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300 Attend Cal Lutheran Seminar on Racism

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

More than 300 students, faculty and staff members at Cal Lutheran University--rattled by a recent rash of racist and homophobic graffiti and neo-Nazi literature appearing around the campus--gathered in the school’s gymnasium Tuesday to hear how the incidents are being handled.

They also came to hear Joe Hicks, executive director of the Los Angeles Multicultural Collaborative, offer his assessment of the incidents and his perspectives on the larger specter of racism in American society as part the school’s observance of National Youth Service Day.

Many students said they were pleased by the university’s quick response to the incidents--which included the words “White Power” and racial epithets written on bathroom stalls with a marker. A 21-year-old student who was arrested last week has been expelled.

But some students believe the school should have addressed the issue sooner.

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“It was kind of late, waiting for the vandalism to happen before having something like this,” said 20-year-old sophomore Lawrence Rodriguez.

“I’m glad we had it, though, because people are more aware that even though we live in Thousand Oaks and it’s a pretty nice community, we can be affected by racism,” he said. “It can happen on this little campus.”

Hicks, best-known engaging former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke in a debate over affirmative action last year at Cal State Northridge, said incidents of racism at Cal Lutheran probably won’t vanish.

“You may think that catching the perpetrators has solved the problem,” Hicks said in response to a student’s written question. “It hasn’t.

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“It means there is a larger atmosphere out there where people feel comfortable doing that kind of thing,” he said. “There is more than one person in this society running around with spray paint and acting like a 9-year-old.”

Hicks heads a coalition of 11 community-based groups that arose from the ashes of the 1992 L.A. riots.

His appearance at Cal Lutheran comes on the heels of the expulsion of 21-year-old Kevin Tam, who was arrested Friday and charged with misdemeanor vandalism. According to university President Luther Luedtke, Tam was arrested last week after a security camera allegedly caught him in the act of scrawling graffiti.

Reached at his Thousand Oaks home Tuesday, Tam declined to comment on the allegations and his expulsion.

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However, many at the 2,500-student religious school said they weren’t surprised that one of their own has been accused of fomenting an atmosphere of fear and hatred on the campus for several weeks around spring break.

“I knew it was someone who was within our community, someone who knows us,” said undergraduate Gabriel Laizer, 20, originally from Arusha, Tanzania. The graffiti was found mostly in restrooms and on informational kiosks, places where students could gain easy access.

Cal Lutheran officials cited the school’s “Code of Civility and Respect” in telling students of Tam’s expulsion.

The code is intended to provide a safe and fertile academic environment for all students, regardless of race, creed, color, national origin or sexual preference.

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After giving Hicks two standing ovations, many students and others signed a huge banner emblazoned with the university’s code. They also pinned on tags printed with a “No Racism” logo to show their solidarity in the school’s fight against hatred.

The youth-service assembly, an annual event intended to promote a spirit of volunteerism among the university’s students, was expanded to address the topic of racism while the incidents were occurring and before Tam’s identity was known.

Although some students lauded the university’s quick action, others said they believe that the university’s vocal response to the graffiti and neo-Nazi fliers may have actually fueled more incidents.

“They egged it on,” said 19-year-old freshman Milika Shivers. “They kept talking about it and giving it attention, and it just bred more and more.”

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