November 14, 2014

Students call on University to respond to racist costumes

In light of recent racially charged events, two undergraduate students released a statement on Tuesday calling for the University to address the campus climate on racial issues. The statement quickly garnered support from student organizations and professors and may lead to a larger movement and a petition.

The statement was created to respond to the Halloween costumes of several students who dressed up as lower-class Mexican gangsters and address what the draftees perceive as a culture of racism on campus. One of the students, third-year Vincente Perez, said he was also subjected to personal and racist attacks after criticizing the costumes on Facebook. The statement demands that the University issue a “public condemnation of these actions from the highest levels of administration within the University.”

Perez and fourth-year Jaime Sanchez Jr. are asking for a University response by Friday, November 14. If the University does not act by then, Perez and Sanchez say they will release a petition with a list of demands with an expectation for an official reaction from the University by Tuesday.

As of Thursday night, 23 RSOs and nine professors had endorsed the statement. Sanchez said the statement was circulated among students via Facebook and word of mouth, and among faculty via email. He said that the goal was to generate a mass movement on campus against racism, and not to rely on the existing hierarchical models.

“It’s really an organic structure. There are no specific leaders…. We want this to be a grassroots coming-together of students,” Sanchez said.

Perez said that the University needs to set a boundary on where free speech ends.

“There’s no clear line in the sand of where the difference is between freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and acts of discrimination—which the University claims to not allow. That’s the issue…it should be clear that the University doesn’t condone these actions,” he said.

University spokesperson Jeremy Manier wrote in an email that Campus and Student Life would hold meetings with Perez and Sanchez to discuss the Halloween costumes, and that the University took their concerns seriously.

“Karen Warren Coleman, Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services [CSL], has invited Vincente and Jaime to meet this week with representatives from CSL and the College so they can discuss this issue. The University takes their concerns seriously and staff will continue to follow up with the students,” he said.

Perez indicated that such meetings are insufficient because they are not transparent and public, and thus would not address the University culture that perpetuates incidents of bias.

“Unless [Campus and Student Life] make it clear that we can disseminate information that comes from that conversation, it’s not the University approaching this issue, it’s Campus and Student Life,” Perez said.

Perez said that the widespread support of the statement, which includes endorsements not only from cultural organizations but also groups ranging from Queers & Associates to slam poetry group Catcher in the Rhyme, is proof that racial and ethnic bias is considered by many as a widespread, systemic campus issue, rather than several localized incidents.

Individuals and organizations “[that] people would believe had nothing to do with what happened on Halloween…still care about the identities of racial and ethnic people to be respected on this campus,” Perez said. “It’s a campus issue, so every part of the campus is going to be getting these emails and having these conversations…even if it’s not in your job description to care about these kinds of issues, it’s important to show that you still care.”

Perez also said the statement’s purpose was to make race and ethnicity a campus-wide issue, rather than one reserved within the domain of organizations like the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA).

“It can’t keep being relegated and delegated to these bodies that we think are doing a good enough job to deal with situations,” Perez said. “The issue is that it’s a culture, a re-occurring situation, and we’re arguing that it’s the University’s inability and lack of adequate addressing of the situation that is causing it to happen.”

Sanchez echoed Perez, saying that the statement is a response to a culture of racism and University apathy on the issue.

“It’s not just this incident, but rather what it reflects, which is…a learning environment full of microaggressions and discriminatory prejudice, in and out of the classroom,” he said. “That’s what has brought this statement forward and this group of students to coalesce.”

If no statement is released by Friday, Perez and Sanchez will release a petition with a list of demands, which can be signed by anyone affiliated or unaffiliated with the University. The demands have not yet been determined, though both Sanchez and Perez indicated that they would be reworked versions of issues students had been raising for the past decade.