Home > "Compton Cookout", Statement > Open Letter from Prof. Yang…

Open Letter from Prof. Yang…

February 23, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

The problem is not (just) the party. The problem is the party line.
An open letter to the UC San Diego community

Dear us,

First and foremost, we should all commend the Black Student Union and its many allies across the spectrum of student organizations (including fraternities/sororities), for the dignity with which you have faced the recent onslaught of racist provocations. You are turning personal insult into a push for structural changes that are sorely needed at our university. You fight not only for the benefit of African-American students, but for all our common good. You are continuing a tradition of UC San Diego student activism dating at least as far back as 1968. You honor us. I hope our university will honor you back.

That said, I’m not writing to condemn the PIKE party. I’m writing to condemn the university’s party line.

University officials have been quick to the condemn the party, and even quicker to point out that it happened “off campus.” The party line is one of shock and horror, as if prior to last weekend, this institution was a model of diversity and racial justice. We repeat buzzwords like “mutual respect” and “diversity” and “community” until they are empty of meaning. The party line is to individualize a racist system to a few “racists,” and to isolate the event as a freak occurrence at UCSD.  This party line says: Let’s go after a few fraternity boys, and then go back to business as usual.

What is business as usual?

We have a 1.3% African-American student enrollment, not simply because of poor admissions, but because admitted students don’t choose to come to UCSD. Only about 13% of admitted African-American students come to UCSD (compare to 44% at UCLA). This information comes directly from the “Yield Report” – a 2007 UCSD Final Report from the Advisory Committee on Increasing Yield of Underrepresented Students. The Yield Report actually provided multiple strategies for improving campus climate, and for increasing the number of underrepresented students. These recommendations have by-and-large NOT been implemented despite 2 years of research and 3 years of reading time.

Business as usual means that for the last 30 years our university has refused to repatriate Native American human remains found on the ancient burial ground (on top of which the Chancellor’s house now stands). This outright defies federal law and treaty rights. San Diego has the largest number of Native American reservations of any county in the United States, but UCSD has a nearly 0% Native American student body. Why wouldn’t Native American students want to come here? It’s not just because of some frat parties.

All the administrative condemnations of a woefully misconceived fraternity party will not increase African-American enrollment at UC San Diego. All the email links to the “Principles of Community” will not make UC San Diego more diverse. A Chancellor-sponsored Teach-In, however well intentioned, will not lead to systemic change. Even as a symbolic gesture, it is misdirected – enough so that we should teach against this Teach-In.

What exactly does this Teach-In teach?

The Teach-In puts the blame for racism on our students. It exonerates the “teachers” of their role in perpetuating a poor campus climate. If our administration refuses to take responsibility for a toxic campus climate, for our share in the disrespect of African-American, Native American, and other excluded communities, then why would we expect our students to act differently? If our administration deals with collective problems by disavowing individuals, then why would we expect students to act differently? If our administration is silent about its own poor track record in race and community relations, then why would we expect students to act differently?

Furthermore, a two-hour Teach-In trivializes the work of teachers who critically examine race and racism year-round. We teach in History, Ethnic Studies, and Psychology, as well as other programs, departments and colleges, such as Thurgood Marshall’s Dimensions of Culture. In these classes, our students and instructors put in intense intellectual and personal work in struggling with our inheritance of racism, sexism, and classism.

But most importantly, teach-ins are strategies for the powerless, not for people in power. The Chancellor has a wide-range of powers and more than a few resources to commit to improving campus climate. The BSU is rightfully pressuring the administration to administrate, not just talk about, solutions for improving our campus climate.

What should the administration do?

To paraphrase Cornel West, “Young people don’t want to hear a sermon, they want to see a sermon.” It’s time to commit to some real structural changes. We can start with the BSU demands. But if a simpler list is needed, I have some suggestions below.

1)    Implement the Yield Report. This report came out 3 years before last week’s frat party. Can the administration take this state of emergency and finally implement the Yield Report recommendations?

2)    Put some teeth into the diversity office. Currently, the Chief Diversity Officer is a 50% position with no budget, no staff, and no formal power. Upgrade it to a Vice Chancellorship and equip it with a staff and budget. Such offices at UCLA and UC Berkeley are able to provide material support for research, teaching, and student affairs. They can take a preventive approach to racial incidents on campus. (This recommendation can also be found on page 10 of the Yield Report.) But don’t stop there. Give this office wide reform powers over all units on the campus, and we will gain at least one institutionalized motor for bridging the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of diversity.

3)    Fund organizations that support underrepresented students. Right now, student organizations like the SAAC orgs (BSU, MECHA, and others) are doing the work of the administration to recruit, retain, and respect underrepresented students. These student leaders bear a double burden – even as they are assailed by a toxic campus climate, they are also expected to be its antidote. How do we expect to retain our current students if they are mending our university on top of their obligations to schoolwork, jobs, and family? These orgs should be given increased funding for major events such as high school conferences, overnight recruitment events, and graduation ceremonies. (This recommendation is on page 9 of the Yield Report).

4)    Create a committed commission on campus climate. No, not a group of Chancellor’s appointees, but a coalition of organizations with a track record of transforming our university. Start with the SAAC orgs, the Campus Centers, and the interdisciplinary departments and programs.

5)    Repatriate, Research, and Respect. If diversity is to be more than an empty word, then it has to become part of the fundamental business of universities: research, teaching, and service. Fund collaboratories and cluster hires around indigenous scholarship, black and black diaspora studies, and chicano/latino studies. Develop curriculum and coursework relevant to these areas. (These recommendations are on page 10 of the Yield Report). But don’t stop there. Repatriate the Native remains, the burial grounds, and the Chancellor’s house on it. Let the Kumeyaay decide how they wish to establish a Native peoples’ presence on campus. UCSD would lose an unoccupied house, gain a Native cultural hub, and comply with the law. We might also become a truly attractive option for both established and aspiring Native American scholars.

What should the faculty do?

As departments, programs, divisions, and as the faculty senate, we should formally endorse the BSU demands and the Yield Report recommendations. We should change our admissions policy from comprehensive to holistic. But don’t stop there. Let us create admissions criteria that value local San Diego community knowledge, especially the community intelligence it takes to persevere within structurally disadvantaged schools. We would not only increase campus diversity, but also demonstrate commitment to the local community in these adverse economic times. UC San Diego might yet live up to our namesake.

What can students do?

It is a privilege to teach here at UC San Diego, where I am constantly impressed by our students’ initiative, compassion, and sense of social justice. Stay up, stay strong, and stay righteous. You’re changing this campus.

With respect,

K. Wayne Yang, Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies
Affiliated Professor of Urban Studies and Planning

  1. Mandie
    February 24, 2010 at 5:34 am

    This is so spot on about not only UCSD, but my campus as well, UCSC. Change the acronyms and details of the incident and it applies to too many universities. Thank you for your thoughtfulness here.

  2. Cat
    February 24, 2010 at 7:26 am

    Wow! This is deep. Thanks for spreading the knowledge and educationg.

  3. Phillip Espinoza
    February 24, 2010 at 9:14 am

    “Why wouldn’t Native American students want to come here? It’s not just because of some frat parties.” What exactly is this implying? Are you trying to say it’s because UCSD is perceived as unwelcoming for Native Americans? If you think that truly is the reason for low Native American attendance at UCSD, then you really have no idea of (or you choose to ignore) the many other realistic issues that prevent Native Americans from attending UCSD or getting into the UC system in general. How many Kumeyaay actually know about the UCSD repatriation issues other than tribal chairmen/women? The only reason I know about it is because I attend UCSD. And out of the 18 reservations in San Diego County, how many Kumeyaay even know about the decision of KCRC to reject the remains? And yes repatriation is important but I believe that the issue plays a very small factor for a Native in deciding to come to UCSD. The reason why Native American attendance at insitutions of higher education are so low is because of the many plagues that hinder progress such as: alcoholism, broken homes, dyfunctional families, poverty, and hopelessness. To to say that repatriation trumps the impact of all these issues shows a lack of understanding of the issues affecting Native American youth.

    • February 27, 2010 at 5:51 pm

      Dear Phillip,

      Thank you for taking the time to point out the problems with my statement. I don’t usually read blogs, and just by chance came across your posting now. So I apologize for both any errors on my part and my late reply.

      Your points as I understand them are: the structural problems facing Native American students far exceed the problems of campus climate caused by the issues surrounding repatriation of the remains; and the politics of repatriation are much more complicated than I represented them in my letter. If I am understanding you correctly, then your points are well taken and I thank you for your criticism.

      It seems that the way I used the UCSD repatriation issue to make a point about campus climate is a reductive way to talk about Native American education. If I have caused harm here, I apologize.

      I did consult with several students, Native and non-Native, before writing this letter. Repatriation was a key issue that people felt should be connected to campus climate. Perhaps there is a way I can learn to do this without collapsing complex social problems.

      I plan to (1) seek some additional counsel here about how to speak about repatriation and Native American education, and (2) ask the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee for permission to speak, and guidelines on how to speak, about the repatriation of the Kumeyaay remains.


  4. alli
    February 24, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    thank you for spreading your passionate messages and complex realities about inequity and racism facing our state and nation to those who may have otherwise avoided this conversation!

  5. M. Bertrand
    February 25, 2010 at 5:28 am

    Thanks for this excellent letter, Dr. Yang.

  6. UCSD Alum
    February 25, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Thank you for this intelligent and thoughtful letter, Dr Yang. I am now a university professor myself, and I know that many institutions face these issues — not just the incidents that grad press attention, but the structural problems. I also know that a good number of them handle them much better than UCSD has. I am personally embarrassed that my alma mater is doing so poorly in this area. I hope that the administrators, faculty, students, and alumni at UCSD take your call to action — and your excellent list of concrete suggestions– very seriously.

  7. Carson Rosenberg
    February 25, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    Thank You Professor Yang for redirecting attention back to the important issues at hand. I hope the administration will be forced by the BSU and other student leaders to implement real change for underrepresented students on our collective campuses. Hopefully they will not be able to scapegoat individual students as the major perpetrators of inequality on our campus.

  8. February 25, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    I appreciate your words, Prof. Yang. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to an administration in such a public way. I also appreciate Phillip’s comment–well put, thoughtful and a powerful reminder that we’ve got a LOT of work to do.

  9. Marnie
    February 26, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    It is a testament to Prof. Yang’s intelligence and passion that his letter manages to convey both righteous anger and hope. The prospect of a university system transformed in the ways he suggests–in particular his focus on Native American scholarship–is energizing and inspiring. Would that it falls on open and receptive ears.

  10. UCSD Alum
    February 28, 2010 at 1:01 am

    There’s great merit to much of Prof. Yang’s letter. I sincerely hope that the events that have transpired on UCSD’s campus lead to meaningful and lasting progress. I only want to offer two points:

    1) Yield Report.

    UCSD’s yield should not be compared to UCLA’s. First, there is a much larger African American population in LA. This is meaningful because many people, especially in this economy, opt to live nearer to their homes, in order to save money. Since San Diego has a very small African American population, it makes sense that fewer accepted African Americans come to this school. Second, UCLA’s yield is likely higher, not taking race into account. Better ranked schools generally have better yields. Third, if UCSD had successful D1 athletics and a nationally ranked football program (as UCLA has), the yield would likely improve.

    Prof. Yang should be careful with the facts he provides. This argument would make a bigger impact if it were supported by better comparative facts.

    2) Money to BSU demands.

    The money that would fund BSU’s demands would likely come from discretionary sources (i.e. funding to student organizations). Before this emergency, the campus was already in another: a budget emergency and dire cuts were already being made to student organizations and programs. Important race-neutral organizations might be severely impacted (e.g. LGBTA, etc) should BSU’s demands predominate the campus’s budget drafting.

    I am curious what people think about this.

  11. February 28, 2010 at 3:31 am

    Thank you Dr. Yang. This protracted struggle that so many have lived and died for will not be in vain. Many of us will take the baton that folks such as yourself and Dr. Isao Fujimoto at the University of California, Davis continue to carry until true educational equity has been reached. The gap begins in pre-kindergarten, widens in the middle grades, and continues to widen throughout secondary and post-secondary education.

  12. UCSD Student
    March 4, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Dear Professor Yang,

    I respect what you are saying here. But as a pro-diversity, pro-affirmative action student, anti-hate, anti-racism, and pro-education I do not find that the demands of the BSU are sensible in the matter that it will actually break down barriers between people. Already, tension already has grown due to the BSU’s insistent demands that are so radical as to take over the entire school’s effort in order to be met.

    I am a person who likes to educate myself and am pro-education. I went to the rally today in order to support education, but as for racism, I believe it exists on campus but not at a high level. Hate and ignorance, however, is predominant on this campus, and it is not racial hate. I will offer two points here.

    While I do not support the Compton Cookout party due to its poor taste its extreme negative affects on African Americans on this campus, it was not meant to be racist. If one would look up the details to the party (comptoncookout.com or watch Jiggaboo’s Jones’ videos), one would find that it was not meant to be racist although it was harmful. One can deny that Jiggaboo Jones is either looking for attention or that the issue is greater than the party itself, but how is it logical that students would create a racist party in this century in California where they can be easily condemned as they are now? Yet, before being known that the party was created as a racially slurred joke and by an African American, many have condemned the Pike and white racist before knowing what is the real enemy here, and that is hate. The BSU foster hate on this campus by condemning innocent people without a notion of what was going on.

    Another point I would like to offer is that the BSU foster these hate as they marched into the chancellor’s conference room on February 24th and started demanding their pro-diversity and anti-hate demands. However, these 32 demands seem to only segregate the African American community and other minorities group from the rest of the UCSD community. Now, I am pro-diversity and pro-affirmative action, and I do believe that 1.3% is a problem on this campus and that everyone should take an Ethnic Studies Class and that the UC should try to diversify its campus, however, I do not agree to special privileges to segregate people due to skin color and race. The BSU has raged their way into the spotlight without knowing what is really going on, and that is hate on this campus. The BSU fosters hate in itself, and therefore, it had lost many supporters.

    The rallies had denied the fact that the Compton Cookout was not meant to be racist and was hosted by Jiggaboo Jones who use to call it “Nigga Nights” before changing it to downtown the word “Nigga” which was a mistake because the BSU quickly condemned the white community for racism, when there were no racism (if Jones had named it “Nigga Nights” again, the community would have assumed that the party was hosted by an African American). The rallies had also denied the fact that the noose hung was by a minority who was emphatetic towards the minorities movement.

    Dr. Yang, what needs to be change here is hate. That hate knows no color, because the BSU believe that they are right, yet they foster hate by quickly condemning others for racism and discrimination without knowing. Furthermore, they have limited freedom of speech by shutting down the UC media. I have also made two comments to one of their videos on youtube, one asking why they were hating against Chancellor Fox during the conference when they are battling hate, and another that I was anti-hate. They managed to delete the first comment and keep the second one. Now I know the Koala had made a hate speech, but let me ask this, without freedom of speech, how can anybody know how much hate, racism, stereotypes are out there to battle this hate? Without freedom of speech how can one see what real hate lies out there before jumping the gun and condemning the campus for racism? I believe we now have the political momentum with us, but we cannot be blinded by that of hate as we march through the streets to reclaim our campus.

  13. April 2, 2010 at 2:54 am

    Dear us,
    Can’t we look closer and see that this focus on “diversity,” and “inclusion,” only provides a continued definition to racism and exclusion? When we are able to let nature and the individual decide the diversity of our institutions and endeavors, races will not see racism. Can we see that affirmative behavior, regardless of motive, highlights differences and perpetuates race related ambitions and conflict?

  1. February 24, 2010 at 6:48 am
  2. February 26, 2010 at 12:16 am
  3. February 27, 2010 at 1:11 am

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