Students walk out of UC San Diego teach-in

Students rally Wednesday at UC San Diego, where administrators hosted a packed gathering to promote understanding after two racial incidents.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

A student walkout Wednesday disrupted a UC San Diego teach-in that was intended to promote tolerance in the wake of two recent racially charged incidents. Many of those involved said the protest showed how difficult it will be for the beachside campus to overcome long-standing concerns about the small number of African American students enrolled there.

More than 1,200 students, faculty and staff packed an auditorium in the student center for the teach-in, which campus administrators organized in response to the incidents, including an off-campus party Feb. 15 that mocked Black History Month.

But halfway through the planned two-hour session, hundreds of students walked out.


The students, who were joined by many others during the afternoon, held their own noisy but peaceful rally outside the building, calling on UC San Diego leaders to improve conditions for minority students and boost their numbers.

Administrators may have thought the teach-in “would make us quiet,” said Fnann Keflezighi, vice chairwoman of the Black Student Union. But she said minority students do not believe that the university will take significant steps to improve the situation. The controversial party, she and others contended, was just the spark that ignited long-simmering ethnic tensions on the campus.

According to UC systemwide data, UC San Diego enrolled the smallest number of black freshmen last fall of any of the nine undergraduate campuses, 46 students out of a class of 3,749. Overall, officials say, about 1.6% of the campus’ 23,143 undergraduates are African American, among the lowest percentages in the UC system.

On Wednesday, many students wore black and white T-shirts -- “Real Pain, Real Action, 1.3%" -- that noted the low enrollment figures, although with a slightly different calculation.

The teach-in moderator, Mentha Hynes-Wilson, an African American who is dean of students at UCSD’s Thurgood Marshall College, went forward with the session for several hundred people who remained in the room after the walkout.

Hynes-Wilson said she was not offended by the disruption.

“That’s what they needed to do, and we need to honor that,” she said.

No one was arrested during the day of protests, and there were no reports of property damage, according to a campus spokesperson.

UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, who has condemned the off-campus “Compton Cookout,” attended the teach-in but did not speak publicly. Administrators have said the campus is taking many steps within the law to boost recruitment of African American students and to provide more counseling and security on campus.

The university is also investigating whether it can discipline the organizers of the party, which promised guests a taste of “life in the ghetto.”

The negative depiction of Compton has also upset residents of that city. To help counter those images, three teachers from Compton High School traveled to San Diego on Wednesday and presented a statement from their students.

The statement, read by a Compton High graduate who is now a UCSD student, said that Latinos constitute 65% of Compton’s population and that Latinos were also offended by the party.

“We are not going to sit idly by and watch our young people characterized as ‘thugs’ and ‘ghetto chicks’ by those who most likely have never been to our town,” it said. “Learn about what you speak of before casting us in such a demeaning light.”

Thomas Horne, an English teacher at Compton High, said students there who recently applied to UC campuses are now undecided about whether to attend UC San Diego. Some may be scared off by recent events, but others may be motivated to help boost the ranks of minority students there. “Where there is injustice, it encourages one or two to become that barrier breaker,” he said.

Several days after the La Jolla party, racial tensions rose again when a campus satire group voiced support for the party and used a racial slur on a student television show.

The student-run station has been temporarily suspended, as has student government funding for some other publications.

About 300 students held a rally before Wednesday’s teach-in, at which David Ritcherson, Black Student Union chairman, declared “a state of emergency to address the hostile and toxic environment on campus.” He demanded that administrators increase funding for minority student recruitment and academic support beyond what Fox promised and said students who are in the first generation of their families to attend college should be given some preferences in admissions decisions.

But some had a different view.

Inez Feltscher, a UCSD student who heads the campus College Republicans club and participated in the teach-in, said she deplored the racially themed party but worried that the subsequent protests could deepen racial separation on the campus.

Feltscher, who called UCSD an “extreme leftist” school, said she was concerned that the recent events could reinforce an atmosphere of political correctness on campus.