‘Cookout’ Provides Opportunity for Growth

Dear Editor,

As members of the department of ethnic studies at the University of San Diego, we would like to express our outrage over the recent “Compton Cookout” party. We do not pretend that UCSD is alone in having such incidents occur on its campus; all campuses in the county can probably point to such events. However, we believe that such hurtful incidents can become teachable moments and lead to serious discussions about the lack of diversity on our campuses, the ongoing presence of racism, classism, heterosexism and the factors fueling this kind of stereotyping and bias.

As serious as the brutal stereotyping of the party invitation was, equally disturbing was the response. On a local radio show, callers assured the hosts that this was “light humor” and “youthful ignorance.”

We would like to suggest some ways to move the discourse away from denial and the temptation to minimize by university administrators:

1) In this post civil rights era, racist joking and humor are important ways that racism is passed on and “taught.” These attitudes are learned and support the continuation of US racial hierarchies and inequities. Those who challenge these notions are ridiculed as being “PC” or having no sense of humor. Such “humor” forms occasions for bonding for our young men (and some women).

2) We remain stuck if we continue to discuss these images in a historical way. Are we to believe that racism against blacks has nothing to do with slavery, legal Jim Crow segregation, racial profiling and the like? To say so inspires the deep despair we saw in UCSD’s black students who were cynical that anything would be done about the incident. As long as they know this history and the majority of students do not, we will continue to speak past each other.

3) There is a persistent effort to deny any pattern with such incidents. People assert that UCSD is a good place and that these are only a few bad apples (or even not-so-bad apples). This directly contradicts the evidence. There is a national spate of such “parties.” Boston College’s student newspaper, the Heights, has listed dozens of such parties. A “Ghetto Party” at a Texas university encouraged revelers to wear blackface and brandish guns. One wonders who is hosting all these events — just “rich kids” as the UCSD flyer notes?

4) There is cynicism and despair over the denial cited above and the lack of consequences. There is ample evidence that these are not isolated incidents, but rather national trends. Johns Hopkins University suspended a fraternity for its “Halloween in the Hood” party.

We encourage all San Diego county colleges and universities to use this event as a teachable moment and one with consequences. We are also deeply concerned about the effect of biased-related incidents on university enrollment for underrepresented groups; both UCSD and USD have black enrollments under two percent. Finally, we join with you in dialoguing about these critical issues of hostile environment and lack of access to higher education.

— Department of Ethnic Studies

University of San Diego

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