Editor’s Note – Black History Month ended Wednesday. At a university where blacks make up 3 percent of the student body, events celebrating the month were few, far between and sparsely attended. This, the final article in a weekly four-part series, examines race relations on campus and how comfortable minorities feel at a school which is two-thirds white.
At an overwhelmingly liberal college like UCSB, outright displays of racism are rare.
So, a series of incidents directed at two individuals in the residence halls during Spring Quarter 1999 moved the university to react. Two years later, UCSB has a hate incidents response coordinator to deal with the much more common and subtle forms of racism on campus.
“There is racism on this campus, and there’s racism in society,” said Brandon Brod, who took the position last summer. “The campus is just a mirror of society. I don’t have reason to believe there’s more or less racism on this campus. It’s just a reflection of what’s out there.”
In terms of percentages, UCSB does not reflect the state of California. Whites, who make up 64 percent of the campus population, including 73 percent of graduate students, made up a shrinking 52 percent of the state population in 1998. Blacks, who make up 3 percent of the UCSB population, constituted 7 percent of the state, and Hispanics, who are one of the fastest growing minority groups at 30 percent of the state population, make up 15 percent of the UCSB population.
Brod said he receives reports on a sporadic basis, with most taking the form of graffiti or minor vandalism. The crimes, he said, are usually ones of ignorance rather than of true hatred.
“In some ways, it’s a real positive thing that some of what used to be acceptable in places truly no longer is,” Brod said. “Even the most bigoted person now, in their right mind, wants no association with neo-Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan. That wasn’t necessarily true 35 years ago. There were mayors who openly said they were KKK members. You don’t find that anywhere.”
Few cases involve hatred leveled at individuals, like the 1999 residence hall incidents, where the targeted racial epitaphs were scrawled on walls.
“Sometimes well-meaning people are just ignorant,” Brod said. “It’s not that either one of them is being racist or evil or does anything that meets the definition of a hate crime or a hate incident. It’s the pure, literal meaning of ignorance. They just don’t know.”
Gerard Pigeon, who served as chair of the Black Studies Dept. from 1974 until this academic year, said the professors in his department often listen to student complaints. Many of these cases are less than benign, but never get officially reported.
“If it was reported, you’d see there is racism. It’s not as overt as it was, but there are still some people around who believe in the superiority of the European people,” Pigeon said. “The atmosphere [on campus] is, at least for minority students, not an atmosphere of bliss, because people can come out of the bush at any moment and insult them.”
The same applies for the minorities among the 9,000-plus students in Isla Vista, alongside the town’s permanent residents. UCSB’s External Vice President for Local Affairs Alejandro Juarez, who has worked extensively in the I.V. community as a founder of the Isla Vista Tenants Union, said landlords can be as guilty of racism as students.
“The only problem with landlords is that it is harder to hold them accountable for their actions,” he said. “In 1998, when 33 Latino families were evicted from Balboa, Cortez and Colonial, no one questioned why the majority of people who were evicted were Latino.”
Most students do not interact in a meaningful way with I.V.’s large Latino community, Juarez said. “We treat the Latino community as if it was a glass wall,” he said, “not noticing it unless we run into it.”
Elizabeth Monta-o, the chair of El Congreso, said her organization has seen these problems recently for Hispanic students in the on-campus residence halls.
“Most of it comes out of ignorance,” she said. “If you’ve never been around people different from you, it’s fear of what you don’t know.”
The problems make it difficult to keep students positive about the school, and some, Monta-o said, have considered leaving.
The university tries to keep the atmosphere positive, and aggressively recruits minority students who have been admitted to the school. “We want everyone to feel that the campus environment is one that’s supportive to them,” Dean of Students Yonie Harris said.
Despite this, the number of minorities enrolled in the freshman class for the last three years has remained close to constant, with whites making up 62, 65 and 62 percent of the last three classes, respectively. Hispanic students made up 17, 15, and 17 percent of those classes, and blacks made up 3, 2 and 3 percent.
“Black students are going to other campuses. Black students will go where they know they are fully supported,” Pigeon said. Although he said this was no fault of the administration, he suggested the university might be looking in the wrong places. “I don’t think we pursue the junior college transfers avenue as vigorously as we could … this is where you have a lot of minorities with all the requirements.”
Minorities applied in record numbers to the University of California last fall, and acceptance letters will be mailed out soon. UCSB received some of the highest percentages of minority applications, but will be challenged to recruit these students, who frequently apply to multiple schools.
Outreach programs to high school students, especially student-run programs, help attract minorities to campus, senior sociology and black studies major K.C. Mmeje said.
“I think the university has done a good job so far in trying to actively outreach to minority students, trying to get them at a young age,” he said. “Programs like student-run outreach programs are going to be key in trying to bridge that gap.”
While the university struggles to attract more minorities, it also works to retain the students it has already admitted. Harris said it is crucial students work together.
“It’s very easy for people to see things from their own personal viewpoint,” she said. “As hard as it is to try to shift, to see the world differently, that’s what we have to do. I wish all white students could see the world from a black student’s point of view. It’s so easy for white students to view the world from their perspective and think that’s the only one.”