In February, students at the University of California at San Diego held an off-campus party where guests were encouraged to wear gold teeth, mocking rappers from Compton, California, and to dress in baggy clothing style that is popular among today’s urban youth and wannabes. Adding insult to injury, the party’s hosts served up watermelon…repeating an age old—and overdone—slam on African-Americans. To compound the situation, a campus television show highlighted the party on air and used a racial slur to refer to Black students. As if things couldn’t get worse, a student hung a noose from a bookcase in the campus library. Outraged students thought the administration was slow to react and kept too low a profile as the events unfolded. They responded to the perceived inaction by holding a sit-in the university Chancellor’s office.
Diversity is key in all aspects of life, especially in higher education settings. If students from homogenous communities are not exposed to a variety of cultures they may not be able to adjust and dispel the stereotypical images they may bring to the table. Additionally, interacting with and, possibly, befriending someone from a different culture may lead a student to think twice before saying or participating in something that is racially or culturally offensive. Unfortunately, there has been a lack of diversity in California colleges and universities since affirmative action was struck down in the state.
Currently, Black students are disproportionately underrepresented in the state’s universities. Those who do enroll are truly minorities within the school; they should not subject to racist acts or images. The University of California at San Diego—and universities and colleges nationwide—should begin to offer mandatory diversity training for first year students. Furthermore, racist and offensive behavior should carry with it a stiff penalty, not necessarily expulsion but perhaps extensive community service in an urban area.
Colleges can and should work to shift and ultimately change prejudiced behavior among students. If it is not nipped in the bud on the campus level, the racist ideals could grow and these young people, with their poisoned thoughts, could go on to wreak more havoc in society.
(Judge Greg Mathis is vice president of Rainbow PUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)
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