Last week, it came to light that a number of UCSD fraternities organized an event in “honor” of black history month called “The Compton Cookout.” With an invitation via Facebook, party attendees were encouraged to wear FUBU, gold chains, sport ‘short nappy hair’ and talk real loud, amongst other blatantly obnoxious and racist party suggestions.
UCSD’s administration has condemned the party and a university investigation was launched to determine if disciplinary measures were in order.
A “teach in” organized by the school was walked out on by several hundred students who continue to protest the lack of action on the event. Given that African-American students only make up 1.3 percent of the undergraduate population at UCSD, yet were the targets of this racist event, they have reason to be not just angered at the administration, but legitimately alarmed about their safety.
The “Compton Cookout” was a racist idea, especially given that it was to mock black history month. But as the nation watches this event unfold we need to view this in a wider context. Racist-themed parties thrown by white students – especially majority-white fraternities – are not new. Every few years, pictures or flyers surface showing such events were being held, sometimes right on campus property. In 2007, it was the “Cholo / Ghetto Mexican Party” at UT Austin. At Duke University, there were ‘slave parties’ where fraternity pledges dressed like black slaves to serve frat members and their girlfriends. And every Halloween there is at least one race- laden “Pimps and Ho’s” party on a college campus that ends up with pictures on Facebook.
The problem is that while this used to just be racist parties, the level of violence against minority students on campus has been on the rise in recent years. Whether because of the War in Iraq or the election of Barack Obama, it’s been open season on minority students on college campuses, and if the administration at UCSD doesn’t take a stronger stand on this party the next campus event might not be so benign.
Look at Hocking College in Ohio, where racist graffiti threatened a mass killing of all African-American students on campus on February 2nd. Or the two-year-old UMass Amherst case where two white non-students men gained entry into a dorm and attacked student Jason Vassell in the dorm lobby, breaking his nose. And this after peppering Vassell with racial taunts from outside his window. In the altercation, Vassell stabbed both men with his pocketknife. He’s being charged with attempted murder and the two men got off with fines for breaking and entering.
The Web site Loop21 offers a quick guide to over 15 events, including assaults, graffiti and violence against minority students in the last three years alone. And those are the reported events. Colleges and universities have a bad habit of sweeping such events under the rug because they’re more concerned about the school’s reputation than the safety of African-American students.
University systems need to take a long hard look at their campus handbooks regarding events of a racial or ethnic nature on campus. While students should have the freedom to engage in whatever obnoxious or racist behavior they’d like to off campus, if they use any university resources to do so, even the campus server, or any campus leaders are known to have helped organize or facilitate the event, a college has a moral and safety obligation to lower the hammer on those students as swiftly as possible. It may start with a harmless party, but events like this can spiral into campus wide violence against minority students in an instant.
I know we’d all like to think that the college experience will be like “A Different World,” but if administrations don’t start getting more vigilant they might start looking more like the final scene of “Higher Learning.”