UC Irvine forum addresses racial, religious tensions

By Joanna Clay For OCLNN (Orange County Local News Network)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010
San Diego: A recent protest at UCI. The campus, along with UCSD, has been rocked by racial and religious tensions. (Image by Flickr user mind on fire/Creative Commons)A recent protest at UCI. The campus, along with UCSD, has been rocked by racial and religious tensions. (Image by Flickr user mind on fire/Creative Commons)

About 100 students gathered for a town hall meeting at the University of California, Irvine’s Cross Cultural Center on Monday evening to discuss the race- and religion-related controversies that have occurred on UC campuses in recent weeks.

Eleven Muslim students were arrested Feb. 8 at UCI for disrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador, and there has since been a series of incidents stoking passions at UC campuses. Two incidents at UC San Diego have spurred allegations of racism: the Compton Cookout, an off-campus party that mocked African-American culture, and a noose found in a campus library shortly thereafter. Also, a center used by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community at UC Davis was vandalized, and one of the university’s Jewish students found a swastika carved into her dorm room door.

Last Wednesday, in reaction to the incidents at UCSD, a group of students and staff held a sit-in at Aldrich Hall and asked for Chancellor Michael Drake to consider a list of 15 demands, including an increase in funding for ethnic and queer programs and a restructuring of the financial aid system. Law enforcement locked down the building and arrested 17 for unlawful assembly and refusal to disperse.

Campus minority groups at UCI have been ignited by these events and felt this was an opportune time to voice their concerns about the treatment of minorities in the UC system.

TeKeyia Armstrong, a fourth-year African-American studies major and co-chair of the Black Student Union, spoke Monday about the effect of the UCSD incidents on UCI.

“This is not an isolated incident,” she said. “This is system wide in all UC schools. The time to act is now.”

She also asked for more awareness from fellow students: “It’s ridiculous that (at UCI) people go around their day as if nothing is wrong. Every year at this campus a person is called an ‘N word’. We need to realize this.”

The discussion also touched on the 11 Muslim students that were arrested for disrupting the Feb. 8 speech by Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador.

“It isn’t about students against Israel,” said a Muslim Student Union member. “It’s about students against oppression.”

Shawn Hill, program coordinator at UCI’s Saturday Academy of Law – an outreach program for high school students – cautioned students to think about the ways they express their opinions.

“The challenge I pose for you is … you really have to understand racism in America,” he said. “Think strategic about everything. What you say now might come back to you again.”

Hill’s comment spurred discussion among students about whether to demand change or try to create dialogue.

“Asking for something from a racially corrupt system doesn’t work,” said a Black Student Union member. “You have to rise up and demand your rights back.”


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