By: Mariah Castaneda and Sarah Menendez
Around 300 attended the Crystal Cove Auditorium for the Cross Cultural center’s 32nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium & Dr. White Lecture on Tuesday, January 27, 2015. This year, however, would prove to be very different from past symposiums.
“This university is anti-black! This university hates me!” said Mia Ogundipe-Tillman during the teach-in. The event honoring UCI’s Dr. Joseph White, would end in tears and, more importantly, a call for administration to address campus anti-blackness.
While the #BlackLivesMatter teach-in was structured as a panel on the topic of police violence against black people, students grew upset with the event for not addressing the anti-blackness occurring at UCI and as well as its failure to foster discussion in the way a teach-in should.
What started as a conversation between panelists, followed by a question and answer session, quickly changed when students and audience members started to share their experiences and thoughts about #BlackLivesMatter in the context of the university.
It wasn’t until nearly 8 p.m., the scheduled end time for the event, that this discussion began.
Many black students, including members of the Afrikan Black Coalition and Black Student Union, reiterated grievances recently brought to administration’s attention via a Change.org petition calling for the implementation of institutional resources for black students.
Black students drew attention to the lack of recruitment and retention of black students, staff and faculty, as well as the lack of permanent resources for black students.
Lisa Cornish, executive director of student housing called all faculty and staff to stand. A loud thud echoed across the room as they stood up.
“These are our kids,” she said. “They are in pain, and no one is saying they’re going to do anything. They are pleading with you!”
After asking the faculty and staff to remain standing if they were willing to take action, Cornish passed around a signup sheet to set up a meeting in order to address black students’ concerns.
The open discussion continued as students, faculty and community members came up to the mic to speak.
One woman broke into tears as she spoke about the fear that her black son may end up as a target of police brutality.
A black student recalled when police pulled him over, for no apparent reason, as he was walking to his on-campus apartment.
Dr. White also shared an unwarranted experience he had with a police officer.
While driving to a party in Laguna Beach, Dr. White became lost. GPS hadn’t been invented, so he got out of his car in order to search for the address. A police officer saw a slightly lost Dr. White and stopped him as he was walking. After getting into a heated argument with the officer, Dr. White feared for his life.
“I don’t want to die out here on this lonely road in the middle of the night,” he said. “No one would know where I am.”
Only after Dr. White showed the police officer his faculty ID card was he let go.
To the frustration of those trying to keep the conversation centered on the black experience at UCI, several audience members spoke about other marginalized groups and questioned how to be an ally to the black community.
One audience member critiqued the name of the event, and suggested that it should have read “All human lives matter.”
This led to an explanation as to why the specific focus of the the #BlackLivesMatter movement is of utmost important.
Jazmine McNeese, co-chair of UCI’s Afrikan Black Coalition, emphasized that it should not fall upon black students to educate their non-black peers.
“In the demands that we have listed, we are asking for political education to be inserted into the curriculum,” she said. “It should not be our job to tell you what you need to do to educate yourself on these issues.”
Several pointed out that Chancellor Howard Gillman was not in attendance, despite the fact that hundreds had signed the petition addressed to him asking for support.
Kevin Huie, director of the Cross-Cultural Center, attempted to moderate the discussion.
“I’ve talked to these students. I hear them,” he said.
“Now, to be fair, I think there is a lot of things that people do that people don’t know about. And sometimes, I think people need to hear those things so that it’s realistic for them, that they have some idea that some people are trying to make an effort.”
Despite this, administrators in the room did not respond when black students read their demands for institutional support.