A letter by concerned graduate students and teaching assistants
February 23rd, 2010
To the UCSD Campus Community:
There are three sides to the current state of emergency that has been declared—but not initiated—by students of color and their allies at UCSD: (1) The first are those students of color and their allies who face the difficult and unwanted task of legitimizing and articulating their trauma in light of the current racist activity on and off campus; (2) the second are the defenders of a status quo that excludes black students and trivializes their response to the recent racist actions on and off campus; (3) the third group consists of a student body, faculty, and administration uncertain about what side to take and how far to go in their response to the current crisis.
We are not concerned with the second group here. Those defenders of the status quo have a fairly predictable task. As defenders of an entrenched hegemonic order, they have a safe and privileged role to perform in the current crisis: they will continue to hide behind legal rights, such as free speech, to justify actions and rhetoric that prolongs a long history of racism in which black culture and heritage is treated as their private property. They do not deserve our attention here because they feed on negative press and the further incitement toward controversy.
This letter, rather, is written in alliance with the first group. Our demands are aimed at the UCSD administration and those members of the third audience who face the current situation at UCSD and who have a choice.
We, the undersigned graduate students, occupy a somewhat removed vantage point on campus life, but that does not preclude us from making demands in alliance with our black brothers and sisters. We are teachers, students, and friends of undergraduate and graduate students of color. In these roles, we have seen the burden that is now placed on black students and their allies as they try to legitimize their feelings to an audience who is confused about the problem and its associated discussions.
With scant resources and limited mentors on the UCSD campus, the marginalized 1.3 % and their allies have an enormous weight to carry. Even as we write, this unwanted weight is taking its emotional, academic, and physical toll on these students. Black students and their allies face the disproportionate task of balancing their academic work and social lives with the real radical demand to articulate their experience in a racialized environment. In the context of this state of emergency, the need to articulate their experience has become their main priority. They must miss classes. Their work must suffer. They must stay up for nights on end strategizing together as an excluded and unwanted community rather than studying as peers. While taking this necessary action in the name of their academic and human rights, they face the threat of physical and psychic assault from the campus community. They face the fear that their experiences are not legitimate in the eyes of their peers, teachers, and the administration. More distressingly, they face physical threats from supremacist groups and individuals on campus.
In light of these demands placed on black students and other students of color, we ask that the following demands be met this quarter:
• Counseling for students affected by the current state of emergency: We ask for the temporary hiring of more counseling staff, particularly black counselors, who can speak with students who face the emotionally and physically draining task of articulating their situation.
• Extensions on all academic work: Students who are struggling with the radical burden of articulating their experience cannot be academically penalized. If students are academically punished for their actions in the current state of emergency, we will consider it a form of racial violence enacted on the part of the administration.
• Classroom autonomy: Graduate students who elect to speak about these issues and the March 4th Day of Action should not be prevented from or penalized for taking a stance, regardless of the official position of the program.
• Creation of a pool of resources at the Center for Teaching Development: Undergraduate and graduate students from a wide variety of disciplines, regardless of whether they work as Teaching Assistants, need to have access to reference materials to use to facilitate productive discussions in the classroom about these issues.
Our purpose here is to intervene and implement changes in the short term for the successful completion of winter quarter, addressing specific needs we see in our capacity as graduate students who also work as Teaching Assistants on campus. We are also in solidarity with the long-term demands made by the Black Student Union, Department of Ethnic Studies, and other letters that have been published. We are greatly inspired by the mobilization of our undergraduate students and look forward to the realization of these changes that have been demanded.
Concerned Graduate Students and Teaching Assistants