UCLA has a cultural insensitivity problem.
Last week, the Afrikan Student Union released a list of demands to the administration after fallout from a photo of former Undergraduate Students Association Council President Danny Siegel flashing a gang sign.
The demands include calls for more resources from the administration, like an endowment for black students and a physical location for a Black Resource Center. In addition, they call for anti-discriminatory competence training, or mandatory sessions to help students, employees and university police better understand cultural contexts surrounding minority students’ issues.
It’s no secret the administration has a tendency to cleverly nudge its way out of these sorts of demands – especially considering several have been made before. But, like in 2015, this board urges UCLA to take black students’ concerns seriously and fulfill their demands – especially the calls for cultural sensitivity competence training.
Such training represents a concrete step toward improving a campus climate that has far too many racist incidents.
While this year may seem like a bad case of deja vu from last year’s “Kanye Western” incident, it’s far from the first time UCLA has struggled with cultural ignorance. And there’s a pattern among them.
Racist slurs appeared on a Latina student’s apartment door in 2012, and students demanded administrators take action to bring about a better campus climate. An investigative report exposed lack of administrative support for faculty members who face discrimination, and students demanded a better campus climate.
Two years later, black law students received hate mail, and students demanded a better campus climate. Last year, the “Kanye Western” incident spurred students to demand the university accomplish 10 objectives – many similar to the ASU’s current demands – to better support black students.
And that’s not even mentioning this year’s leaked photo.
Some of these incidents were clearly and purposefully hateful. But many – namely the most recent two – came from cultural ignorance: the alleged use of blackface at the “Kanye Western” party, and the trivialization of gang violence in the leaked photo.
This is where mandatory cultural sensitivity training can have the greatest impact. Educating the entire UCLA community about various cultures, the struggles people of different backgrounds face and the common pitfalls for students who may do or say something insensitive will go a long way toward rectifying the campus climate that has failed students time and time again.
No one is expecting these training sessions to magically transform the campus climate. After all, it’s unrealistic to expect students to suddenly become culturally cognizant.
However, the methods of late haven’t been working. The administration has certainly made progress with the establishment and prominence of Vice Chancellor Jerry Kang’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, but more must be done. Mandatory training directly confronts the reason for these almost-annual campus offenses: campus members’ cultural insensitivity.
And as minority and marginalized students have been saying for years, this campus could use less of it.