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UCSD Black Student, Faculty Leaders Report ‘Slow But Steady’ Progress

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Aired 5/4/10

It's been four months since UC San Diego was rocked by a series of racially-charged incidents targeting black students on campus. Since then, top ranking UCSD officials have agreed to a litany of terms and conditions aimed at making the campus more diverse and tolerant.

It's been four months since UC San Diego was rocked by a series of racially-charged incidents targeting black students on campus. Since then, top ranking UCSD officials have agreed to a litany of terms and conditions aimed at making the campus more diverse and tolerant. Black student leaders say there's been slow but steady progress.

UCSD students gathered outside of the Price Center on campus on February 24, 2010 to protest recent racially-charged events on campus.
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Above: UCSD students gathered outside of the Price Center on campus on February 24, 2010 to protest recent racially-charged events on campus.

Students listen at the UCSD teach-in on February 24, 2010 as speakers address the controversy following the 'Compton Cookout,' a racially-themed party near campus.
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Above: Students listen at the UCSD teach-in on February 24, 2010 as speakers address the controversy following the 'Compton Cookout,' a racially-themed party near campus.

February 2010 was one of the most racially hostile periods in UCSD's history. It all started when a group of UCSD students took part in the so-called Compton Cookout, a party that mocked black culture during a month that honors Black History.

The public backlash touched-off a series of racist acts—from a noose found in the campus library to a KKK-style hood found on a campus statute.

UCSD Chancellor Mary Anne Fox. She was the target of much of the student angst and frustration. Under extreme pressure, Fox and her administration agreed to 19 demands outlined by UCSD's Black Student Union -- from bolstering recruitment efforts to hiring more minority faculty. The university will also establish a new Campus Climate Commission to ensure accountability.

Fox says even she needed some education, which is why two of her top ranking officials took a trip to Compton High School in the City of Compton.

“I didn't know where Compton was,” Fox said. “I had to learn why it was called a “Compton Cookout.” (Compton High School) is a very interesting school. I would classify some of the students as brilliant. They're the kind we want to have at UC San Diego.”

Fox says that trip established a connection between UCSD and Compton High School. She says her administration is currently trying to offer scholarships for up to 20 Compton high school students so they can attend a three-week summer program at the university.

Fox also says UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography is partnering with Compton High School science teachers. Faculty will visit Compton high school. Compton students will visit UCSD research labs.

“I can assure you these are heartfelt commitments,” Fox said. “These series of incidents pulled together the administrative teams in a way that we focused on diversity.”

Faculty and students have now released a book called “Another University Is Possible” which is a compilation of speeches, letters and photos chronicling UCSD’s student uprising as a result of the Compton Cookout.

UCSD professor Daniel Widener helped compile the information. He's also working with students to make sure Fox's administration keeps its word.

“We've had very slow but steady progress,” Widener said.

Widener says the biggest challenge now is with UCSD's faculty senate. He says university funding has to be diverted so that students can benefit from more diversity programs and curriculum. Widener says that bothers research-minded academics.

“They exist in a kind of cloistered state -- often times, faculty don't understand the seriousness of what took place,” Widener said.

Black faculty and students leaders say they want to change that mindset. He says students are also focused on pushing the university to fund-raise specifically for diversity projects and initiatives. They want to see the university hire more black and Latino professors, and recruit more black and Latino graduate students.

Widener says the students are embarking on an effort to change UCSD into a campus that looks more like the state of California.

“The students have learned that neither victory or defeat is permanent. And they've learned that when you win, all you win is the right to struggle in a new way,” Widener said. “I see a spring in their step. I see a quiet confidence. I see real smiles. I see belief.”

Widener says when young people believe in themselves, they can accomplish anything.

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