Campus Reacts to Racial Slur

 

In response to the outrage — expressed principally by the black population at UCSD, or about 1.3 percent of 22,000 undergraduates — A.S. President Utsav Gupta immediately shut down SRTV. Then, on Friday afternoon, he unexpectedly decided to freeze all student fees toward media organizations.

Party Foul

The Feb. 15 Cookout was a racially themed fraternity party widely condemned by the BSU and the Student Affirmative Action Committee, along with Chancellor Marye Anne Fox and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Penny Rue.

According to ABC 10 News, the party was held at the home of Pi Kappa Alpha member Elliot Van Nostrand, who was also responsible for creating the highly criticized Facebook event.

(The PIKE active roster has been removed from the fraternity’s Web site. Robby Naoufal, president of the Inter-Fraternity Council, said he had no access to fraternity rosters.)

To complicate the matter further, a Youtube video has surfaced featuring black Internet personality Jiggaboo Jones, in which he claims the party was a promotional event for his DVD release. The video is widely linked in comments on news stories and forums — used to prove party planners weren’t being racist.

Jones confirmed he was affiliated with the party.

“I am very upset that they would pick out my fans to try to get back at me and to start this madness,” he said.

Though IFC adviser Emily Feinstein stated the incident was neither funded nor sponsored by any fraternity, PIKE has received much of the blame. An anonymous member of PIKE said the fraternity is planning to sue the university for slander. Both Naoufal and Campuswide Senator Tobias Haglund, a member of PIKE, said they were unaware of this plan.

Neither PIKE president Garron Engstrom nor Van Nostrand could be reached for comment.

The N-Word

After an impromptu Campus Black Forum was held Tuesday night and administrators instated the “Racism: Not In Our Community” campaign, Thursday night’s SRTV broadcast revived campus upset.

At 7:30 p.m., the station aired a segment in which Muir College junior Yelena Akopian interviewed three students who planned to throw a similar “Black History Month” party. The students went on air complaining about the protests and defending their party as protected by the First Amendment.

According to SRTV manager-in-training Panham Morini, this broadcast inspired Gregorian to comment on the Cookout during the Koala’s regular 10 p.m. show.

“After the initial three guys left, the Koala made the topic Black History Month, and they started doing a show that was normal for Koala TV standards,” Morini said.

Over the course of the show, Koala members made controversial comments, linking HIV to sexuality and race, and attacking black protesters of the Cookout.

“The material was not too different from typical Koala fodder,” Morini said. “But the timing for these statements was definitely off.”

According to assistant professor of ethnic studies Sarah Clarke Kaplan, students returning from a second Campus Black Forum — which included dialogue with PIKE representatives — were heckled by Koala members who wanted them to appear on the show. Gregorian denied these allegations.

After the students declined to participate, they returned to their residences and began to watch Koala TV. Shocked by the content, they alerted A.S. Campuswide Senator Bryant Pena to the broadcast, who then notified A.S. President Gupta.

According to Gupta, he immediately called station manager Thomas Dadourian — who was downstairs at Porter’s Pub filming a live performance — and asked him to intervene. Dadourian said he returned to the studio and changed the subject of the show, although he thought it unwise to go off air mid-feed.

“I just went on camera and got them to change the subject without [them] knowing that they’ll be censored,” he said. “So I got them to stop, but by then it was already too late.”

Over text message and e-mail, members of the BSU mobilized Thursday night, and began writing a press release with demands.

The next morning, Feb. 19, the BSU released a six-page statement declaring the campus environment to be “toxic,” and issued a list of 32 demands. These include the creation of a “safe space” for black students on campus, a permanent task force to fund outreach efforts, funds to match those of S.P.A.C.E.S. and O.A.S.I.S. and implementation of holistic-review admissions by 2011 — a system that takes into account a candidate’s entire application instead of assigning specific point values, like the Comprehensive Review system UCSD currently uses.

In response to the Koala TV broadcast, the BSU held a protest at 8 a.m. the next morning on Library Walk. Approximately 200 people dressed in black marched to the A.S. Forum in Price Center, where they held a two-hour conference with the entire university cabinet. Students called for awareness of their actions on campus, and for the chancellor to meet the BSU demands.

During the conference, BSU members went to the SRTV station to search for a copy of the tape, to no avail. However, they did find a piece of cardboard on the floor with the words “Compton Lynching” written on it. The note has since been turned over to police as “evidence.”

According to Sixth College freshman Thieny Nguyen, the only available recording of the show was made by BSU Vice Chair Fnann Keflezighi on her cell phone.

Both Vice Chancellor Penny Rue and BSU member Grant White, a Marshall College freshman, said that Fox read each of the BSU’s demands out loud, agreeing to meet many of them instantly — like providing increased funding for the African-American studies minor and ethnic studies programs.

In addition, Associate Vice Chancellor of Admissions Mae Brown has already established a pilot admissions program that incorporates holistic review.

“All violations of the Student Code of Conduct will be vigorously pursued and appropriate discipline will be imposed in accordance with our policies,” Fox said in a statement.

Members of the BSU refused to comment.

SRTV SHUTDOWN

Photos by Kevin Wu/Guardian

Gupta responded to the offensive broadcast by immediately revoking SRTV’s charter at 11:30 p.m. on Thursday night.

The station has a turbulent history — especially where the Koala is concerned. In 2005, it was shut down after former Koala editor in chief Steve York aired a recording of himself having sex with an adult-film actress, garnering national media attention and prompting a heated debate over free speech.

Since its most recent relaunch earlier this quarter, SRTV has aired 10 episodes of the show “Will It Chop,” as well as “Cooking With Dr. D,” “Beatendo,” “Home Suite Home” and “DVC Fridays,” along with a single airing of “Gupta Answers.” Between broadcasts, the station loops five hours of old content — such as past FallFests and concerts — and had planned to start streaming online by Spring Quarter.

Gupta said that SRTV’s charter has been revoked indefinitely. The station’s future will be discussed at a public committee meeting set for later this week ­— the same one that will discuss the future of media organizations on campus, and rewrite guidelines for appropriate use of A.S. Council fiscal allocations.

“The committee is [a] good tool for us to work out and work with the student body on what they like to see done with their student fees,” Gupta said.

He stressed that the station was not shut down solely due to Thursday night’s content, but also because Koala TV had not completed the necessary paperwork to broadcast on the station ­— which gave him the authority to revoke the station’s charter immediately.

“The fact that the content was so intolerant and insensitive prompted us to review how it was on SRTV in the first place,” he said.

Under SRTV’s new charter, any group wishing to broadcast a program must complete paperwork and receive signatures of approval from both station managers: Dadourian and Ali Haidan. The Koala did not have Haidan’s signature.

“Basically, their show is illegitimate, which is another reason why SRTV was shut down, because they lied about that,” Dadourian said.

Dadourian said that he and Haidan were in charge of the paperwork, but had been unable to regulate it carefully due to busy schedules. He added that he had trusted the Koala because members of the publication had been extremely helpful in helping SRTV relaunch.

“Another reason why I took Koala in such good faith is they basically rewired the studio for us,” he said. “I don’t think SRTV would’ve been in function had Kris Gregorian not rewired the entire studio. The efficiency with which they did it was amazing and incredible, and we really needed it. And he’s been the best tech person we’ve ever had.”

Gupta admitted that the rules of the charter were unclear. In fact, his own show, “Gupta Answers,” broached it as well.

According to Dadourian, there is technically nothing in the standing rules that prevents racially charged content.

“When it comes to things like racial issues, there’s kind of a gray line there,” he said. “After 10 o’clock … if HBO would show it, that means it’s OK. It’s hard to judge when it’s a good time to shut down a program, especially when it comes to race.”

Dadourian projected the station will lose its ability to broadcast live, which he said is “the most important part of the station.”

“We’re going to lose all access to live shows ­— or if we do do live shows, then what will end up happening is there’ll be the late-night shows,” he said. “We won’t be able to have people call in or anything like that. [And what’s worse] is that we spent thousands of dollars on equipment to allow us to do this stuff, and it’s all just going to go to waste because we can’t do live shows anymore.”

Dadourian said the university is concerned with the ramifications of live programming.

“The thing with live programming is it can go from a PG to a NC-17 in a matter of seconds, and it’s already too late,” he said.

Gupta said the option of using only prerecorded material will be discussed by the public committee — which he said is not meant to be a content review board.

“I hope the administration doesn’t get involved in any sort of content regulation,” he said. “The purpose of the committee is to review how A.S. reviews funding and how it sponsors programs on our campus TV network, on our student TV.”

Dadourian said he has since received five death threats through the SRTV call-in feature. It is ironic, he added, for students to both call for an end to hate speech on campus and simultaneously issue death threats.

According to Dadourian, the BSU has not responded to his invitations to air their opinions on SRTV. Until SRTV reopens, he is posting footage under the Web site www.trtvucsd.com.

“As much as I love free speech, my primary goal is to get the television station ready to go,” he said. “There’s good content we produce that is not racially charged and not pushing the envelopes. … We let [the Koala] get away with their name, but I don’t think Koala TV will ever be airing on SRTV again.”

BIG FREEZE

In addition to revoking the charter of the newly launched SRTV, Gupta has used his executive powers to freeze all student-media funding, pending discussion by the campus committee this Thursday or Friday (he is currently trying to reserve a room). This quarter, 14 media organizations have requested funding from the council. Gregorian submitted a funding request of $3,471.15 from the council in order to fund the Koala’s publishing costs.

Gupta said he implemented the funding freeze in order to bring media organizations and protesters together at the meeting — to create a campuswide dialogue about free speech, student fees and funding.

“When the players of a game start to get hurt, you need to press pause,” he said.

According to A.S. Vice President of Finance and Resources Peter Benesch, this freeze on student funding will last until the campuswide committee can decide on new language and criteria for the funding of student media organizations.

Benesch said that the freeze was not a new idea caused by the SRTV incident, but had long been discussed by the council.

“We had been considering this before,” he said. “There’s always been the problem that A.S. is using student fees to fund what many consider hate speech.”

Benesch said the council is seeking legal counsel on how to define hate speech. He gave the example of the California Review — a conservative campus newspaper that recently published a cartoon depicting a Muslim “underwear bomber” — as a publication some have called hateful.

“The criteria for hate speech is tricky, and that’s one of the things the campuswide committee hopes to address,” he said. “We want to make absolutely sure that we are not funding hate speech.”

California Review Editor in Chief Alec Weisman said his paper — which is entirely funded by the A.S. Council — will feel a strong impact from this freeze, and that it will hinder the paper’s production process.

“This will create a large damper on productivity,” Weisman said. “We were planning on distributing an issue during ninth week, but it looks like that won’t happen.”

Weisman said that if the freeze continues, the paper might be forced to move online or seek funding from external sources.

“A.S. is definitely overreacting,” he said. “This is getting out of hand, and they’re looking for an excuse to shut down free speech, which the school has tried to do for years. The school is taking it to extremes.”

Gupta said that if the committee decides to change media guidelines, he will put a referendum up for vote on the Spring Quarter election ballot.

“I don’t think this is a decision that should just go through A.S.,” he said. “If students recommend these changes, I want the student body to be able to decide on it as well.”

However, Gupta said he hopes the committee will address the funding freeze at the first meeting, so that media organizations can have their funding reinstated as soon as possible — and then continue to discuss policy change at greater length.

Rose Eveleth, editor in chief of Mania Magazine, said “mass censorship” is the wrong way to deal with hate speech. She said she is seeking counsel from the Student Press Law Center as to the media organization’s legal options.

“I understand the pressure that Utsav is under since he can’t legally cut off the Koala, but this freeze is definitely not the answer,” Eveleth said.“Many of us were planning to express our outrage over this incidence, and now we can’t even do that. This is detrimental, to not let student express themselves, especially since we have a diverse array of viewpoints that are being suppressed.”

Although Gupta said he hopes to reverse the funding freeze by the end of the week, Eveleth said Associate Vice President of Student Organizations Andrew Ang told her it’s likely the issue won’t be settled until Spring Quarter.

“I’m not one to have faith about the power of committees in this case,” Eveleth said. “When there’s a lot of angry people getting together to talk about something, good decisions don’t get made. It’s going to turn into a yelling match.”

Benesch responded to allegations that the A.S. Council is shutting down free speech.

“This is not an issue of ‘punishing’ media organizations, although we realize that this moratorium will be difficult for them,” he said. “This is just a realization that we need to take steps before we continue to fund them.”

Eveleth said she will be working to secure alternative funding for Mania Magazine as long as the freeze remains.

Cruel Intentions?

According to Gregorian, the comments he made on SRTV were intended to provoke more discussion on the issue.

“Sure, what I said taken out of context may be seen as horrible,” he said. “But you have to understand that it’s in the context of trying to raise the debate, trying to raise awareness. Right now, there’s only one side of the issue — it’s just BSU yelling at us. There is another side of the issue, which is that everyone is overreacting.”

In another act of opposition, Sixth College senior Mike Randazzo is hosting a “Compton Cookout Part Deux: Equal Rights” party on March 4. He is requesting that guests come dressed as their favorite stereotype, which he said will promote free speech and show that the intentions of the original Cookout were innocent. Currently, 120 people have RSVPed as attending.

“I created this event to get people to understand that the creators meant no ill will,” Randazzo said. “It’s wrong that people are getting outraged, and I want to help people come together and put an end to the hatred to show that UCSD is not a racist place.”

Randazzo said he thinks the original Cookout crossed a line, but that it raised a cultural, not racial, issue.

“It’s important to make the distinction that the party was talking about a culture, and not all black people are part of this culture, and the act of bringing stereotypes to life is completely innocuous,” he said. “People who are part of a culture like this obviously choose to remain part of the culture, because otherwise they would immigrate to another one.”

Warren College senior Lisa Vilitz, who created a Facebook group called “UCSD Students Outraged That People Are Outraged About the Compton Cookout,” agreed that the event wasn’t created with racist intentions, and said that the reaction was excessive.

“People are saying that the people who join my group are racist, which is absolutely ridiculous,” Vilitz said. “Nobody thinks that black people are actually like that — the party was just satirical. I cannot understand how people are outraged at the Cookout, and yet they are not protesting MTV, Tyler Perry or rap.”

Vilitz added that the BSU list of demands is unwarranted in light of state budget and faculty cuts.

“I think that this is an overreaction, because we live in a society where people passively ignore the real-life violence that we hear about on the news every day, yet when something that may be considered “offensive” occurs, the entire nation is on fire,” she said.

My Rights Vs. Yours

Faculty members, the BSU and even state legislators have publicly condemned both the original event and the comments made on SRTV.

Associate professer of ethnic studies Kaplan praised the A.S. Council’s decision to shut down SRTV and freeze media funding.

“My initial thoughts are that — first of all — it’s absolutely appalling,” Kaplan said. “It’s an egregious misuse of campus resources to spread these kinds of deeply insulting and degrading ideas and messages and images.”

She criticized administrators for their initial “tepid” response to the Cookout.

“I think that whether it intended to or not, it gave passive permission students to continue to escalate into increasingly violent speech and language towards African-Americans,” Kaplan said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”

She said the administration’s e-mailed responses were more concerned with covering campus liability than addressing the larger issue of a negative campus climate.

“I think that the initial response was so focused on issues of legality, policy and liability, that it really failed to make clear what I think they’ve made more clear now: the administration’s strong commitment to changing campus climate, and their responsibility for doing so,” she said.

She fears that recruiting black students to apply and attend UCSD could nonetheless become more difficult, as it now has the association of being a “racist” campus. However, Kaplan applauded the administration’s latest actions in showing themselves to be more committed to fixing the situation — especially with the pilot implementation of holistic review.

“Discourses, ideas, representations have the power to wound, are an act of violence in their own right, and they incite physical and material violence,” Kaplan said.

Literature professor and director of Chicano/a and Latino/a studies Jorge Mariscal — alongside Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services Director Patrick Velasquez — called on the administration to provide increased funding and staffing for the African-American studies minor (which the Chancellor has since promised) and create an office in which to address campus climate.

Mariscal said that UCSD Chicano Concillo had asked the chancellor to establish a task force to improve the campus climate four years ago.

“In 2006, we thought the climate was a ticking time bomb with regard to how uncomfortable it makes black and Chicano students feel,” Mariscal said. “Our request was never followed up on by the administration, and now we have the current crisis.”

Marshall College freshman and BSU member Grant White made an impromptu presentation in his freshman Dimensions of Culture class on Friday morning. White said he should not have to listen to hateful comments.

“I’m not saying that they don’t have the right to freedom of speech, but where’s my right to be protected from that?” White asked. “I am a student in your class, and I have to sit next to these racist kids. What kind of college is this?”

The events at UCSD have received attention from state lawmakers. According to Terry Schanz, press secretary to Assemblyman Isadore Hall (D-Compton), Hall is calling for a resolution condemning the actions of the students, an investigation into UCSD fraternities and for the charter of those fraternities to be revoked.

Schanz said that Hall is attempting to obtain a recording of SRTV’s Thursday-night broadcast.

“We’d love to get a hold of the tape,” Schanz said. “That’s a game-changer in terms of the actions that we will pursue.”

COUNCIL RESPONSE

A.S. Campuswide Senator Bryant Pena has already chartered an A.S. committee to draft a resolution concerning campus climate. He said the committee would try to inspire leaders to come up with ideas for improving the climate and create a list of demands. Although there has been no official forum created by the committee thus far, Pena said Greek fraternity members have already met with several members of the BSU.

“We don’t want to attack the Greek community, and we don’t want to focus on individuals and these incidents of racism,” Pena said. “This is all just a symptom of a larger disease that has always been present and that we need to fight.”

He encouraged people to participate in the March 4 Day of Public Education walkout, to protest and fight for equal-access education for all.

ADMINISTRATIVE ACTION

According to Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Penny Rue, both she and Fox met with members of the BSU on Friday to work on outreach efforts.

Rue has charged the Director of Student Policy and Judicial Affairs, Tony Valladolid, with leading the investigation of the students who planned the Cookout. The investigative process, which includes interviews of suspected persons involved, began Tuesday morning.

Rue said party planners are being investigated for potential violations to the Student Code of Conduct. Section 22.16.10.24 defines harassment as the use of gestures or imagery that creates a hostile environment on campus.

Another potential violation the university is investigating is section 22.16.10.15, which condemns unlawful or unauthorized use of any university property.

Possible sanctions of these breaches range from a letter of censure to expulsion from the university. However, Rue said the investigation has not yet concluded.

Additional reporting by Hayley Bisceglia-Martin and Regina Ip.

Readers can contact Angela Chen at shchen@ucsd.edu.

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