Remembering the Compton Cookout: Analyzing Our Coverage

Ask any alumni or faculty members who were on campus in Winter Quarter 2010 to write down a list of the most impactful events of the past decade, and you’ll likely find one common answer: the Compton Cookout. The Compton Cookout was a racist party held by several members from UC San Diego fraternities on Feb. 15, 2010 which advertised itself as allowing students to “experience the various elements of life in the ghetto” and ultimately playing on African American stereotypes. Following the Compton Cookout, a series of student and faculty protests, racially charged events, and the defunding of student media took place in what became known as Black Winter, leading to a substantive overhaul in the way diversity, equity, and inclusion would be handled by the UCSD administration.

As with any noteworthy event, significant coverage was given to the series of events by a number of news media outlets, including the UCSD Guardian. Because the paper is funded entirely through ad revenue, it was unaffected by the student media defunding, allowing the publication of both objective accounts and firsthand opinions during this time period. Throughout Winter Quarter 2010, the Guardian published a total of 36 pieces on or related to Black Winter: 12 news articles, six editorials, one feature, three guest commentaries, and 14 letters to the editor.

With the 10-year anniversary of Black Winter in full swing, we wanted to take a moment to categorically analyze the coverage of the events to provide context for many of the current university institutions utilized by students and faculty a decade later.

News

Coverage of the Compton Cookout began on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010, three days after the Facebook event was published. “Party Foul – Offended Students and Administration Respond to Racially Themed Frat Cookout,” details how, following the Monday night party, a Campus Black Forum was held for students and supporters to discuss the issue and come up with solutions as well as to address the controversial student publication in the Koala, a publication infamous for producing harsh satire at the expense of marginalized students. Conversely, students and faculty emailed then Chancellor Marye Anne Fox and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Penny Rue to express their concerns.

Throughout the article, it was made clear that the majority of students, faculty, and fraternity members were all against the Cookout. However, most were also weary about punishing the students due to the event falling under the protections of the First Amendment.

The invitation to the Compton Cookout mocked Black History month.

“Council Condemns Racist Party, Supports Free Speech,” was a straightforward recount of that week’s A.S. Council meeting, which included discussions on the Cookout and various proposals to address on-campus diversity and free speech protections.

Following this initial issue, many accounts of the events were published as they occurred. No news article on any of the events was published in the Feb. 22 issue, as then News Editor Angela Chen wrote a feature titled “Campus Reacts to Racial Slur,” which recounts the various opinions on all that had happened in the week following the Cookout.

The Guardian reported on Thursday, Feb. 25 about the student and faculty walkout of the University-led teach-in held on Feb. 24 after the event was perceived by many attendees to only put a bandaid on the overall problem. This led to protesting students and faculty holding their own counter teach-in on the Triton Steps, which would become one of the defining moments of Black Winter. It was also reported in this issue that then A.S. President Utsav Gupta had suspended funding for all student publications in an effort to prevent the publication of any further hate-filled articles until the Council could create a better system for allocating student media funds. This led to members of these media outlets threatening to take legal action, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union denouncing the suspension as a violation of free speech.

One of the most impactful events reported on during Black Winter was the six-hour student occupation of the Chancellor’s Complex to demand that the university address the Black Student Union at UCSD’s letter of demands. It was also reported in the March 1 issue that student and faculty activists from UCLA and UC Irvine held their own demonstrations in support of the UCSD student protesters.

In the March 4 issue, various points of view were expressed on the campus media defund with some students supporting the move, while others argued that it was a roundabout way to defund the Koala for consistently publishing content targeted against minority students. In the same issue, it was reported that a Ku Klux Klan hood was hung on the Dr. Seuss statue outside Geisel Library, marking the fourth racially charged on-campus incident that quarter.

In the final Guardian issue for Winter 2010, it was reported that the BSU and UCSD administration had reached an agreement to work together to address the structural problems like a lack of education on diversity and limited student resources that had led to the Cookout, achieving some of the demands outlined in the BSU’s letter. Some actions resulting from this include the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion undergraduate requirement, the creation of several student resource centers, and the permanent installation of the Chicano Legacy Mural. Additionally, student press funds were restored by the A.S. Council after only being suspended for a couple weeks.

While the news coverage was comprehensive, not everything made the cut. There was no objective report on the noose being found in Geisel Library in February, although it was addressed in a guest commentary piece. Likewise, public denouncements of the Cookout and on-campus racism by many faculty members, student leaders, and departments were seldom mentioned.

That being said, with an issue as complex as Black Winter, objectivity is always the primary goal. Many of the aforementioned events not covered may not have been available to the writers, as I first learned about these events through the book “Another University is Possible,” which was published well after Black Winter had come to a close by a handful of UCSD professors.

Editorials

Throughout Black Winter, the Guardian’s editorial board, which at the time included Editor-in-Chief Simone Wilson, Managing Editors Alyssa Bereznak and Reza Farazmand, News Editors Hayley Bisceglia-Martin and Angela Chen, and Opinion Editor Trevor Cox, published six pieces.

The first editorial, which came out three days after the initial Cookout, does not come to any concrete solutions for changing campus climate. Instead, the board argues that the use of racially sensitive humor, while considered free speech, should not be used at all for the sake of being a decent person. The board notes that the Cookout party organizers, Koala writers, and others who use this type of humor should, at the very least, “grow the balls to defend [their] humor, face to face, to someone who’s not feeling it so much.”

In the Feb. 22 editorial titled “Stopping the Presses Won’t Heal the Hurt,” the board criticizes Gupta’s funding freeze, arguing that while the Koala’s SRTV broadcast was offensive, it would have been a better decision to allow student dialogue to happen on the issue through the various student publications rather than to attempt to censure one by defunding them all.

In a Feb. 25 editorial, the board considers the BSU’s list of demands, determining that while all are good-intentioned, some are not fiscally feasible. Instead, the board agrees that a better approach to promoting an accepting campus is to make it truly diverse by changing the admissions process to allow more students from underrepresented backgrounds to attend. In the following issue, the board calls on the student body to drop a perceived apathy toward racism in favor of looking inward to address one’s own biases.

In a March 4 piece titled “Under Frozen Funds, Divided We Stand,” the board condemns Gupta’s decision to freeze student media funding, arguing that it only serves to hurt smaller publications as the Koala continued to publish regardless of having access to A.S. funds.

In the final editorial, “The Melt Is on, Don’t Stop the Heat,” the board scathingly criticizes the forum held by the A.S. Council with many student media members and concerned students to fully address once and for all the state of campus publication funds, with one secondary headline titled “It’s Time to Break out of the Free-Speech Circle Jerk.”

These editorials showed a lot of personality in the prose of the board. There were no attempts to sugar coat any expressed criticism, and the topics were nichely centered around criticizing the campus climate as a whole and condemning Gupta’s actions. That being said, since the Guardian does not receive A.S. funding and was thus not affected by the funding freeze, the opportunity to provide an opinion not rooted in an attempt to “fight back” or to “get revenge” allowed the board the opportunity to express their opinions on the matter as individuals removed from the events.

Features

The only feature published about Black Winter during Winter 2010, titled “When Liberties Collide – Campus Reacts to Racial Slur,” was written by then News Editor Angela Chen. Written in the objective news style, Chen’s extensive Feb. 22 article was divided into eight distinct sections.

Chen begins with a brief recount of then Koala Newspaper Editor Kris Gregorian’s broadcasted use of the N-word and Gupta’s student media fund freeze before diving into the “Party Feud” section of her piece. Here, Chen writes about how the initial Cookout was created by Pi Kappa Alpha member Elliot Van Nostrand, and how both PIKE and the Interfraternity Council had publicly condemned the party.

In “The N-Word,” Chen switches gears to give a lengthy description of the actions that took place on SRTV’s Feb. 18 broadcast. Around 7:30 p.m, then John Muir College junior Yelena Akopian interviewed three students who had been planning a party similar to the Cookout, which was followed by the regularly scheduled 10 p.m. Koala broadcast where Gregorian said the infamous phrase “ungrateful [n-words]” on live television. The next morning, about 200 students led by the BSU held a protest in the A.S. Forum in Price Center to hold a two-hour conference in response to the broadcast.

The next two sections, “SRTV Shutdown” and “Big Freeze,” give a detailed account of Gupta’s decision to first revoke SRTV’s charter and to suspend all student media funding. Discussions on the merits of these actions and the effects this would have on smaller student publications were held by interviewed students.

“Cruel Intentions?” has three short interviews: Gregorian claims that his broadcast was done in an effort to “raise the debate,” then Sixth College senior Mike Randazzo discusses an event he planned called “Compton Cookout Deux: Equal Rights,” and then Earl Warren College senior Lisa Vilitz talks about her Facebook page “UCSD Students Outraged That People Are Outraged About the Compton Cookout.” Randazzo explains that his event was being