UC Berkeley became the scene of yet another protest Monday when a group of students and supporters staged a “Blackout 2010” blockade of Sather Gate.
The group—comprised mainly of black students on campus—wore black clothing, with black scarves around their mouth, to silently protest racist acts at UC San Diego, including an off-campus event mocking Black History Month. The situation escalated when a noose was found hanging in UCSD’s Geisel Library two weeks later.
An e-mail message from Blackout’s organizers said the Feb. 14 “Compton Cookout” themed party encouraged “female participants to be ‘ghetto chicks’ with gold teeth, cheap clothes and ‘short, nappy hair ...’ and ‘a limited vocabulary,’ while consuming ‘chicken and watermelon.’”
It pointed out that state Bill AB 412 makes placing a noose on school property a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
“It is deplorable that while our students, faculty and staff work to heal the campus, a few misguided individuals tried to divide it,” UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox said in a statement Feb. 26. “We are feeling real pain, and we will take real action. The safety of our students, faculty, and staff is my primary concern.”
Fox said that an individual had come forward and admitted responsibility for the latest incident due to pressure from the UCSD community.
“This underscores the fact that our university is banding together,” her statement said. “We will not tolerate hate on our campus, and all criminal acts will be punished.”
UC President Mark Yudof met with students in Sacramento today and pledged to focus on system-wide strategies to prevent further acts of intolerance.
The Berkeley campus protesters stood or sat silently back-to-back, arms linked, blocking a major part of Sather Gate, the main entrance to campus, from 11: 30 a.m. to 2 p.m., after which they marched to California Hall, where Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and other administrators have their offices.
“We are brothers and sisters in a nonviolent, silent demonstration, standing in solidarity with the UCSD students who have been affected by blatant acts of ignorance and hatred,” a flyer from protest organizers said.
UC Berkeley senior Lajuanda M. Asemota, who helped organize the “Blackout,” said the protest also wanted “to call attention to all the things happening on the Berkeley campus despite the administration’s promises about racial diversity.”
The protest, which remained non-violent, had about 200 students at its peak. Pedestrians were able to pass through the narrow side arches of Sather Gate, although a female protester was reportedly pushed by a student trying to squeeze through.
In front of California Hall, the group read out a letter addressed to Birgeneau which expressed disappointment with a message he sent to the student body on Feb. 24.
In his letter, Birgeneau condemned the racist acts at UCSD and outlined the steps UC Berkeley has taken to promote equity and inclusion among faculty, staff and students
“We are distressed by the recent event involving UC San Diego students that mocked the commemoration of Black History Month,” Birgeneau’s letter said. “We have zero tolerance for deliberate acts that discriminate or demean others based on race, gender, national original, sexual orientation, or any other personal characteristic, and know that all UC campuses share that view.”
Birgeneau said that a team comprising of students and staff was working with the Vice Chancellor to organize a Climate Forum later this semester.
“They expressed their outrage regarding the UCSD event and are working to discourage and prevent such incidents at Berkeley,” his letter said. “An excellent step in this direction was the early response by the CalGreeks community deploring and distancing themselves from the actions at UCSD.”
The letter to Birgeneau from the Berkeley protesters said that his message “failed to explicitly address the ‘deliberate acts that discriminate[d] and demean[ed] others based on race...” at UCSD.”
“We are disgusted that the administration is merely ‘distressed’” by the offenses,” the students’ letter said.
The letter went on to outline what they said were racist incidents on the UCB campus, including:
• “A hate crime committed by the men’s crew team in which members encircled, assaulted, and poured beer on a black female student while calling her “n***er” repeatedly. UCPD was called, and did nothing.”
• “An incident in science class in which the professor turned out the lights for a classroom presentation and a student yelled, “Where did all the black people go?” The professor made no rebuke.”
• “An on-campus PETA demonstration comparing enslaved Africans, lynched Black Americans, and Tuskegee experiment subjects to chickens, pigs, and cows. Canines were brought to a peaceful protest to “calm” the situation.”
• “A hate crime in which the African-American Theme House Co-Op was vandalized with swastikas.”
• “An article in the [campus student newspaper] Daily Cal which stated that Blacks are seven times more likely to kill than whites”
“Though these incidents seem isolated, they are in fact symptomatic of a deeper issue that plagues the University of California as a whole—a continued marginalization of the Black student body,” the letter said.
The letter criticized the low population of black students on campus—3.49 percent of 35,843 students—since the passage of Proposition 209 and the failure of the UC administration to recruit and retain Black students or appoint Black faculty members.
Signed “3.49 percent,” the letter concluded by saying that the protesters hoped that the “few hours of discomfort” they had caused would “be indicative of the anguish experienced daily by Black UC students.”
“The UC Berkeley Black community stands here silent,” the letter said. “Silent because we fear for the future. Silent because the past is prologue. Silent because there is nothing left to say. Our silence, then, is your opportunity to act.”
Asemota said UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor George Breslauer and Vice Chancellor Harry Le Grande came out to talk with the group after they finished reading out the letter.
“Breslauer said he was really sorry about the things outlined in the letter and that stuff like that continued to happen on campus,” she said. “He said that the campus administration would come forward with a resolution.”