compton to do some community service. I think that…

ST JOHN: Well, that’s a good point. I mean, the thing is here you’ve got the issue of whether to respond by clamping down or by opening up, discussion. David, what’s your…

DAVID OGUL (Assistant Metro Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): I think that the interesting point that you made about sending the folks to Compton for some community service because if – it just really underscores the ignorance that’s going on not only with the people that put this party together but, you know, throughout the country. I mean, Compton is 60% Latino. It’s a stereotype of that town that just doesn’t exist in reality anymore. And that’s what we have here, as the Union-Tribune’s been reporting all along, that this is all based on really ugly stereotypes and, you know, and what’re you going to do? You can’t legislate stupidity.

ROLLAND: Well, one thing you can do is try to – you know, I’m a proud social engineer and I was very disappointed with the passage of Prop 209 in 1996, I believe it was, that further tied our hands in terms of creating diverse campuses.


ROLLAND: You know, Prop 209 basically said you couldn’t use, you know, gender or race or ethnicity in determining your enrollment.

ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.

ROLLAND: And so that really is the problem. If we had a more diverse campus, then this kind of thing, I think, would sort itself out naturally.

ST JOHN: Got to take a couple of calls here. Maria is calling us from Normal Heights. Thanks very much for calling in, Maria. What’s your perspective?

MARIA (Caller, Normal Heights): Yeah, I have various friends and my husband actually teaches at UCSD and everybody has just been kind of appalled at the escalation of events that’s come from one off-campus cookout to a teach-in that was almost sort of offensive to the students because it didn’t address the needs they felt for feeling safe on campus. And then with this final gesture of having a noose hung in front of the main entrance of – on campus, I mean, the details around that is that apparently some African-American students who didn’t feel safe going home after the walkout decided to spend the night at the Cross-Cultural Center and subsequently discovered the noose hanging from the main entrance. Now I don’t know what the intersection is between the 14th Amendment, rights for equal protection of your, you know, personal safety, and the 1st Amendment, but clearly there’s got to be a line, you know, that you can be – that can be drawn to protect students from, you know, outbursts like this and then to have the media or hangers-on to the media comment and say, oh, it’s just some dumb fraternity boys. You can’t legislate stupidity. What are we going to do? I mean, clearly, as one of your guests says, there is something that can be done to mitigate like this feeling that, oh, these are just kids and…


MARIA: …this is actually permissible under the aegeis of like the 1st Amendment. I think…

ST JOHN: Maria, thank you. Can you just tell us what – do you – are you someone who works or is involved with the UCSD campus at all?

MARIA: Yes, I used to lecture at the Literature Department but my husband and many of our friends are professors at the UCSD campus. We got the call this morning that said that a noose had been found hanging from the entrance…

ST JOHN: Right, that’s right. Maria…

MARIA: …and people are just inflamed and aggravated and very scared for the security of especially the students of color.

ST JOHN: Thank you so much for calling in, Maria. Lawrence in University City is also on the line now. Lawrence, we’d like to hear from you.

LAWRENCE (Caller, University City): Hi. I’d like to make two points. I understand the student makeup at UCSD is actually a plurality Asian-American between I think, I read, 35 to 40%, followed by non-Hispanic white and then – non-Hispanic white, Hispanic and then a tiny percentage of African-American students. So it doesn’t seem that this is a white versus people of color issue, that it’s more complex and should be analyzed as such. And, second, I graduated from UCSD in 1995 and there were already many Asian-American students as my peers. And talking with them, they’re very conservative on this issue, lots of them, and many are in the same economic strata as Hispanic and African-American and went to the same schools, and the attitude of many Asian-Americans is that the Latino and African-American students don’t take school seriously in high school and they, obviously, subsequently, have little sympathy for the low attendance numbers. But – And I think it’s a lot more complex. It’s not white (audio dropout) people of color because Asian-Americans are, quote, people of color.

ST JOHN: Okay, Lawrence, thanks for that perspective. John. John, you have a point to make here.

WARREN: Yeah, the problem is in the caller himself and what he just said. He just said it’s more complex and then he turns around and uses a stereotype based on one or two people’s experiences with students there. He can’t have it both ways. There are whites who punch out of school or drop out or get suspended or fail. And he misses the point that when – years ago when Asians started showing up in large numbers at Stanford and Harvard and they were doing so because they had such outstanding academic records, then the schools began to increase their requirements for community participation because they knew that they didn’t have community service. So the racism has still been there at all ends, in the administration, in the process, on the campus.

ST JOHN: Now, Dave.

ROLLAND: Well, I wanted to say, I mean, there are racists of all colors in our society and, you know, it’s important to note that, you know – I don’t know if it was the – I think it was the 1980s that there – you know, there was a big – There was lots of problems in Los Angeles between Koreans and African-Americans.


ROLLAND: There are a lot of racial tensions between and among lots of different groups so I don’t think anybody’s just saying that, you know, this is really just a white problem. It’s a racism problem and it stems from, really, I believe, a segregated society and especially for African-Americans who have had so much trouble coming out of a cycle of institutional racism in this country. It hasn’t been that long, you know, since the 1960s. It really, in the grand scheme of things, hasn’t been that long. And, you know, so every – a lot of, you know, conservatives in this country who just want so badly to move past, you know, you know, race as an issue and they just want everybody to be, you know, treated exactly equally, well, we’re not there yet.

ST JOHN: And in some ways I’m glad you brought up the 1960s because we haven’t really seen a lot of dynamic activity on campuses like there were in the 1960s other than over student fees. So in some ways this kind of turmoil is really exciting because it is bringing a lot of issues out into the open that…

WARREN: Well, the same kind of turmoil…

ST JOHN: John.

WARREN: …was brought out when the president was elected. I mean, the hate crimes went up. We – you can’t find ammunition anymore because panicky whites start buying guns and bullets and the whole bit. And it hasn’t subsided. The number of threats against the president, the inability of the Secret Service to do the same job for him that it’s done for other presidents, so the country hasn’t changed and I’m amazed at how many people are looking at this thing with shock. Students shouldn’t be frightened about the noose, they should look for whoever put the noose up and deal with them.

ST JOHN: And so, David, I mean, do you feel like this latest development is, you know, a sign that things are really not being handled right? Is there something that is going bad about this…

OGUL: Well, I…

ST JOHN: …because it could become a really good debate.

OGUL: Again, I agree with John here. As a member of a religious minority, I could tell you that there is racism – racism and bigotry exists. It’s latent, it’s under the surface but when something happens, it comes out. And what sparked all this and for the overt racism to come out was the Compton Cookout.

ST JOHN: We ran out of time but I’d like to thank David Rolland, John Warren and David Ogul for being at the roundtable today. I’m Alison St John in for Gloria Penner, and we’d like to thank all of you who called in and who are listening to the Editors Roundtable here on KPBS.

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