On April 13, UC San Diego announced a series of initiatives that it will take to prevent racial harassment incidents such as 2010’s infamous Compton Cookout. The creation of a community outreach program and an office for the prevention of harassment and discrimination were among the steps announced by the university. The initiatives are part of a settlement with the federal departments of Justice and Education who may have initiated a lawsuit had the university failed to address the problem.
“We salute UCSD for taking these steps and we hope the entire school community learns from this experience and works together to overcome ignorance and tolerance,” commented Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, in an article by the Los Angeles Times.
The most well-known instances of racial harassment that have plagued UCSD have come in the form of sightings of KKK-style hoods worn by individuals, a noose left behind in the library and the Compton Cookout that was held during Black History Month. On college campuses, themed parties are held by student organizations almost on a frequent basis, but one event that crossed the line and drew national criticism was the Compton Cookout party. Women who were invited were told to dress as “ghetto chicks.”
The Facebook invitation took it a step further and in about 150 words described exactly what a ghetto chick looked like, stating, “Ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes… They look and act similar…and speak very loudly, while rolling their neck, and waving their finger in your face. The object is for all you lovely ladies to look, act and essentially take on these ‘respectable’ qualities throughout the day.”
“As a woman in a collegiate sorority, I personally would be embarrassed to participate in such a demeaning event. I understand that these students just want to have fun; however, college is preparing these men [and women] to enter a workforce that requires diversity and social sensitivity,” stated Breann Lange, a third-year UC Riverside student.
Student Edgar Quezada disagreed, noting that the event was probably not created with the intention of harming others. “Everyone is going to joke around. For example, the ‘Compton Cookout.’ It just depends on how everyone sees it; I see it as joking around [while] others will see it as ignorance—it’s just all opinions.”
But this was not the only racial harassment case on the campus that month; only a few days later, members of a satirical campus organization made racist comments on a UCSD student TV program which prompted the university to suspend funds for over 30 student media outlets. That same year, a noose was discovered hanging in the library. Currently, less than 2 percent of the student population at UCSD is of African American descent. These remarks and actions are what influenced lawmakers in Sacramento and former State Assemblyman Isadore Hall III (D-Compton) to call on UCSD to take action.
“Joking about things like being ‘ghetto’ in day to day life can be argued as normal. This doesn’t make it ok, but it still happens. But when this type of behavior becomes a part of a university’s environment, I feel like a line is crossed,” remarked fourth-year student Paige Galvan. “Being part of the university system, it is sad to see that people are still ignorant to the impact words and actions have. I’m glad that UCSD is making strides to open the eyes of its students and offer a voice to those who feel harassed.”