Earlier this quarter, 11 students (8 from UCI, 3 from UCR) were arrested for disrupting the speech of Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren. Each student stood up individually, made a statement (e.g. “Propagation of genocide is not free speech!”) and voluntarily walked out. As each voluntarily left, police grabbed them and arrested them. Each of the 8 from UCI begin disciplinary hearings on Tuesday, and face the possibility of expulsion.
Fast forward 2 weeks. After a UCSD fraternity hosts a party called “Compton Cookout” encouraging students to come dressed as racist caricatures, a comment made on student television calling black students “ungrateful n—-s,” a cardboard sign found at the studio reading “Compton lynching,” and announcements of a second “Compton Cookout” to spite black students, the administration was still unresponsive to student concerns and refused to take action. Wednesday, students interrupted an administration talk about racism to hold their own teach-in. That evening, a Black Student Union member was removed from an Associated Students committee because of her involvement in the protest. Thursday evening, a noose was found hanging in Geisel Library. In the morning, a student allegedly confessed, and administration went out of their way to defend her: she is “someone who didn’t think that leaving a noose was an issue.” Police are only considering charging her with a misdemeanor, and after a day-long sit-in in Chancellor Fox’s office, UCSD is giving the student a suspension, though it is unclear the length of time or severity.
Let’s get this straight: 11 Muslim students are arrested and threatened with expulsion after briefly protesting a University-sponsored speaker and voluntarily leaving. A white student hangs a noose in a public place at the height of a volatile racial situation and doesn’t understand what’s wrong with that, and the best the university can do is consider charging her with a misdemeanor and–only after massive, impassioned protests–suspend her.
We need to put this in perspective. A UCB student was recently suspended, banned from campus, and banned from speaking to UCB students and faculty, after the DA the dropped charges for the incident she was allegedly involved in. The student conduct panel told her she was “guilty until proven innocent” and kicked her lawyer out of the hearing.
We can also compare the Irvine Eleven action with previous disruptions on campus. The Irvine Eleven protest:
Now here’s a 2001 speech by a speaker invited by the Muslim Student Union. Notice the administrator-looking guy in the blue shirt–he was later hired as Executive Director of ASUCI, and then “allowed to retire early” in 2008 after assaulting a colleague. Seems like a swell guy.
Police just watched this protest. In fact, the majority of MSU-sponsored speakers presenting on the Israel/Palestine conflict have been disrupted by students and community members as the police watched. Police have also watched on as Minutemen physically assaulted Muslim students, an undercover FBI agent hit a Muslim student with a van, and pro-Israeli students burned down an MSU display.
The underlying message here is that things are not alright in the UC. And it is not an issue of individual students or even clubs engaging in racist behavior; rather it is a racist system. After simultaneous sit-ins at UCLA and UCSD protesting the UCSD administration’s handling of the “Compton Cookout” incident, it is also clear that students are tired of being placated by empty apologies. 6.7% of the State’s population is black, while only 3.34% of UC and 1.3% of UCSD students are black. Disproportionate enrollment, while indicative of structural inequality, but the UC has made conscious decisions that would reduce minority enrollment further. Perhaps the best example of this is changes being made to the Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC) program. ELC allows students graduating in the top 12.5% of their class to attend the UC, so as not to penalize bright, hard-working students for attending impoverished schools. However, UC President Mark Yudof decided to reduce admissions through this program to the top 10% of high school classes, beginning in the 2012-3 school year. According to simulations run by his own office, the admission rate for black students would drop at 8 or 9 campuses. Essentially, the most underrepresented group in the entire UC would be further excluded from higher education–by the UC President’s own design. At the UCI campus, Dean of Undergraduate Education Sharon Salinger decided unilaterally, in the summer of 2009, to cut the Student Academic Advancement Services office for budgetary reasons. This in itself is problematic, because the office was one of the main resources for first generation, low income, and minority students on campus; but the closure of SAAS is downright scandalous because the office was fully funded through a federal TRIO grant and matching state funds which had already been allocated for the 2009-10 school year, and couldn’t be reallocated to another unit.
It should be made clear that the recent protests are less about the individual acts of racism on campus than about what we see as a systematic and deliberate attempt to force students of color out of the university. In many cases, it seems as if the university doesn’t even consider students of color to be students. As the Irvine Eleven were being arrested, audience members made death threats, violent gestures, and racial slurs towards the arrestees, and even towards Muslim, Middle Eastern, and Latino students in the audience who were not involved in the protests. Again, in front of the police. Comments made on news articles about the protest contained even more threats of violence and racist statements. As Chancellor Drake chastises those students for a lack of “values and civility” (read: for being uncivilized), Drake and Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez have all but refused to condemn the threats of violence against their own students or the racist actions at UCSD. Why? Because if the university confronts individual racism in a meaningful way, they will need to also confront structural racism, which benefits the current mode of university operations and the UC administration personally.