Race Relations On San Diego Campus Still In Turmoil

A series of racially charged incidents at the University of California at San Diego have the administration scrambling to ease tensions and students questioning the culture on campus. Utsav Gupta, president of the student, temporarily cut off funding for all UCSD-funded student media in the aftermath of the incidents. Alec Weisman, editor-in-chief of the California Review, a conservative paper published on campus, says Gupta went too far. Host Michel Martin speaks with both.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We want to return now to a story we have been following out of the University of California at San Diego. Racial tensions have been flaring there since early last month when a white fraternity hosted a party off campus that they called Compton Cookout. They urged partiers to come dressed up in what they called ghetto fashions.

The party sparked an intense reaction on campus. And then, the editor of a campus newspaper up the ante when he went on campus TV and mocked those who oppose the party in even more racially offensive terms. He used the N word. Now that led the student body president to suspend funding for all student media outlets.

In recent days, a noose was found in the campus library. A young woman claimed responsibility saying she didnt understand the connotations. And more recently, a pillowcase fashioned to look like Ku Klux Klan hood was found atop a statue outside the campus library.

We wanted to know more about what was going on, so we have called Utsav Gupta. He is the student president of UC San Diego. He was with us last week to tell us about what was happening then. Also with us, Alec Weisman, hes the editor-in-chief of the California Review. Thats a conservative student-run paper at the university. I welcome you both and thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. UTSAV GUPTA (Student President, University of California, San Diego): Oh, thanks for having me back, Michel.

Mr. ALEC WEISMAN (Editor-In-Chief, California Review, University of California, San Diego): Thank you for having me on, very much.

MARTIN: Well, thank you both for coming. So, I want to ask each of you. Utsav, Im going to ask you first as the sort of representative of the students on the whole. What would you say is the mood on campus? How do you think these incidents are affecting the sort of the mood there?

Mr. GUPTA: Yeah, I dont think its helping the mood at all. Its been really disappointment after disappointment in certain members of our community, really terrorizing other members of our campus with repeated acts of hate speech and racism. But at the same time, I think there is hope that now that were forming a dialogue around these issues that we can make a stronger UCSD.

MARTIN: And when you say terrorizing, you mean, do some students feel actively threatened behind this?

Mr. GUPTA: Oh, yeah. You know, I was at the aftermath of the hanging of the noose. I could see students who are visibly afraid of being on campus. They would only walk in groups. They would carpool home. They were looking for safe space. So, its definitely making students here feel unsafe.

MARTIN: Alec, what do you think about it? Whats your sense of the mood on campus? Do you agree with Utsav?

Mr. WEISMAN: The majority of the campus, I havent seen - most people are wondering why is it going on. I dont think its necessarily that people are feeling unsafe to the degree that its being portrayed, although there are certain people who do feel unsafe. There have been people whove gotten death threats, not necessarily member of the BSU but members of - people such as the other newspaper, The Koala, has gotten death threats. And there are other individuals who may not have supported the agenda necessarily of the BSU have gotten death threats.

MARTIN: Are you saying youve gotten death threats?

Mr. WEISMAN: I have not gotten death threats.

MARTIN: Well, can I ask you, Alec, while I have you, why do you think this is happening? I had a chance to talk to Utsav last week to get his take. Whats your sense of why this is happening?

Mr. WEISMAN: Theres two parts to it. One, I think that the school overreacted in the initial situation with the party, leading to being - opening themselves up for The Koala, which is an equal opportunity offensive newspaper to find the story that could get massive publicity, massive coverage. And by making that unsensitive remark on TV, thats all its done.

MARTIN: You mean, The Koala is the...

Mr. WEISMAN: Offensive newspaper.

MARTIN: ...is the paper that was offensive? And youre saying that you think the university overreacted to this?

Mr. WEISMAN: I think they overreacted to the initial incident with the Compton Cookout Party.

MARTIN: Why, how so?

Mr. WEISMAN: Because what they did they spammed most of the students inboxes with multiple, multiple letters about it. When it was an off-campus party, when it was protected by free speech and it wasnt thrown by any members of it was thrown by individuals but not by any actual fraternity or sorority with student seats, it was done by individuals. It was unsensitive, it was wrong. The school shouldve sent out maybe one, maybe two but not spamming the entire student body emails. And by doing that they just waited - they were just opening themselves up for The Koala to do something about it. And its done it, its caused The Koala now to get over hundreds of thousands of hits per day. Its caused them to get their issue downloaded in record bulk off their Web site. All its done is its given them more press.

MARTIN: Utsav, whats your take on that? What do you think about what Alec is saying? Hes saying that he thinks the university overreacted to the initial incident, what do you think?

Mr. GUPTA: Oh, I completely disagree. As I said before I feel that the party was indicative of a campus climate that has been festering here at U.C. San Diego for years, and that the party was really what was the straw that broke the camels back and really brought this dialogue out into the open. I think Alec is really speaking from a very misinformed standpoint, and I doubt hes talked to many members of the black student union or other minority communities who are deeply affected by all of the recent actions that have occurred here.

Mr. WEISMAN: We have to say, though, is that a lot of the claims the BSU has made such as people are racist because they dont want to hand you dont hand people fliers or people are racist because they dont sit next to you, indicative of people being racist, its indicative of people at UCSD in general being more concerned with their study than being social because, you know what, people go and dont want to hand me a flier, people go and dont want to sit next to me randomly in class.

That, I dont think, doesnt make them racist, it just makes them too busy concerned with their study. So, I think a lot of this is being blown out of proportion, a lot of people need to calm down, need to be thinking rationally about these issues. And thats something being lost by the administration, by the BSU, by - and especially members of the associated students who acted rashly, such as you, Utsav, by shutting down the media funding.

MARTIN: Utsav, that speaks to another issue that you suspended the funding, funding for student media organizations in the wake of the editor-in-chiefs appearance on the campus station...

Mr. GUPTA: Sure, sure.

MARTIN: ...and some people are saying that you overreacted. How do you respond to that?

Mr. GUPTA: I dont really see it as an overreaction. I mean, weve been reviewing the media funding by-laws since the beginning of the academic year, actually. And I just saw it as a problem thats been a part of our process and how we fund media organizations that this process is completely open to abuse. Its been abused countless times over the past decade and that now is the time to institutionally change how the associated students decides to fund media organizations.

MARTIN: Alec, can I ask you two questions, which is - has the cut-off of funding affected your publication?

Mr. WEISMAN: Yeah, it actually has...

MARTIN: How?

Mr. WEISMAN: ...tried to go and print last week and we were denied because of the funding freeze.

MARTIN: And can I ask you, though, about the comments that the editor of The Koala made where he used the term ungrateful, and I dont see you need to repeat it again, he used the N-word - ungrateful N-word to describe the students who objected to this party. Can I ask you, what do you make of that? I mean, we often have this image of kind of younger people, people of your age as being more colorblind than their seniors, as not engaging in this kind of stereotyping of their peers. And I just wanted to get - whats your sense of where did that come from? I dont know if you know the young man, but whats going on with that?

Mr. WEISMAN: Yeah, I know. I think it was wrong, at the same time, though, like I said The Koala is equal opportunity offender. But the source of all this comes from the media, comes from rap culture, comes from everywhere that people would just get away with saying it and they make money off of it. Its become a term that is overused by media and people just presume that, oh, it doesnt mean anything. And they then they get away with using it and people get upset. Unfortunately, though, the Constitution doesnt prevent people from getting offended, it just protects speech from all sides. So, that way the people have the right to say it. And again...

MARTIN: You think he has a right to use a racial slur using student funds? Do you, I mean, do you think he has a right to use racial slurs?

Mr. WEISMAN: Thats what the Constitution says in the case by the (unintelligible) versus Wisconsin board of regents. So, the Supreme Court has decided over and over again that offensive speech, even if being used by student fees, is covered. Thats why Utsav had to shut down all media organization and couldnt just target The Koala. Now, theyve been trying to target The Koala now for the entire year. Thats why theyve been looking into all these funds.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. WEISMAN: And theyve never been able to do it in the way that could let them shut down all the media organizations until now.

MARTIN: Okay. Im gonna give Utsav a final thought here. What do you think is going to happen next? Whats what do you think is the next step here in this whole thing? Do you sense things are calming down a bit or do you think yet more?

Mr. GUPTA: Today is actually March 4th, which is going to be a tremendous day of action across the state, both with the UCs, California state school system and the community colleges. I actually think youre going to see in the media today, very active protests, not only about the racial climate here at U.C. San Diego, but about access and affordability.

MARTIN: All right. Well, keep us posted. Utsav Gupta is the student body president at the University of California at San Diego, and Alec Weisman is editor of the California Review, a conservative student-run paper at the University of California at San Diego. And they both joined us from there. And I thank you both so much for speaking with us.

Mr. GUPTA: Thank you.

Mr. WEISMAN: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: Yesterday, TELL ME MORE producer Lee Hill blogged about the situation at U.C. San Diego. To read his thoughts and see video of how the black students on campus are reacting, go to the TELL ME MORE blog, log on to npr.org, click on programs, then on TELL ME MORE.

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