UC Santa Barbara Racism Protest Gains Support

Times Staff Writer

About 400 UC Santa Barbara students attended a teach-in Friday to support a group of students who have been on a hunger strike for 11 days to protest what they call racist conditions at the campus and in the UC system.

Student representatives from the other UC campuses attended the teach-in Friday to show support for the Santa Barbara strikers. State Sen. Art Torres, (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on UC Admissions, will meet with students today to discuss their concerns and then will meet with Chancellor Barbara Uehling.

Two students were briefly hospitalized earlier in the week and ended their hunger strike, but eight students vowed to continue until their demands are met. Six of the strikers are on an all-juice fast, and two are taking just water.

Among the student demands are the immediate adoption of a two-quarter minority studies requirement, commitments on the hiring of minority faculty, student representation on Academic Senate committees and proof that the UC system no longer has investments in firms doing business in South Africa.


Plans Legislation

Torres, who held hearings at UCLA last fall on allegations of racism there, said he will introduce legislation next week that will require UC campuses to plan ethnic studies courses and investigate discrimination on campus.

UC Berkeley, Stanford University and other universities have recently discussed changing their core curriculum to reflect the contributions of ethnic minorities.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, students at UC Santa Barbara were involved in a number of well-publicized protests, including the burning of a Bank of America branch near campus. But the hunger strikers, who have occupied a patch of grass in front of the campus administration building, have decided upon a nonviolent approach.


“We decided we wanted to make a dignified statement,” said Karen Zapata, 21, one of the student strikers. “We’re not blowing anything up or knocking anything down. We’re just passively saying we want the university to deal with the issue of institutional racism on campus.”

Unlike 1960s activists, who often were looked upon as campus heroes, the UC Santa Barbara protesters have been subjected to numerous epithets and sarcastic comments by passers-by. Some unsympathetic students have even ordered pizzas and had them delivered to the strikers.

“People have yelled a lot of things at us like: ‘We hope you starve to death,’ ” Zapata said. “There’s a lot of the 1980s mentality of ‘look out for No. 1' on campus.

“There are people around here who only care about their own success. But I think some students have been impressed by our commitment and have listened to what we’ve had to say.”

Everett Kirkelie, acting vice chancellor of student affairs, said university administrators are worried about the students’ health and are “working on their concerns on a daily basis.” Earlier in the week, Uehling announced the formation of a committee of students, faculty and staff to study ethnic diversity on campus. Kirkelie said administrators have offered to set up discussions between the student strikers and faculty leaders.

But students say they are not interested in committees and meetings with faculty. They say they will not end their hunger strike until they have firm commitments on their demands.

Two faculty members, Cedric Robinson, chairman of the political science department, and Gerard Pigeon, associate professor of black studies, fasted for three days earlier this week to show support for the students. Gerald Horne, chairman of the black studies department, said at the teach-in that he too supports the students’ demands.

“Universities act as if so-called minority cultures don’t exist,” Horne said. “This doesn’t prepare us for a changing world.


“Minorities will soon be the majority in California. But this lack of knowledge about minorities is part of the reason for the rise in racism on our campuses and in our nation.”