Correction: The original version of this column incorrectly stated that those involved in racist actions at UC San Diego in 2010 did not apologize. The person who hung a noose in a campus library apologized in an anonymous statement to the Guardian, UCSD’s student newspaper.
Asians in the library aren’t the only ones noticing Alexandra Wallace’s video on YouTube. A racist, three-minute rant was all it took for Wallace to get half a million views, have her name in papers across the world, and receive multiple death threats.
If the reaction to Wallace’s insensitive video is any indication, she isn’t the only misguided one. Since the video went viral, Wallace has had her personal information, including her class schedule, widely dispersed. Comments on the video have been extreme, with some using sexist obscenities, while still others actually ask for her to be raped and killed.
As ignorant and distasteful as Wallace’s video is, these comments are far more shocking and deserve just as much scrutiny as the video itself. The sexist and racist comments posted by students belie Chancellor Gene Block’s vision of an inclusive campus that celebrates diversity.
In fact, they indicate that the real issue is that this isn’t an isolated case, but widespread insensitivity and a lack of awareness on campus that has suddenly bubbled to the surface because of her video.
The video and the reaction are glaring red flags for UCLA administrators, who should treat this moment as a much-needed educational opportunity. Talking about what a diverse campus we are (a sentiment frequently reiterated by the chancellor) and dedicating sites to diversity are meaningless when students aren’t actually interacting with one another. The campus must collectively prove that it is worthy of the multiculturalism it promotes by fighting stereotypes and building alliances.
It is important to note that although our campus community and society suffer from this lack of sensitivity, we don’t think this situation implies that UCLA in general has a hostile environment where students feel uncomfortable talking to each other because of their skin color.
UCLA doesn’t have the same dangerous campus climate that existed at UC San Diego when a noose was found hanging in the library or when a fraternity hosted the “Compton Cookout.” Wallace, who seems to exude blissful ignorance in her apology, did not cause discomfort among students on campus like UCSD’s events did for some.
We propose introducing sensitivity workshops at freshman orientation similar to ones offered at many workplaces. These workshops would include conversations about words and phrases that may be offensive to some and discussions of how they make people feel. While many may gaff at the idea of sitting around for one more orientation workshop about “feelings,” the conversation our community has engaged in as a reaction to this video has been more offensive than the video itself.
Orientation is, after all, where students first become acquainted with one another and are perhaps most receptive to new ideas and people. Although these workshops would be brief, they would at least help introduce students of various ethnic backgrounds to one another.
Furthermore, UCLA should strongly consider implementing a diversity General Education requirement ““ currently, it is the only UC campus without one. Faculty and students have been trying for years to implement such a requirement with no luck. We can only hope that the silver lining of the current racial tension is a reconsideration of such a requirement. While UCLA is indeed a diverse school in many ways, if we are not learning about each other and our own backgrounds, the diversity isn’t serving its potential benefits.
More sustained diversity programs on campus, such as the intergroup dialogue program, which deliberately puts students of different social identities together in a quarter-long class, need to be expanded. These classes also need more support and greater visibility on campus; so far, only around 70 people have taken intergroup dialogue.
Administrators need not promote diversity alone ““ students can take initiative, too. While no one is to blame, the student body is often segregated along ethnic lines. We have cultural student clubs and fraternities based on race that aid in splitting the campus by ethnicity. Though these groups have value and people should be able to associate with whomever they chose, we should make sure these groups actually communicate with one other.
There needs to be a forum for regular conversation among these groups, or at least among their leadership. Even if the groups only tell each other what their groups do and what events they’ll hold that quarter, this conversation would at least help them potentially collaborate and understand each other better.
It also falls on us as students to desegregate our campus. UCLA’s diversity is something to be commended. We pride ourselves in having a student body with racial, ethnic, economic, religious and sexual-orientation diversity. Yet it seems we’re more of a collection of demographics.
When this ordeal is over, Wallace is almost certainly more likely to remember the death threats and personal attacks than feel any real empathy for ““ or have any real understanding of ““ people with different social identities. The violent and abusive reactions will simply make her scared, defensive, and even more unwilling to engage in dialogue with the people she offended.
We don’t think Wallace should be suspended or expelled for her ignorance, as some have suggested ““ surely she’s already dealt with more than enough. But we do think she should be educated. And clearly, so should the rest of us.