Racial tensions broke out across the UC system last month after a UC San Diego fraternity hosted a controversial “Compton Cookout” party. The incident was followed by the discovery of a noose on the San Diego campus and demands from the Black Student Union to campus administration regarding the state of minorities at the campus.
The affair began in mid-February when members of a fraternity created a Facebook event for a “Compton Cookout” party in honor of Black History Month. Girls were encouraged to dress like “Ghetto Chicks.” “Ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes – they consider Baby Phat to be high class and expensive couture,” the invite said, “They also have short, nappy hair, and usually wear cheap weave, usually in bad colors, such as purple or bright red.”
Positive coverage of the event by a student television station led to a strong response from student leaders. Utsav Gupta, president of the UCSD student association, temporarily suspended funding for all student media outlets saying, “We will only open it [the student run station] again when we can be sure that such hateful content can never be aired again on our student funded TV station.”
First Amendment advocates expressed alarm at the funding suspension. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote, “In acting arbitrarily and on the basis of content concerns, Mr. Gupta has demonstrated an alarming misunderstanding of the university’s obligation to uphold the First Amendment when distributing funds to student organizations.” The American Civil Liberties Union also wrote a letter of concern.
The tension was elevated on February 25 when a noose was discovered in the campus library. In response, the Black Student Union (BSU) at UCSD held demonstrations to draw attention to what they see as a pattern of racial intolerance on the campus. On February 26, members of the group held a sit in at the campus administration building for several hours in order to draw attention to a list of demands. The group’s demands were intended to increase minority student representation at the campus. Among them were “We demand [UCSD] Chancellor Fox and the University have mutual respect of the ‘Principles of Community’ and create a precedent of prioritizing students of color and leading by example. We demand that there be repercussions when the “Principles of Community” are blatantly being violated,” and, “We demand the University provide free tutors for the African-American students who seek academic support.”
The protests spread to Berkeley on March 1. Dozens of students dressed in all black – including black cloth over their mouths – blocked Sather Gate for approximately three hours, allowing access only through the sides of the gate where members of the group were distributing leaflets detailing the group’s frustration. “The campus is not a safe space for all students,” senior Lajuanda Asemota told The Daily Californian, “People are often marginalized. People are often silenced throughout the day.”
Student leaders and administrators also voiced their support. “We have zero tolerance for deliberate acts that discriminate or demean others based on race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, or any other personal characteristic, and know that all UC campuses share that view,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau wrote in an e-mail distributed to all students. The ASUC Senate unanimously approved a resolution authored by Senator Huda Adem “to stand in solidarity” with the San Diego Black Student Union’s demands.
At the San Diego campus, tensions continued to increase as a KKK style hood was found on a campus statue of the late children’s book author Dr. Seuss March 1. As of press time, officials are still investigating the incident. The next day, campus police asked the San Diego city attorney to consider whether the previous noose incident constituted a hate crime, according to The San Diego Union Tribune.
The student who left the noose in the library, who described herself as a minority, apologized anonymously in a letter to the student newspaper, The UCSD Guardian. “As a minority student who sympathizes with the students that have been affected by the recent issues on campus, I am distraught to know that I have unintentionally added to their pain.” she wrote. The student claimed the noose was left after friends were playing with some rope and admiring each other’s knotting abilities. She claimed no racist intent but remained suspended from the university.
Campus officials and BSU leaders reached an agreement on March 4 that will require the university to fund efforts to increase the minority population at UCSD, find places to display art representing minority communities, and consider new diversity course requirements for undergraduates. The settlement has sparked a new round of concerns from those who worry that the agreement violates California’s ban on affirmative action in public school admissions. Ward Connerly, a former UC regent who authored the initiative that banned the practice, told The La Jolla Light that he is reviewing the settlement to see if it is within the law.