UC Irvine Lists Steps Taken to Support Blacks So How About Enlightening Non-Blacks?

Kala Lacy leads a Black Student Union protest at UC Irvine in 2013.
Kala Lacy leads a Black Student Union protest at UC Irvine in 2013.
Photo by Eric Hood/OC Weekly

Move over, undergrad Jews and Muslims, it's been blacks and whites that have hogged all the UC Irvine student schism-ing in recent years. But fear not, Anteaters, because your campus administrators claim helpful healing is well under way.

To Be Young, Gifted and a Black Anteater: A fraternity's blackface video just scratches the surface of the long-standing hostility toward African-American students at UC Irvine

Race relations have been touchy at UCI for years, but things really heated up in 2013. In April of that year, a member of the Asian fraternity Lambda Theta Delta appeared in blackface in a music video that spread wide via YouTube.

Straight outta Irvine
Straight outta Irvine
YouTube screen grab

The video started protests across the campus, and the fraternity placed itself in self-imposed suspension after posting an apology.

A month later, an African-American student found a note in her backpack that read, "Go back 2 Africa slave." The student's mother also claimed an Asian person called her daughter "nigger."

In October 2013, non-black students were seen wearing "My Nigga" shirts at UCI's annual Shocktoberfest celebration.

Just to be clear, these tees are NOT available in the campus bookstore.
Just to be clear, these tees are NOT available in the campus bookstore.
Screenshot Statigram

These incidents and others like them spurred then-UCI Chancellor Michael Drake and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Thomas Parham to issue statements reaffirming the university's commitment to diversity and committing to expand on education efforts.

"We will use this regrettable incident to redouble campus education efforts about the toxic effects of insensitivity, and will continue to work toward building a truly inclusive community," Drake wrote.

But as my colleague Charles Lam observed at the time, "Whether those efforts have had any appreciable effects remains to be seen."

The university now claims to be well on its way to creating a more positive environment for African American students, according to a Nov. 22 Los Angeles Times report.

In January, campus administrators had received a letter from the UCI Black Student Union titled "Structural and Institutional Changes" that included nine demands to address "structural deficiencies in institutional support for black students" at the school. That same month, current Chancellor Howard Gillman established the Task Force on Ensuring a Positive Climate for the Campus' African American Community.

The task force consisted of UCI professors from various disciplines, undergraduate and graduate students (including two BSU members) and other staff members in the school's academic planning, counseling services and student housing departments. Among the task force recommendations that have already been implemented are the inclusion of an African American scholars and excellence hall in the Arroyo Vista student housing community. A Black Resource Center has also approved, although a site and director have yet to be named.

The supposed improved climate has not--dare I say?--whitewashed away the embarrassing incidents. As another of my colleagues, Kristina Hoang, reported earlier this year, a racially charged flier was left in an elevator of Toscana Apartments, a residential complex near the UCI campus. In bold text, the flier stated, "We also would like to remind our African American residents to keep conversation volume down and reduce music levels between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. Multiple complaints have been made regarding this issue."

Supporting black students and recognizing the contributions of African Americans are great. But it sounds as if UCI also needs to demand tolerance among non-blacks on campus to really make a difference.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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