Last Thursday, UC Irvine students, faculty and community members participated in a difficult conversation about race that had to be curtailed even after running half an hour over time in Pacific Ballroom. The conversation, titled “Shaping New Narratives,” was the inaugural installment of the “New Narratives” event series. Intended to challenge discussion among UC Irvine students, faculty and staff, “Shaping New Narratives” focused on issues about “identities and intergroup relations.”
Dr. Thomas Parham, Vice Chancellor Student Affairs, who oversees the majority of campus departments related to student life, served as the host and mediator of the conversation. He prefaced the discussion by speaking about Lambda Theta Delta, the fraternity whose YouTube videos last spring were responsible for one of UCI’s most recent incidents in a string of anti-black racism. The incident was a topic that was revisited throughout the talk.
Parham praised the fraternity for responding quickly with an apology following the emergence of their blackface videos. However, he also reminded the audience of the necessity of dialogue between different races by saying that it was not a group of white supremacists who were responsible for what he referred to as a “racial incident.”
The conversation’s panelists were three professors, each from one of UCI’s ethnic studies departments.
Dr. Ana Rosas, professor of Chicano/Latino Studies, asked how fraternity members of Lambda Theta Delta could be sorry for their actions but not be angry at how anti-blackness hurts their fellow students.
“Where is your humanity?” said Rosas.
When asked what Lambda Theta Delta has learned in the six months since they have been suspended by the university, Alex Hoang, a fourth-year, said, “I have not picked up a book about it.”
Dr. Jared Sexton, director of the African American studies program, urged the fraternity members to educate themselves.
“You don’t know what you’re apologizing for, and it’s six months later. Open a book!” said Sexton.
Dr. Jim Lee, director of Asian American Studies, berated the fraternity members, telling them to “spend the rest of [their] lives being furious over anti-black racism.”
Sexton reminded attendants of the perils of ignoring important distinctions between the struggles of different groups under the people of color umbrella.
James Lee, director of the Asian American Studies department, spoke on the importance of acknowledging race rather than choosing to not consider it.
Although his role was to solely moderate the conversation, Parham faced a number of questions from students regarding further institutional address of racist incidents and what concrete steps his office has taken to positively change campus climate.
He was unable to clearly answer some of these questions and deferred responsibility regarding campus climate to students.
One of Parham’s answers, in which he admitted that he is unable to force students to enroll in ethnic studies classes, however, gave truth to some students’ sentiments that the necessary racial education provided by such classes are being bypassed by the technicalities of general education requirements.
Andrea Gaspar, former ASUCI executive vice president, gave testimonial to times when it was not racism from students that hurt the UCI community, but the institution of the university itself through the harassment of student protesters and not adequately supporting students at risk of dropping out.
New Narratives is slated to include two film screenings and another panel discussion.
More information can be found at http://studentaffairs.uci.edu/newnarratives/index.php.