Racial insensitivity roils University of California system

A series of racially charged events has rocked University of California campuses, causing many to wonder if racism is alive and well amoung the young and educated.
A series of racially charged events has rocked University of California campuses, causing many to wonder if racism is alive and well among the young and educated.

Swastikas, nooses, a KKK-style hood, and a student-run TV show featuring offensive racial epithets: An ugly spate of racially charged incidents has occurred across several University of California campuses over the past month, causing consternation, outcry, and fear that bigotry is alive and well among the young and educated.

Students have protested and administrators have condemned the actions, but the question remains: What lies behind the sudden parade of prejudice—a growing climate of insensitivity on campuses, or a bunch of immature kids yearning for peer acceptance and attention?

“My guess is some of all of those things,” said interim UC Provost Lawrence H. Pitts. “I’d like to believe it’s really an extreme minority. It does suggest there’s some underlying feeling of intolerance in our community.”

The incidents have roiled several campuses in the 175,000-student state university system, which is one of the nation’s most respected and diverse.

UC San Diego has halted funding for student media after a TV segment ridiculed black students outraged by a party mocking Black History Month last month.

The head of the school’s student government froze funding for several student media outlets after one, The Koala, ran a student TV episode calling black students ungrateful and using a derogatory term for blacks. He also pulled the student-run television station off the air.

Associated Students President Utsav Gupta suspended funding for about 15 of the school’s 33 student-funded media outlets to avoid the impression that he was judging content. He said Koala or any other outlet may continue to publish, just without student funding.

“Some students are drawing the incorrect conclusion that this is muzzling free speech,” he said in an interview. “The right to free speech does not equate to a right to funding.”

In a letter posted on a new university web site to address recent racially charged incidents on campus, Gupta said the organization “will only open [the TV station] again when we can be sure that such hateful content can never be aired again on our student-funded TV station.”

Gupta also pleaded for patience with other student media outlets until a committee can craft a new policy on student-funded media.

The Koala, which has a reputation for airing offensive material, made fun of reaction to an off-campus fraternity party Feb. 15 that urged partygoers to dress as ghetto stereotypes to commemorate Black History Month.

Gupta, who called the program “deeply offensive and hurtful,” said the segment aired without approval from the two station managers. That’s a violation of the student-run television charter, prompting him to pull the station off the air.

Since that incident, the campus has been stunned by two other racially charged incidents: A noose was found hanging in a campus library, and a white pillowcase fashioned into a KKK-style hood was found on a statue of children’s book author Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss. A rose had been inserted between the statue’s fingers.

At UC Davis, swastikas cropped up and the gay and lesbian center was vandalized with graffiti. At UC Santa Cruz, a picture of a noose was scrawled. On the Irvine campus, the Israeli ambassador was heckled to the extent that he was forced to end a speech early.

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