Before the ill named and famed “Compton Cook Out” ignited a firestorm of student rage and protest at the University of California, San Diego and several other UC campuses, there was the “Halloween in the Hood” party, the lynching parties, and the Klan frolic at other universities. Then there’s the standard variety of hanging nooses, white hoods, racist graffiti, racial slurs and taunts that have been aimed at minority students. The colleges that have been called on the carpet for the racist acts read like a who’s who of American higher education. Clemson University, Auburn, Lehigh, Tarleton State, Texas A&M, University of Texas, Austin, University of Connecticut, Johns Hopkins, Whitman College to name a handful.
The pattern is always the same after a racist outburst. Teary eyed, enraged students confront campus officials. The officials, in turn, issue the obligatory indignant denunciation of the racial offense. A legislator or two may chime in with equal indignation. A fingered lily white fraternity will issue a quick statement disavowing any knowledge or responsibility for the racist act of a few of their members. If students squawk loud and long enough, campus officials will convene campus wide sensitivity sessions where students vent and rage at the administrators and at each other. If the students continue to squawk, campus officials will pledge to institute new diversity training, recruit more minority students, and hire more minority teachers and administrators, and maybe even an ombudsman.
UCSD officials used this template to the letter. Why not, it’s a time tested formula for stonewalling protest, and dissipating student anger. Campus administrators know that time is on their side. Students have to take exams and finals, write, term papers, hustle grades, and search for jobs.
But there’s a problem, really three problems, with this. Time, promises, and token efforts to change won’t magically make the hate and ignorance that spawned the racial offenses at their schools disappear. The propensity of some students to slander, slur, mock and insult black and Latino students mirrors the hate acts that occur virtually daily in society. The Southern Poverty Law Center which tracks hate groups notes that hate groups are on the rise, and the slurs, taunts, insults, vandalism, threats, hanging nooses, white hoods, and Confederate flags seen and heard on college campuses are seen and heard on billboards, signs, on web sites, and in chat rooms, at marches, and rallies across the country. The race pounding of President Obama by talk jocks, bloggers, tea baggers, and the usual suspect assorted kooks, zanies, and crazies has been non-stop.
Meanwhile campus officials wring their hands about the paucity of black and Latino students at many of the nation’s top colleges. In the last decade, admissions officers at a large number of major universities report significant drops in the number of incoming freshmen at universities in nearly every area of the country. The gut and elimination of affirmative action programs, shrinking financial aid, soaring tuition, and half-hearted to non-existent recruitment and outreach efforts at local minority high schools have been the big factors in the plunge in black and Latino students at many campuses. UCSD is a near textbook example of this. Black students comprise a scant two percent of the nearly 30,000 students there, and an even smaller percentage of the school’s 20,000 school faculty, administrators, and staff personnel.
UCSD chancellor Mary Anne Fox vehemently deplored the racial offenses on her campus, and even made a video, posted prominently on the school’s official website, imploring everyone to “Join the Battle Against Hate.” She’s undoubtedly well-intentioned, genuinely offended by the acts, and really wants to see more student diversity at her school. But good intentions, ritual denunciations and diversity workshops are not enough. She, and other campus officials, has been loath to take the one step that will send a real message that hate on campus won’t be tolerated. That step is to name the offending students, and then take immediate and firm disciplinary action against them as well as race baiting fraternities and other organizations. This could be suspension, expulsion, sanctions, and even prosecutions. At UCSD, officials have yet to sternly discipline or arrest anyone. By contrast, the UCSD Associated Students president stopped funding and temporarily suspended the license of the campus TV station. The station played a program that mocked and demeaned African-American students.
The failure of campus officials to take tough disciplinary action against hate acts sends the subtle message that these acts rank only slightly more grievous than student panty raids, water balloon fights, and stuffing telephone booths. It’s just a case of boys will be boys, and girls girls, little harm, and maybe no foul, at least not enough a of a foul to get a student or an organization booted from campus.
Protesting UCSD students took forceful action against the hate on their campus. The pity is that UCSD officials won’t take the same decisive and forceful action to end it. It was a blown teaching moment lost.