Nothing has changed since the “Compton Cookout”: UCI’s continued support for institutional racism and the “Pilgrims and Indians” party

Not quite a year ago, outrage erupted against the “Compton Cookout” held at UCSD and subsequent racist and threatening events (the “n” word being used by campus media and multiple nooses found around campus).

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Chancellor Michael V. Drake sent out the following message to the student population:

During the past year I have written and spoken frequently about the importance of civility and values in a pluralistic democratic society, and why civility and values matter in today’s world. This question was addressed eloquently by President Obama on Wednesday evening as he spoke in Tucson to honor those slain and wounded in last Saturday’s tragedy. For those who may have missed the President’s remarks, his speech is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/01/12/remarks-president-barack-obama-memorial-service-victims-shooting-tucson. I commend the President’s message to your attention as it is particularly appropriate this weekend, as we pause to honor the ideals and principles exemplified by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Of course, this says little about how “civility” is mobilized to otherize non-whites and enforce the façade of “proper channels”.  And there is much to say about how Drake extols the “ideals and principles” of Dr. King, while bringing criminal and conduct charges against peaceful protesters and refusing to insource workers.  It also completely ignores Dr. King’s vision of economic justice, in a university system where 2000 administrators collectively make over $1 Billion while TAs are paid $16,000, or where executive administrators are given pay increases and performance bonuses even as they claim there isn’t money for instruction or higher pay for the lowest paid.

What’s most striking about this statement is the administration’s–and Drake’s–complicity in both implicit and explicit racism on campus. The administration has been painfully resistance to student demands to increase enrollment of students of color, even as the demographics of the UC represent those of the ruling class more than the general population.  They have also resisted or ignored demands for funds for retention of underrepresented or marginalized students, hiring of non-white faculty, and an end to racial profiling by campus police.

But more explicitly, the administration has actively participated in overt cases of racist stereotyping.  The UCI Dining Halls, in honor of Dr. King, had the brilliant idea to serve fried chicken and waffles.  At least they didn’t have the audacity to include watermelon, or any number of other foods that anyone associated with an institution of higher learning should understand are linked to racism, stereotyping, marginalization, and otherization of people of color.

Even more shocking, it was revealed in a recent statement by the American Indian Student Association that a campus fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, held a “Pilgrims and Indians” party around Thanksgiving.  Complete with fake Indian costumes, the event made a mockery of 500 years of domination, genocide, extermination, rape, and pillage of indigenous Americans by European “settlers.”  This could be written off as drunken college students being insensitive in the name of fun, but the UCI administration’s involvement suggests that this party is more the product of a culture of racism and marginalization perpetuated by the university.  AISA filed complaints through the aforementioned “proper channels” yet the university did NOTHING.  Not only that, but the university actually provided campus shuttles to take students to the event.  If this isn’t an open statement of support, what is?

But, again, we want to emphasize that this is not an individual case, it’s not “students being students” nor is this an instance of “bad apples.”  This is a structural problem.  Native students make up just 0.01% of the student population; put differently, there are under a dozen Native students out of at least 15,000 white and Asian students.  Additionally, there is not a single Native faculty member, and few if any courses on Native American culture or history, taught sporadically.

This is–CLEARLY–unacceptable.  The UCI administration’s endorsement of racist events and displays is outright reprehensible, and its continued adherence to and support for institutional racism is just as disgusting.

We stand in solidarity with AISA and other campus groups confronting the administration over these issues, and call on Chancellor Drake to, for once, make his words on Dr. King mean something.

AISA’s Statement:

The American Student Association at UCI would first like to thank you for taking the time to read and work with us to make sure the issue involving the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity on Tuesday, November 23, 2010 is resolved. We understand that action over a grievance takes time, but we also know that we, as an organization, individuals, and contributing students at UCI, deserve a resolution that will stem from it a safe environment and respect for our generation as well as the generations to come; we hope to see concrete steps toward a positive direction in the near future.

The American Indian Student Association at UCI was created in 1974 in response to the overwhelming need for support and advocacy in higher education for Native students. Starting with only a few students, AISA has always supported Indian people’s rights to education, to learn, and to thrive as Native people. Throughout its history, AISA has contributed to the Native students, to the surrounding community, and to UCI as a whole. By outreaching and educating, working with the local tribe and community through our Pow wow and other events such as Native Heritage Month, we have been able to build a strong foundation for our group and to represent ourselves well as a positive force and entity. Starting as a support group for Native students on campus, AISA has grown into something much larger; The American Indian Student Association at the University of California, Irvine speaks out and represents Natives of all Nations on and off campus- socially, politically, educationally, and culturally.

With the overwhelming discrimination that is seen in popular culture, media, mainstream society, and in our k- 12th education system, Native people, especially the youth and students, are handed a burden of misrepresentation in many forms and in numerous components of life. Sadly many of society’s stereotypes carry over in the school systems; the ethnic misrepresentations displayed by Phi Kappa Psi at their Thanksgiving party are one such example. Stereotypes and these types of discrimination should not be overlooked and/or allowed to continue especially when it is affecting the lives of students on campus and how we feel as American Indian Peoples. These acts of racism and disrespect highlight the need to have a policy put into place and enforced so these events do not happen again; furthermore, these acts show the overwhelming need for Native representation in faculty and/or administration to help educate UCI students of all backgrounds on Native issues on the UCI campus.

The event that occurred on Tuesday, October 23, 2010 with the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity at UCI is completely unacceptable. The fraternity decided to advertise and host a theme party in light of Thanksgiving called “Pilgrims and Indians” (Please see attached flier). These fliers showed scantily clad females in fake Indian costumes. These depictions are not only disrespectful to women in general and Native women specifically, but show contempt for native culture and history. Upon learning of this event, AISA filed complaints, through the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, expressing feelings of discomfort and disrespectful treatment because of the event; despite the fact that our complaints and petition were made preventatively through school channels and the fraternity was notified, the party still went on. Advertisements were still shown on Facebook, and fliers continued to be dispersed on campus and around the community. Furthermore, UCI shuttles were used to bring students from different community housing complexes on the UCI campus specifically for the event. The result was public display, in front of AISA members, of students dressed in skimpy “Indian” outfits with eagle

feathers – a sacred item special to our lives and ceremonies as Indian people – parading around in mockery of Native people, our culture, and the history of our nations. The continuation of this event after UCI students had made complaints, showed a lack of regard and respect for the voices of such students; this lack of effort shown by UCI and the said Fraternity made Native and supporting students feel very uncomfortable and underrepresented.

As a small organization that contributes to this campus, it saddens us to have to see this year by year and feel as though we do not belong at a university which we have worked so hard to be a part of because it is supposed to have a progressive and supportive environment for its students. Native students, nor any other students, should not be subjected to seeing their ancestor’s, heritage, traditions or beliefs mocked in any way, let alone by a university organization required to comply with university policies. As a fraternity that receives university funds and is required to go through university sanctions for events, it is deeply troubling that Phi Kappa Psi was able to promote and hold this type of event. We submit that it is UCI’s duty to uphold rules and regulations that ensure ALL students, no matter what their population size on campus is, feel safe and comfortable to thrive and be proud of who they are. It should not be a space that is degrading, confining, or makes us second-guess the option of bringing our loved ones to campus in fear of embarrassment that these types of events occur again.

In light of the event of November 23, 2010 involving the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity and their theme party in satire of Thanksgiving entitled “Pilgrims and Indians”, The American Indian Student Association, a student and community organization, at UCI demands that a policy change comes about through administration and is enforced throughout the school to protect Native students on campus by condemning these types of events and ensuring further disciplinary action towards those who decide to hold these types of events at UCI. Furthermore, we demand that we see and are involved in the process of hiring more Native faculty along with the creation of multiple American Indian courses taught by such faculty to the UCI campus in support of Native student’s growth and education on Native issues and culture to prevent such events like said event on November 23, 2010 from happening again. We demand a meeting with the chancellor and the vice chancellor of the University of California, Irvine to discuss a direct plan of action before the end of winter quarter.

If no action is taken in regards to this event and our demands, the American Indian Student Association will escalate the situation to a broader audience, in order to ensure that all are aware of the hostile climate against Natives at UCI and the issues that are arising from these types of events. By being a part of the Intertribal Collegiate Alliance and working within the surrounding community, we have access to over 13 different campuses that stand in support of us and our struggle. We thank you for your time and hope to find a resolution within an appropriate amount of time.

Respectively,

The American Indian Student Association

at the University of California, Irvine

MEChA’s Statement:

M.E.Ch.A. de UC Irvine condemns parties that bastardize the cultures of underrepresented students on our campus, such as the Phi  Kappa Psi Fraternity’s “Pilgrims and Indian” party, which occurred on November 23, 2010. While we recognize the fraternity’s right to free speech, it is not acceptable to do so at the expense of the culture and history of marginalized students. These parties promote cultural insensitivity and lack an understanding of the struggles and oppression connected to holidays such as Thanksgiving.  While Thanksgiving was created to appease the American population at the end of the Civil War and it is also representation of the genocide of indigenous people in the United States. No student should be exposed to this kind of representation of their identity and culture, as it fosters a hostile environment on a supposedly safe campus.

M.E.Ch.A de UCI demands a response from Student Affairs and will not accept a “slap on the wrist.” The students responsible for these parties need to be held accountable and should attend a cultural sensitivity training, such as a Reaffirming Ethnic Awareness and Community Harmony (R.E.A.C.H.) workshop in order to challenge their positions of privilege and educate them on the cultures they mock.

M.E.Ch.A stands in solidarity with the American Indian Student Association (AISA) and the Native community in demanding a change in the UCI discrimination policy for these types of events, an increase of Native faculty and an increase in Native American courses.  These demands should not be unreasonable nor impossible to achieve on a campus that is supposedly dedicated to the diversity and well being of its students.  These demands will not only improve campus climate but also spread awareness to student of color issues and increase the retention of those students.

This is a important matter that cannot be taken lightly or overlooked. We hope you take this situation seriously and take steps to change policy in regards to these parties.

In Solidarity,

M.E.Ch.A de UC Irvine

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4 Responses to Nothing has changed since the “Compton Cookout”: UCI’s continued support for institutional racism and the “Pilgrims and Indians” party

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Nothing has changed since the “Compton Cookout”: UCI’s continued support for institutional racism and the “Pilgrims and Indians” party « Occupy UCI! -- Topsy.com

  2. Sara says:

    It is absolutely ridiculous that this blog has covered this event. How many people, every year, dress up as Indians for Halloween and other party events, and no one ever says anything? In addition, part of the AISA’s argument is that the fraternity used UCI shuttles, which is not the case. They contracted a separated busing company that was used to transport people to the event. What about the pilgrim aspect? Are any white students up in arms about the misrepresentation of their puritan ancestors? I didn’t think so. Next time, cover something that is actually newsworthy.

    • Mr. F says:

      Your argument is so ridiculous and misinformed, if not blatantly malicious, given that you are posting from a VCSA IP ADDRESS, that I need to dissect your bullshit sentence by sentence.

      “It is absolutely ridiculous that this blog has covered this event.”

      Well, what do you expect us to cover? You do realize what this blog is, right? We draw attention to, and criticize, progressive and left issues at UCI. Given a show of extreme prejudice if not racism against Native American students, this seems appropriate to cover.

      “How many people, every year, dress up as Indians for Halloween and other party events, and no one ever says anything?”

      This doesn’t make it OK, or justify the same action by adults. It is bad enough that children do this without being corrected by their parents, but we’re talking about college students who are expected to be intelligent world citizens who should understand the effect of an event like this. Just because a mistake has been repeated enough times, doesn’t mean we need to continue repeating it.

      “In addition, part of the AISA’s argument is that the fraternity used UCI shuttles, which is not the case. They contracted a separated busing company that was used to transport people to the event.”

      That doesn’t make the event any less offensive, or make the university less complicit with its support for the event.

      “What about the pilgrim aspect? Are any white students up in arms about the misrepresentation of their puritan ancestors? I didn’t think so.”

      Most white students don’t know enough about their puritan ancestors to be up in arms. But that’s really not the point. No one really has a right to be offended when groups are caricatured in such a way as to give them more power, more stake to historical revisions, rather than further denying them their humanity, as is the case of “Indians.” It is not just about representation, but representation in relation to power. The caricatures of Pilgrims and Indians did not emerge from nowhere, but was an integral invention necessary to justify genocide and ethnic cleansing, theft of land and resources, rape, enslavement, and conquest. The representations of Pilgrims were designed to legitimate the Pilgrims’–and white people’s–domination over Indians and justify their position at the top of the hierarchy of American society. Whereas the Pilgrim caricature may be inaccurate, it isn’t damaging to them or their descendants, but in fact has further aided them.

      “Next time, cover something that is actually newsworthy.”

      Apparently the UCI administration decides what is or isn’t newsworthy…

  3. Student says:

    So does this mean I can’t have my “Chicas & Chicos”-themed party anymore? Qué pena…

    –A concerned Hispanic student

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