What a “Ghetto” Party at UCSD Can Teach Us About the Importance of Racial Diversity on Campus
Black History Month just ended. In honor of Black History (or perhaps its end), certain students at the University of California, San Diego decided to leave us with one last lesson about the importance of diversity.
On February 15, 2010, individual members of a fraternity at UCSD held an off-campus party in honor of Black History Month called the “Compton Cookout” (The President of Pi Alpha Kappa criticized the party and asserted that the party was not sponsored or condoned by the fraternity.). The invitation included references to “dat Purple drank,” which the party creators described as consisting of “sugar, water, and the color purple, chicken, coolade, and of course Watermelon.” The students sent the invitation via Facebook with dress and behavior requirements for attendees.
Men were asked to be “stuntin’ in ya white T (XXXL smallest size acceptable), anything FUBU. . . .”
Women were asked to come as “ghetto chicks” with “short, nappy hair” (Did we not learn anything from Don Imus?). The dress and behavior requirements for women were extensive and included the language below:
“For girls: For those of you who are unfamiliar with ghetto chicks-Ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes – they consider Baby Phat to be high class and expensive couture. They also have short, nappy hair, and usually wear cheap weave, usually in bad colors, such as purple or bright red. They look and act similar to Shenaynay, and speak very loudly, while rolling their neck, and waving their finger in your face. Ghetto chicks have a very limited vocabulary, and attempt to make up for it, by forming new words, such as “constipulated”, or simply cursing persistently, or using other types of vulgarities, and making noises, such as “hmmg!”, or smacking their lips, and making other angry noises, grunts, and faces. The objective is for all you lovely ladies to look, act, and essentially take on these “respectable” qualities throughout the day.”
Some students defended the party, declaring that political correctness had gone too far. Others left a cardboard sign reading “Compton lynching” at the campus media station, Koala TV. Also, a student-run show at the station featured a segment in which African Americans were called ungrateful and were referred to as the n-word. Most recently, there was a noose left in a public space in a campus library (though one student who turned herself in claims that she left it there inadvertently).
Students of all races have protested and expressed their fears about the actions, especially after the noose was left in the library. The administration has condemned the party and, in particular, the public display of a noose.
If anything, the partying and defending students’ behavior provide one solid piece of evidence for why diversity is important at educational institutions. Given the party creators’ own proclamation that their party was in honor of Black History Month, it is clear that they were equating blackness with the negative stereotypes that they described in their Facebook invitation.
As Justice O’Connor recognized in Grutter, the benefits of racial diversity are substantial. They include the promotion of cross-racial understanding and the breakdown of racial stereotypes.
At UCSD, however, only 2% of the students are African-American, which is hardly a critical mass. One has to wonder if such events, or even more so, the insensitive responses to protests about the party, would have occurred if students had more of an opportunity to interact across racial lines–something that is only likely to occur where there is broad racial diversity on campus (a critical mass of students from all minority groups). Would students have so quickly equated the racial stereotypes above with blackness had they actually been exposed to Africans Americans in their everyday experiences at UCSD as opposed to the racial caricatures they see on TV? The fact is that students today attend more segregated primary and secondary schools than students during the 1970s did. Given the decision in Parents Involved, that fact is unlikely to change. Given Proposition 209 in California, many students at UCSD are likely to remain as racially isolated in college as they were in elementary, middle, and high school.
All higher education institutions, not just UCSD, should take these events as a sign of what may occur more frequently on campus in the absence of racial diversity. The minority students at UCSD clearly see the link between a greater minority presence and a racially harmonious environment. They have called for a push to increase the number of both underrepresented faculty and students on campus. Hopefully, these actions will extend to institutions beyond UCSD.