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Racist acts at UC San Diego underscore deeper tension on campus

A racially themed party and an incident involving a noose have roiled UC San Diego. But if the school handles the incidents appropriately, some academic experts say, students could ultimately benefit from an enhanced classroom experience.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / March 2, 2010



Los Angeles

Two race-related incidents in the past month have drawn attention to latent racial tensions at UC San Diego. But if the school handles the incidents with skill, say academic experts, it can turn them into a positive, “teachable moment.”

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First, on Feb. 15, a racially themed party was held off campus to mock the commemoration of Black History Month. Then on Feb. 24, a noose was hung in the campus library.

Now, a student has apologized anonymously in the student newspaper for the noose incident. But rallies, protests, and marches are still planned for this week, even as the chancellor has released a video condemning the actions.

“I strongly condemn the acts of hate and bias that have occurred over the past days,” said Chancellor Marye Anne Fox in a Web-based video. “We are feeling real pain, and we will take real action.”

Other incidents have also created waves on the campus in recent weeks, including one involving a KKK-style hood on a statue, as well one involving Koala TV, a student-run TV station.

Local black activists have been quick to condemn the actions.

“It is very disturbing that this kind of racial intolerance rears its ugly head, especially in the age of Obama,” says Najee Ali, executive director of Project Islamic H.O.P.E. in Los Angeles. “It shows we haven’t come as far as we think in promoting tolerance and unity among ethnic groups.”

Nationally as well, sociologists are troubled by the symbolism.

"Historically, the noose is meant to evoke terror – simply, that your life is in jeopardy if the racial fault lines are breached in any way,” writes Dr. Charles Gallagher, chair of the sociology department at La Salle University in Philadelphia, in an e-mail. “The noose is a way of symbolically marking that certain places (a park, a beach, a neighborhood) are white spaces and your ‘kind’ is not welcome.”

But others see a tangible silver lining, if the incidents are handled well.

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