Students from the USC Save Our Selves Coalition and other groups within the Black Student Assembly held a silent protest Thursday in response to what they feel were racist incidents at UC San Diego.
Members of SOS — an organization that holds forums to discuss issues facing the black community — demonstrated by Tommy Trojan on Thursday, protesting a UCSD fraternity-organized party called “Compton Cookout.”
Held during Black History Month, the “Compton Cookout” was a “ghetto-themed” party that encouraged attendees to come dressed for “life in the ghetto.” A Facebook invitation specifically said that women should come dressed as “ghetto chicks“ who “usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes.”
Many have said the event was a clear example of perpetuating offensive racial stereotypes, and the USC demonstrators said they thought it dehumanized their race. Members of SOS were also dissatisfied with the university’s response.
“The acts of hatred that were targeted specifically last week toward African-Americans actually have been an ongoing event on UCSD’s campus, and the administration does not support the students there,” said Najee Ritter, a sophomore majoring in theatre who served as the group’s spokesperson.
The protest began with about 30 students lined up in front of Tommy Trojan. The demonstration quickly attracted a crowd and grew to include about 100 participants in less than an hour.
“We want to let the University of California system as a whole know that it’s unacceptable to allow funding to programs that perpetuate discrimination against any type of minority group,” Ritter said. “We are trying to stand symbolically in solidarity with those people, with the students [at UCSD], to let them know that their struggle, is also our struggle and their pain is also our pain.”
Participants dressed in all black to represent “a unified body of marginalized individuals forced to suffer from hostile learning environments and administrative neglect,” Ritter said of the group’s planned attire. The participants also sported green and red armbands, colors traditionally associated with African pride. Many wore duct tape covering their mouths.
“It will represent both people who feel that they can’t voice their opinion or speak out when things happen to them. They may feel that they don’t have a venue in which to let these issues or concerns out,” said SOS Secretary Avia Wilkerson, a sophomore majoring in neuroscience. “At the same time, it can also represent people who see these things happening and don’t do anything about it — basically, people who are being silenced or who are being silent.”
The students were protesting not only UCSD’s “Compton Cookout” but also a racial divide they say is perpetuated by administrative inaction.
“We are silenced when we allow the University of California to use our tax dollars to fund discriminatory publication on our campuses,” Ritter said of UCSD’s The Koala online at the protest. “We are silenced when a public institution of 29,000 students only has 1.3 percent African-Americans. We are silenced when we feel targeted on our campuses, and the university ignores the sentiment of our concerns. We, the students of USC, support our brothers and sisters over at UCSD by standing against hatred, against discrimination, against inequality and in solidarity.”
Many visitors unaffiliated with SOS — and some unaffiliated with USC — joined in the protest.
“What they did at that school was racist, and it shouldn’t have happened if they had any respect for African-American people,” said Kayla Tinker, a sophomore at Crawford High School who joined while attending a tour at USC.
The silent protest made students stop in their tracks as they walked by.
“It’s sad this happened,” said Ryan Morgan, a senior majoring in business administration. “They’re taking it really to heart,” he said of the SOS stand.
Some passers-by thought it was a powerful demonstration.
“It’s fantastic,” said Maxine Chaney, a graduate student studying marine environmental biology who observed the protest. “Students have a lot of power, and I think it’s great they show it.”