‘OUR COMMUNITY IS AT RISK': Campus confronts prejudice, budget
March 5, 2010
By Dave Jones
Hundreds of people in the UC Davis community are now fighting two monsters: the budget crisis in Sacramento and prejudice on campus.
As this week began, campus police were investigating a graffiti attack at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center, and the etching of a swastika on a dorm room door.
Then, just before Dateline went to press on March 3, police reported the discovery of three spray-painted swastikas: on the Centennial Walk through the Quad, on the Social Sciences and Humanities Building, and on the campus’s brick entry sign along A Street; all were quickly removed.
These three swastikas cropped up within two weeks of the one that apparently targeted a Jewish student in the Tercero residence area. Then, on Feb. 26 or 27, someone spray-painted such words as “homos,” “fags” and “queers” on the outside of the LGBTRC.
In response to those hate crimes, more than 400 people turned out for a town hall meeting the night of March 1.
Earlier the same day, a handful of UC Davis students joined hundreds of others from around the UC system in a day of marching, rallying and lobbying at the state Capitol, where they pressed for more money for the UC system and no reduction in Cal Grant funding.
UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi did some lobbying of her own at the Capitol, with the UC president, members of the Board of Regents and other chancellors.
“Our community is at risk,” Katehi told Dateline, “not only because of the budget, but because of the hateful acts that we have seen on campus.”
Dateline interviewed Katehi outside the Capitol after she greeted the small contingent of students who had come by bus (furnished by the university) for the UC Student Association march and rally.
Katehi was supposed to be on that bus. As planned, she had gone to Sacramento for a morning briefing with UC President Mark G. Yudof, and after that she intended to come back to campus to get on the bus with the UC students.
But, she and Yudof and other UC officials became engaged in an important discussion with UC Student Association leaders about the recent spate of intolerance around the UC system, and Katehi elected to continue in that discussion.
‘We are all very vulnerable’
Katehi returned to campus by evening to attend the town hall meeting in the Activities and Recreation Center Ballroom, where she again expressed her outrage at what has been happening on campus.
“The events of the last week and a half tell us that we are all very vulnerable,” she said.
“We are all very committed … to take action to make sure we all feel safe in this university to learn freely and to live the life that we all deserve.”
Katehi previously issued two letters to the campus community, and she joined all of the UC chancellors, Yudof and the leaders of the Academic Senate in putting out a letter condemning “all acts of racism, intolerance and incivility.” See below for links to Katehi's letters and two from Yudof and others.
Beyond the incidents at UC Davis, the UC system is also dealing with intolerance on the Irvine, San Diego and Santa Cruz campuses.
“These are the worst incidents of racism I have seen on campuses in 20 years,” Yudof told about 100 students who staged a sit-in the morning of March 1 on the sidewalk in front of the UC Center Sacramento building a block from the Capitol.
“I understand that students don’t feel safe, they don’t feel comfortable on their campuses.”
Russell Gould, chair of the Board of Regents, called on the chancellors of the affected campuses to prepare reports for the March 23-25 regents meeting, detailing the incidents and the actions being taken to ensure that these types of confrontations do not occur in the future.
Police Lt. Matt Carmichael put out a call to the campus community, to report anything suspicious they might have seen or heard in regard to any of the swastikas or the graffiti attack at the LGBTRC.
Sheri Atkinson of the LGBTRC said the attack was the first of its kind in her seven years as the center’s director. She labeled the graffiti “a blatant display of the attitudes that we see and hear every day.”
The graffiti attack is "not going to slow us down, it’s not going to throw us off. It’s a wake-up call.”
Facilities Management set out to erase the graffiti immediately, but Atkinson and her staff elected to let the hateful words stay up through Monday “to ensure that this hate crime does not go unnoticed by the campus community,” Atkinson said in a news release.
People also saw posters of support that people plastered along the center’s east wall. In addition, Atkinson said, the phone has been ringing off the hook and e-mails pouring in, all with messages of support.
Then, on March 1, students, staff and faculty by the hundreds came out for the town hall meeting, to air their feelings about the attack and discuss a plan of action.
Adrienne Scharnhorst, a fourth-year psychology major, was one of the first to take the microphone: “We should not have hate fill our hearts (for the person or persons responsible for the graffiti). We should pity these people.”
Others in the audience discussed hate speech vs. free speech, diversity education, queer visibility and funding, specifically the allocation of money to pay for an assistant director of the LGBTRC.
Atkinson said she was pleased with the turnout, and promised follow-up meetings, perhaps in more intimate settings, without the media.
The budget battle
UC officials and the UC Student Association (of which the ASUCD is not a member) descended on the Capitol as the Legislature prepares to take up Gov. Schwarzenegger’s 2010-11 budget, in which he has proposed $371 million in additional funding for UC. The university is seeking more: $913 million altogether, to recover from years of declining state support.
Shanzay Sheikh, a fourth-year community development major at UC Davis, rode the bus from the campus to the Capitol to participate in the march and rally.
“I’m going because I want to leave the campus a better place than when I arrived,” she said during the bus ride. “I’m concerned about budget cuts that will affect class sizes and offerings.”
She joined an estimated 300 people on the march from the Capitol to the K Street Mall, where the noisy but peaceful throng stopped at the building that houses the UC Center Sacramento, where student leaders had met with Katehi, Yudof and other UC officials earlier in the day.
“The march was the best part of the day, with all of us together, shouting as loud as we could,” Sheikh said. “Then, standing on top of the president’s office (in the basement), I felt empowered.”
The marchers returned to the Capitol’s north steps for a rally that lasted for more than an hour. Students implored the legislators inside to make higher education a priority for increased funding, and some speakers took UC administrators to task for mismanagement.
The rally took place as John Pérez was being sworn in as Assembly speaker. With the students’ chants filtering in to the chamber, Perez told the audience that they should “join with me in working to turn around an upside-down system where we demand students pay more every semester for classes they can’t get,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Later, many in the Student Association delegation visited legislative offices for peaceful lobbying — except for a sit-in that resulted in five arrests. None of those arrested was believed to be affiliated with UC Davis.
Principles of Community
Back on campus, the town hall meeting on March 1 substituted for what had been planned as a program titled “Our Story of Activism III,” part of Principles of Community Week.
Unfortunately, at the same time the campus is celebrating the 20-year-old Principles of Community, they are under attack by these recent acts of intolerance, Katehi said.
“Our Principles of Community require each of us to recognize the obligation we have to our community to maintain a campus environment of civility and respect in which every student, faculty staff and group can thrive,” the chancellor said in her Feb. 26 letter to the campus community.
In her interview with Dateline, Katehi elaborated on the danger of intolerance.
“These recent events have a higher potential to break our community than any budget,” she said.
She said “negative elements” come forward in any difficult economic environment. “Scapegoating becomes very popular,” she said, “as people take the opportunity to attack the most vulnerable element of the community.
“And that’s why it’s important for us to stick together as one community.”
ON THE NET
Chancellor Katehi’s letters to the campus community (click on Messages).
Letters from other UC leaders:
• UC leaders denounce racism, incivility (from President Yudof, leaders of the Academic Senate and all of the chancellors)
• Statement on racist incident at UC San Diego (from Yudof and Board of Regents Chair Russell Gould)
• Graduate dean urges renewal of "collective commitment" to Principles of Community (from Jeffery C. Gibeling, dean of Graduate Studies at UC Davis)
News stories and video from March 1 at the Capitol:
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