In response to the outrage sparked by incidents of prejudice throughout the UC system, the UC Irvine Cross-Cultural Center held a Townhall Meeting at 7 p.m. on March 1, 2010 in order to address the racial tensions jeopardizing campus climates. Students, faculty, staff and campus leaders all flocked to the center last Monday night to voice their concerns. Two days later, on March 3, a protest entitled “Black Wednesday” was held by the UCI Black Student Union (BSU) in the Student Center to draw attention to those concerns.
Dressed in all black, BSU members wore duct tape over their mouths with the writing “Do UC Us?” written on it. About 50 students lined up and linked arms, back-to-back in front of the Student Center, remaining silent from 11:30 a.m. until 12:20 p.m. While the BSU members kept their mouths sealed, allies and supporters of the organization educated passers-by on the recent racial controversies occurring at different UC schools.
One of the first events sparking action from the BSU was when several UC San Diego students and fraternity members, making a mockery of Black History Month, attempted to host the controversial “Compton Cookout,” a ghetto-themed party typecasting blacks.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the invitation posted on Facebook encouraged male partakers to sport “gangster” clothing and female partakers to imitate “ghetto chicks,” defined as girls who have “a very limited vocabulary, and attempt to make up for it, by forming new words.” Shortly after, students reported a noose hanging on the seventh floor of the Geisel Library at UCSD, and students at UC Santa Cruz found a noose drawn on the bathroom door.
Within the same week, a pillowcase fashioned to look like a Ku Klux Klan hood was discovered covering the head of the Geisel statue.
At 12:30 p.m. during the rally, the silent protestors dropped to the ground, playing dead as a symbol of their suffering. They lay there for an hour, eventually allowing allies to lie next to them, representing the spread of racist mentality and its effect across UC.
“What concerns me the most is that individuals really believe that, as black students, we are making a big deal out of nothing,” said TeKeyia Armstrong, fourth-year African-American studies major and Chair of UC Irvine’s BSU and primary organizer of the protest. “It is obvious that there is a culture of ignorance breeding on our campuses. People have no historical background as to why racial slurs and symbols like the noose are so deeply painful to our community.”
Many claim that the UC System has been lax in pursuing appropriate action, in spite of the derogatory stereotypes and arguably threatening messages. One such incident occurred during an SRTV broadcast when a UCSD student and member of the satirical publication, “The Koala,” used the n-word to refer to people who spoke out against incident, raising questions about the UC system’s commitment to a safe, academic environment at the Cross-Cultural Center meeting.
While many students were shocked at the incidences of racism, Hui-Ling Malone, BSU member and umbrella council chair, said that she did not share the same surprise.
“These kinds of things are not random,” Malone said. “They happen all the time. I have heard of a similar thing happening at UCI in the past.”
“UCI has a lot of potential which has yet to be completely realized, and maybe we can accept its multi-cultural fortunes and promise,” said Director of African-American Studies at UC Irvine, Ulysses Jenkins. “Just because you have a lot of different people inhabiting the same environmental space doesn’t make for instant harmony. The body can get infected and contaminated by a cancer called prejudice.”
Many BSU members are fighting for more black faculty and staff members as well as students to create less of a feeling of isolation. Increasing the number of black UCI students is among their list of goals.
“There needs to be a way that, as a campus, we create what I like to call a ‘culture of intolerance for ignorance’ so that everyone understands that we will not tolerate the ostracizing of our students because of a lack of understanding cultural differences,” Armstrong said.