Imagine this. You wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom you share with your suitemates. In the morning, a friend stops by to show you a picture on his digital camera. It’s a picture of the white board on your door. However, instead of the usual funny pictures and inside jokes from hallmates and visiting friends, scrawled across the board is the word “NIGGER.” Trying to spare you the embarrassment, your friend erased the hateful word before more people could see it. Already one of only two African-American students in the hall, only you have been singled out by this historically derogatory, racist term.
You later discover that your food in the hall fridge, yes, the food with your name clearly labeled on the front, has been either eaten or tampered with. You have a strong notion about the culprits, one of your floormates who had rowdy friends over, and there are scenes of destruction throughout the hall. You are deeply distraught, so you report the incident to your resident advisor, that trustworthy upperclassman whose sole purpose for living in your dorm, without cost, is to ensure that your transition into college is smooth and worry-free. At a hall meeting the next day to discuss the general chaos of last night, the resident advisor suggests that everyone respect the hall, mainly the plethora of posters that clutter the walls. Feeling the sting of injustice, you bring up what really happened last night, saying you no longer feel safe in the dorm. Your resident advisor briefly acknowledges this, though he has placed no formal report on the incident, claiming there was a lack of information, then moves on to more important matters: the rules for Assassin, a hall game involving a pair of socks and too much time on your hands.
But wait. Could this really be a freshman experience at UC Irvine? Could we really be so blind and sedated in this bubble of a campus that such a blatant and hurtful act of racism cannot jolt us into action? According to one UCI student, apparently so. Ricardo Sparks, an African-American first-year living in Mesa Court experienced just the scenario painted for you.
During the early morning of Oct. 4 2008 and the days soon following it, Sparks was shown just how hard it was to get a substantial response. Fortunately, he was able to encounter a resident advisor from another hall who, upon hearing his story, reported the incident on the spot. What followed was a series of standard procedure meetings and reports, including a meeting with Mesa Housing Complex Coordinator Emily Yee, Executive Director of Undergraduate Housing Fred Lipscomb, and a formal police report. Lipscomb arranged another meeting with the hall, this time to directly address the incident. Attended by Afrikan Student Union (ASU) Chair Hui-Ling Malone, Director of Mesa Court Lou Gill and Associate Director of Resident Life Thais Bouchereau, the meeting included information on how to formally report a hate crime. Important points were discussed; however, the fact that the hallmate whose friends had caused the above-mentioned destruction was notably absent from the meeting detracted from its overall effectiveness.
For every reported hate crime like Sparks’, there are several other cases in which victims are faced with similar displays of ignorance and insensitivity, unsure of what to do next and forced to accept both explicit and implicit racism and move on. According to fifth-year psychology major Keshia Adeniyi, this is one of the reasons why cultural groups are so important on campus. “It was experiences such as these that led me to cling to organizations such as the Afrikan Student Union and peers within my community that faced similar challenges. Thus, I never really hung out in my dorm.”
Clearly, this campus needs deeper renovating than the countless buildings that seem to sprout every summer. A fundamental change needs to take place. No student, especially in the safety of his dorm, should ever feel ostracized or hated because of the color of his skin, or any other facet of his identity. On the other hand, no student should ever believe that they have the freedom to make another individual feel that way. We need to establish a new level of connection with those who are different from us and send a message throughout campus that racism, in all forms, will not be tolerated.
The time is now. In a recent meeting between Associate Dean of Students Rameen Talesh, Director of the Cross-Cultural Center Kevin Huie, and representatives from the Afrikan Student Union, attendants discussed the lack of action against hate crimes on campus, possible tactics for increasing cultural sensitivity and appreciation on campus, and the overall atmosphere for incoming minorities. “Our interest is not in numbers, but the actual experience once they get here,” Talesh said.
Attendants also proposed ideas for a possible Racism Awareness Week hosted by ASUCI, rather than only the Cross-Cultural Center, emphasizing the fact that this issue affects the whole campus, not just minorities. As Huie stated, “We all share the responsibility.” Changes in resident advisor training and the Student-Parent Orientation Program (SPOP) are necessary to further stress the beauty of cultural diversity and our campus’ zero tolerance take on racism. Additionally, the entire blame cannot be placed on the resident advisor in this situation. People from different backgrounds see situations in another light. This is why it is so essential that resident advisors be extensively trained to deal with these issues, so that instances like Ricardo’s will not be repeated. ASU has begun to compile a discrimination template to aid students who are unsure how to report their incidents.
As for Ricardo, he hopes this article will “bring up a conversation of racism on campus.”
ASU Outreach Co-Coordinator TeKeyia Armstrong agreed.
“How can we expect the university to do something about racism when it doesn’t acknowledge that it’s here?” said Armstrong. “Now that we’ve said something, the university can no longer ignore it.”