Thursday, September 21

“Compton Cookout” party and race at the UC discussed at forum at UCLA


Second-year undeclared student Jason Smith speaks at the "Compton Cookout: Let's Talk" discussion, which was held Thursday at the Covel Grand Horizon room.

Second-year undeclared student Jason Smith speaks at the "Compton Cookout: Let's Talk" discussion, which was held Thursday at the Covel Grand Horizon room. Sonali Kohli

Nearly three weeks after UC San Diego fraternity students held a “Compton Cookout” themed party, the effects of the event still resonate with UCLA students.

A group of about 50 students, faculty and staff gathered in Covel Grand Horizon Room on Thursday to participate in a discussion of the series of racially charged events that have occurred across the University of California system in the past weeks.

While emphasizing the series of events at UCSD, including the party, racist comments on a student-run television show and a noose found hanging in the campus library, the presentation also mentioned anti-Semitic events and anti-homosexual acts of vandalism at UC Davis. Much of the discussion’s focus centered on attendees’ individual responses, inviting students to share their personal reactions to the cookout and their own experiences with racism.

Students and organizers both agreed the crowd was diverse, respectful and thoughtful.

The group moved away from individual arguments, tackling broader issues, and avoided finger-pointing and blaming, said co-facilitator La’Tonya Rease Miles, former associate director of Academic Advancement Program and faculty-in-residence for De Neve Cedar and Dogwood.

“I think students are underestimated,” she said. “People think this is going to turn into a shouting match or a debate. That didn’t happen. I appreciated the maturity and the sincerity in the room.”

Part of the discussion explored stereotypes and how they are propagated through individuals, institutions and the media. Races poke fun at themselves, then other groups think it is acceptable to do so, Rease Miles said.

All groups have negative stereotypes attached to them that people tend to focus on, said Alex Yu, a third-year aerospace engineering student who attended the event.

“We have to celebrate the positive aspects of those cultures, not the negative stereotypes,” Yu said.

Rease Miles also tried to dispel the stereotype associated with the city of Compton.

“I think Compton becomes symbolic of poverty or some kind of ghetto,” Rease Miles said. “I was trying to remind students that there are actually UCLA students from Compton. This is someone’s home and it’s not a place someone can make fun of.”

While UCLA might not experience many outwardly racist acts, Rease Miles said there is more covert racism, which would involve, for example, a professor asking a single Latino student to speak on issues in East L.A.

“Right now I believe the campus climate is not where it should be at,” said Jason Smith, a second-year undeclared student. “A lot of people think we are in a post-racist society, but we’re not.”

Smith, a black student who went to the event, said he attended not just to speak his own mind and listen to others, but to try to assess the campus climate with respect to racism, which he said needs improvement.

“I don’t see a lot of people who look like me,” Smith said. “I feel like walking down Bruin Walk is a painful experience. People don’t flier to you if you look a certain way. You get looks and you hear certain things.”

Dr. Nicole Green, a psychologist for Counseling and Psychological Services and co-facilitator of the forum, said it is important for people to be able to talk constructively about emotional events like these, rather than let things boil up in anger.

“I’ve seen a lot of students where an event hits them and they build up resentment,” Green said.

“If you let this fester, then you let this make you bitter and perpetuate the prejudice. If you’re able to talk about it, then you’re able to let some of those feelings go,” she added.

Green said she also encourages students to participate in the Intergroup Relations program on campus or to take an ethnic studies course.

“Try to understand what’s going on politically in another context,” she said.

Students wishing to seek further assistance may contact Counseling and Psychological Services at 310-825-0768.

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