By the Lumumba-Zapata Collective
On the night of Friday April 8th, the University of California, San Diego campus was covered with anti-Mexican slogans chalked by supporters of presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Following a string of similar events throughout the country (including incidents at UC Berkeley, Santa Barbara, and Riverside), slogans supporting Trump have persistently coincided with xenophobic attacks against underrepresented communities, specifically Latino, Black, Arab and Muslim students.
The recent chalking incident at UCSD specifically targeted incoming admitted students of Mexican descent. The perpetrators chalked “Build the Wall,” “Deport them All,” and “Fuck Mexicans” outside of the Raza Resource Centro, a resource center collaborating in the weekend-long admission Triton Day welcoming celebration for incoming students.
Despite the attempts of students and service workers to erase the chalkings during the night, the perpetrators returned and re-chalked slogans throughout the campus. Though workers, mostly of Latin American descent, quickly assembled to rid the campus of the vandalism, some prospective students and their families witnessed the condemnations as they traveled through the campus grounds.
The events of April 8th are not simply an anomaly of heightened tensions caused by the political climate, but a pervasive hostility towards Mexican, Black, and other underrepresented communities at UCSD and various campuses across the country. Despite these conditions, students, faculty, and staff members have persistently mobilized against such attacks in attempts to reclaim their universities from hate speech and xenophobia.
Hundreds of students, faculty members, and staff met the night of Monday April 11th to discuss the incident and to call for the administration to respond swiftly and thoroughly to the hate crime. In particular, the question as to the administration’s accountability to Mexican students as well as other student bodies persistently arises in times of crisis. The university’s lack of effective responses to such incidents of racism is nothing new.
Many members of the campus community recall the not-so-distant 2010 incident revolving around the “Compton Cookout,” an on-campus party that mocked Black History Month with students wearing blackface and reinforcing racist stereotypes. Events reached a fever pitch when a noose was found hanging in the campus library and a KKK hood was left on a campus statue.
The failure of UCSD administrators to recognize the toxic conditions that precipitated Friday’s events represents a structural inefficiency to address the needs of marginalized campus communities.
In the wake of the “Compton Cookout,” UCSD administrators have praised their own dedication to underrepresented communities, specifically through the creation of resource centers for underrepresented students, including the Raza Resource Centro. However, all changes that have come from the aftermath of the “Compton Cookout” came from the students and their ceaseless dedication to implementation of their demands.
Since the recent attacks against incoming Latino students, the following question reemerges: how accessible is UCSD to students of color? This most recent incident prompts serious questions regarding the university’s means of recruiting and retaining historically underrepresented students.
The failure of UCSD administrators to recognize the toxic conditions that precipitated Friday’s events represents a structural inefficiency to address the needs of marginalized campus communities. Rather than being a temporary shift in political climate due to the election year, as has been proclaimed in the Chancellors’ statement, the open hostility towards students of color at UCSD has emerged from a climate of exclusion manufactured through “minoritizing” students of color.
Building on a recent editorial by UCSD graduate students Jael Vizcarra and Troy Andreas Araiza Kokinis, the “minoritized” students of color are not an outcome of low GPAs, a lack of effort, or the demographics of the San Diego community. Rather, minoritization is a product of the university’s own creation. It is a choice and it has damning repercussions.
As a public institution, the University of California’s obligation to the residents of California, embodied in its 1960 California Master Plan of Higher Education, is to provide quality education for the residents of the state. It is essential for California’s residents to demand that these policies, quantified by their own tax dollars, be represented in the campus population. With this in mind, we must critically assess the administration’s lack of response as an affront to the ethos of higher public education.
Constructed in La Jolla, far away from the historically working-class Black and Latino communities of San Diego, the very foundations of UCSD are rooted in segregation. With recent demographic shifts in California and a growing nativist climate, UC San Diego’s dedication to the county’s underrepresented communities should counter pre-existing racial hostilities that have percolated for many years. Students of color at UCSD are constantly reminded of their marginal numbers as they walk through the campus.
Only 14% of incoming freshman come from Latino backgrounds, despite representing 33.2% of San Diego County’s population. Black freshman numbers are even worse, with only 89 admitted students (2% of admitted freshman) despite a 5.6% African American population in the greater San Diego area.
Within some of the campus’s most marginalized communities-Blacks and Latinos- structural exclusion has created the foundations for racial animosity to emerge among the general student population. Despite numerous institutional and organizational caveats offered by UCSD, the lack of Black and Brown students only reinforces their communities’ historic exclusion from higher education.
An analysis of UCSD’s Student Statistics & Data and San Diego County census data demonstrate the dismal admissions of students of color. Since incoming Mexican and immigrant students were the primary targets of this recent attack, many have questioned the university’s dedication to the Latin American community (which consists of Latinos as well as undocumented and international students from Latin American countries) as well as Black, working-class, and local communities in San Diego.
Freshman admission statistics from the 2015 academic year demonstrate a disparity between the university’s rhetorical recognition of a diverse campus and its implementation of racial equity in the campus body. Only 14% of incoming freshman come from Latino backgrounds, despite representing 33.2% of San Diego County’s population. Black freshman numbers are even worse, with only 89 admitted students (2% of admitted freshman) despite a 5.6% African American population in the greater San Diego area.
Among the incoming students, students of high-income brackets have received preference over the county’s working-class community. Only 18% of the incoming population comes from working-class backgrounds. This contrasts to the 37% of incoming freshmen whose families make over $120,000.
High-income students have increased 110% since 2005, while the per capita income of San Diego County residents is only $31,043 and 14.7% of the population living in poverty.
International transfer students, in contrast, represented the largest growth over the past ten years.
The numbers only get worse when looking at transfer students. According to university statistics from the 2015 academic year, 16,273 students applied to UCSD from community college with a 50% admission rate. Although these numbers seem promising for transfer students in being accepted at UCSD, the demographic breakdown of that 50% embodies one of the roots of the university’s exclusionary admission practices.
Latino students collectively represented only 16% of admitted transfer students. Only 80 Black transfer students (3% of the total admitted transfers) were admitted in 2015. When compared to the 2010 admission rates (the year of the “Compton Cookout”) of 73 Black students, the rate of recruitment by UCSD to the black community has barely increased. In fact, since 2010 the rates of Black admission have been largely unstable, plummeting to 49 admits in 2012.
The numbers of admitted students remains largely unchanged, demonstrating both a lack of outreach to underrepresented communities as well as a decrease in the proportion of admitted students from underrepresented communities despite a rise in overall admissions since 2005.
International transfer students, in contrast, represented the largest growth over the past ten years. With a 228% increase of out-of-state undergraduate admission since 2005, international students make up 24% of the incoming freshman class, double the amount of San Diego residents. What’s more, community colleges in San Diego only represent 26% of the total community college transfers to UCSD. Subsequently, international students represent 20% of incoming transfers, more than Latino and Black transfer students combined.
With UCSD’s ascent as a for-profit university, the needs of local working-class, Latino, and Black communities have been ignored in exchange for profit gains.
Institutional apparatuses such as the Undocumented Student Services Center remain underfunded and without an administrative coordinator while, UCSD’s undergraduate Admissions, Alumni Association, and administrators promote Triton Day China, a joint recruitment and business venture that aims to promote UCSD to global markets of students and capital.
Not only has the amount of incoming first-year international students increased since the Great Recession, so to has the amount of international transfers paying out-of-state tuition to the attend the institution. Consequently, 5,400 California residents have been denied entry into the UC system due to this preference for international and out-of-state students. This is not the fault of the international students, but rather the priorities of the institution. With UCSD’s ascent as a for-profit university, the needs of local working-class, Latino, and Black communities have been ignored in exchange for profit gains.
Graduate level admissions in 2014 give similar evidence of international student communities as vessels for financial profit. International students represented the largest group of applications, admissions, and enrollment at UCSD:
The figures indicate that outreach to international communities succeeded in producing the largest amount of interest in the university, whereas Latino and Black and Native American graduate enrollment remains marginal (9% combined) in proportion to their statistical proportion both in California and the nation as a whole.
While international students are welcomed additions to UCSD’s campus environment, the institutional investment in international recruitment over local, underrepresented students should raise concerns specifically for local communities throughout Southern California.
Such welcoming and well-funded attempts to sustain international student recruitment represent the root of UCSD’s post-recession financial plan. This initiative, however, has come under scrutiny from state officials in California. On March 29th, the State of California released an audit condemning the UC system’s lack of admission to California residents, specifically Blacks and Latinos.
The audit demonstrated the UC system has persistently admitted “out-of-state” students with lower grades and test scores as a way to boost profits for the statewide institution. The audit’s findings contradicted the UC’s self-assessment, which claimed “UC policies overwhelming favor California residents.”
Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California and former Secretary of Homeland Security, shot back against the audit, stating, “If anything has constrained the enrollment of California students, it has been reductions in state funding. Nonresidents pay the full cost of their education — and more.” Yet the evidence on admissions at UCSD confirm the audit’s primary claim that since the Great Recession, the UC’s admission standard has favored the students that pay out-of-state fees.
Diversity and multicultural initiatives act as buffers to distract from the absence of underrepresented minorities and in turn create new forms of “model minorities” for the few that are within the university.
Allocation to students has reached historic lows, making up only half of student spending in contrast to 2000. At the same time, administrators’ salaries have soared while faculty salaries have remained relatively stagnant. As racial inequality grows as a consequence of the unequal divvying of resources, the bureaucratization and co-optation of notions of “equity and diversity” by UC administrators comes under scrutiny as a professionalizing tool that solely reinforces the growth of the administrative apparatuses, not the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students.
Studies by Marc Bousquet, Frank Donoghue, and Christopher Newfield have all addressed the privatization of public universities and its subsequent effect on academic cultural. What we now see is the function of racial exclusion as a means to reinforce new market methods in neoliberal academic institutions.
Diversity and multicultural initiatives act as buffers to distract from the absence of underrepresented minorities and in turn create new forms of “model minorities” for the few that are within the university. These models are to emphasize the value and prospects of the neoliberal institution, not the value and prospects of their own cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
Retention numbers of Latino and Black students in graduate programs at UCSD represent these gross disparities. Between 2010 and 2014, only 11% of “underrepresented minorities” (Latinos, Blacks, Indigenous, Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and Filipino Americans) completed their graduate studies at UCSD. This is in contrast to White students (41% graduating rate) and International students (approx. 24%). From these numbers, we can determine that retention of students of color is a failure under the current practices at UCSD.
Left without a physical base of support within an institution that persistently uses their racialization as a marketing tactic, students of color face an unending sense of alienation and vulnerability to attack.
The lack of students of color being admitted, as noted in the data above, means less interaction and less community-building among students on-campus. What’s more, these conditions put students of color in the precarious situation of defending their own existence on campus due to the institution’s lack of acknowledging racial discrepancies.
These ultimately reinforce racist stereotypes of the under-performance of Latino and Black students. In order to counter such false presumptions, UCSD must expose its own structural conditions as the primary basis for racial inequality and take steps to dismantle such forms of oppression.
All the while, the campus climate remains largely hostile to the few Black and Latino students on campus. Professionalization workshops bombard student emails, while a concrete attempt to resolve their growing alienation remains largely untouched. The campus’s psychological services staff are grossly understaffed as students’ appointments often take weeks to be filled. These conditions subsequently create a perfect storm once historically excluded students of color enter the university.
Left without a physical base of support within an institution that persistently uses their racialization as a marketing tactic, students of color face an unending sense of alienation and vulnerability to attack. Incidents such as the vandalism of April 8th are the physical embodiments of an invisible structure of isolation and oppression.
On Monday April 11th, UCSD Chancellors posted a two-paragraph statement to the university’s news website, though they did not send the statement to the wider campus community. The statement provided no indication of investigating the incident as a hate crime or as a threat to the Latino community’s safety. While attesting that “the graffiti [sic] runs counter to our campus values of equity and diversity,” many students and faculty have questioned such claims. Administrators eventually sent the statement to the campus body two days later, but many campus community members felt the response was inadequate due to UCSD’s previous incidents of racial tensions.
Dozens of students who have sent reports to the Office for the Prevention of Harassment & Discrimination regarding the April 8th vandalism have received patronizing responses to their concerns of racist threats on campus. One email response written by interim director Carol Leah Rogers stated, “As a public institution, we value robust debate and public discourse. We recognize that some speech, while controversial or offensive, is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. We are committed to our Principles of Community and we value diverse opinions.”
In contradiction to the Chancellors’ joint statement, it appears that the university administration seems socially and culturally illiterate in understanding the phrases “deport them all” and “fuck Mexicans” as xenophobic and racist. More concerning is the lack of accountability regarding the university’s own protocol for such incidents. UCSD’s Student Conduct Code stipulates,
“[Written contact] that a Student knows or should know is unwanted, is communicated directly to one or more specific Students, faculty, or staff, constitutes severe and/or pervasive, and objectively offensive conduct; and does not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (e.g. speech in a public forum on a matter of public concern).” (Source: UCSD Student Conduct Code, Section VII, Article Y)
As the university’s institutional policies erode with each contradicting response, students are left with no form of legitimate recourse under the parameters determined by the university. Such violations of public trust in turn leave the small number of Latino and Black students in limbo as to how the university can, or will, respond to a growing number of racist threats on campus.
Departments throughout the campus have since responded with their own condemnations of the incident. Faculty and students from the Departments of History, Communication, Literature, Sociology, and Ethnic Studies have condemned the racist vandalism and proposed various measures to confront racism on campus.
The Department of History released a petition condemning the incident and demanding the university respond with new measures to reaffirm a zero-tolerance policy towards hate speech as well as affirmatively assert the university’s commitment to underrepresented communities on campus. With over 1,300 signatures from students, faculty, staff, and community members from on and off campus, the statement demands that administrators “hold violators responsible for actions that damage our campus climate and, by extension, efforts to recruit and retain under-represented students, staff, and faculty.”
The Department of Literature published a statement (provided in Spanish, English French, Italian, German, and Tagalog translations) opposing the vandalism targeted at the Latin American community on campus. Signed by twenty-three faculty members, the Literature Department attests,
“Just as we support critical dialogue and critical practice as the appropriate means of engaging our students and colleagues in our classrooms, research and publications, so too do we promote these activities toward connecting the university to its surrounding communities and environment, as we face together the challenges of the 21st century.”
By putting the Mexican community’s concerns at the forefront of their statements, these departments’ propose various methods of responding to such incidents. What remains to be addressed, however, is whether or not the university administration is competent to put forth sweeping reforms to promote racial equity structurally and within the campus climate. To double down on the same practices and expecting a different outcome would only define the absurdity of “post-racial” ideologies.
Despite the seemingly insurmountable task of resolving a national epidemic regarding the privatization of public universities and its embedded racist foundations, it is a task that must be taken up in order to ensure the future of higher public education for future generations. To do so, there must be concerted acts to counter the bureaucratization of multiculturalism through “reform.”
As seen in 2010 with the “Compton Cookout”, the foundation of the Cross Cultural Center in the early 2000s, and the call for the creation of the Lumumba-Zapata College in 1969, university administrators have persistently siphoned calls for systemic change through the co-optation of student and faculty’s demands. To counter this, the campus community must unite in defiance of neoliberal illusions of inclusiveness and respectability politics.
By individualizing racial inequality through reform, a cycle of dependency forms between the campus community and the very structures that oppress them.
Since the chalking incident on campus, public forums have emerged to “talk it out” and to discuss “race relations.” Both of these forums, while trying to resolve the emotional toll these incidents have inflicted on students, do not take into consideration the structural foundations that perpetuate the alienation of students of color. Such conditions cannot be resolved through discussions on individual feelings nor can they address racial hostilities as a one-sided phenomenon forced upon people of color.
Scholars such as Robin D.G. Kelley and Fred Moten have addressed the growing racial hostilities inherent in the privatization of public universities. More specifically, they investigate how universities attempt to counteract dissent by creating a seat at the table for those who represent themselves as leaders of struggles for social justice and racial equity.
Such concessions must be actively defied if any form of change is to be implemented. By individualizing racial inequality through reform, a cycle of dependency forms between the campus community and the very structures that oppress them. Rather, critique must be the basis of structural change. By utilizing the campus community’s demands as the basis for change, public discourse takes precedent over profit.
It is within this vein of germinating dissent, rather than reform, that the Lumumba-Zapata Collective has emerged at UCSD. Comprised of students, faculty, staff, the collective commemorates past campus struggles while fighting for change today. When students of color announced their demand for the creation of the Lumumba-Zapata College in 1969, then UCSD Chancellor William J. McGill lambasted the demand.
In an interview regarding the students’ demand, McGill defiantly stated, “I had been looking for an accommodation in the system on which faculty committees had been working for more than three years, not destruction of the system.” What McGill and his successors have not, or will not, recognize is that it is indeed the dismantlement of oppressive structures that will bring an end to campus strife. Until then, there are plenty who plan to take up the call to fan the flames of discontent. By confronting existing social inequalities in the public university, ideals for an equitable and just education can come to fruition.
Correction: The UCSD Graduate Student Enrollment Statistics chart for 2014 has been corrected to show that 255 Latinos were admitted, not 144 as originally posted. The chart has also been revised to include additional information.