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An Inconvenient Koala

Students at the University of California at San Diego [1] decided to launch a “ghetto-themed ‘Compton Cookout’’’ which satirizes black culture in celebration of Black History Month, according a February Los Angeles Times article. “Promising a taste of ‘life in the ghetto,’ the [party’s] Facebook invitation contained many racist stereotypes,” reported [2] Larry Gordon. “For example, it urged women to dress as ‘ghetto chicks’ who ‘usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheep clothes.’ It said the menu would include chicken and watermelon.”

UC Irvine’s [3] New University newspaper notes [4] that “This [cookout] was followed by a taping of the school-sponsored ‘Koala T.V.’ featuring the editor of the publication calling the students condemning the event ‘ungrateful n—.’”

A February 20th update on The Koala Online website [5] (nsfw) states,

“The Koala would like to condemn the organizers of the Compton Cookout. If history has shown us anything, you need more black people at your party to have enough black-on-black violence to actually justify the name ‘Compton.’ Shame on you. SHAME.”

According to a Feb. 23 Foundation For Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) letter [6] to the UCSD Chancellor, the Koala broadcast “a defense of the party on UCSD’s Student Run Television (SRTV). …” and “Shortly thereafter, Associated Students President Utsav Gupta shut down the station and froze funding for all student media at UCSD.”  FIRE supports both The Koala and the ‘Compton Cookout’ attendees’ right to free speech and says that off-campus speech should not be investigated or prosecuted.

According to a March 2 Associated Press article [7], the University of California system has encountered several racist incidents since the “Compton Cookout,” including,

However, at UCSD The Koala’s authors don’t limit their race-references to blacks. For example, the “Winter 2009 Issue 03 [9]” (not safe for work, pdf) of The Koala contains on its cover the title “Night of the Horny Asians” and references to genitalia.

Inside is a board game, “RAPE. The game of sexual domination. What You Need How You Play” (emphasis original). “RAPE IS NOT A JOKE… IT’S A GAME!” states the publication (formatting original).

According to the UC San Diego website [10], The Koala was first registered as a student organization in October 1985.

The Associated Press quotes [11] Gupta on Feb. 23 as saying “Some students are drawing the incorrect conclusion that this is muzzling free speech…The right to free speech does not equate to a right to funding.” Perhaps the difference here is between free speech and subsidized speech. The Koala’s writing is meant as a satire, but does that mean it is entitled to campus funding?

Why, then, defund all of the campus media organizations instead of just The Koala?

I have an additional question: Why did UC San Diego decide to fund this in the first place?

Gregory Kane writes for The Examiner Thursday that “America is a much less racist country than it was 50 years ago, 40 years ago and even 10 years ago.” Yet problems with race conflict—and how to properly address this—still plague higher ed.

For example, in February and March:

You said what?

Adjunct art professor Allen Zaruba was fired from Towson University [12] after “characteriz[ing] himself as ‘a n—r on the corporate plantation’ in a classroom discussion last week,” writes [13] Peter Schmidt for the Chronicle of Higher Education on March 2nd. “In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Zaruba said he deeply regretted using the phrase as soon as he had uttered it, and had apologized to his students when their class met last Wednesday,” writes Schmidt.

“At the same time, however, he also said the university’s decision to dismiss him without a formal hearing illustrated the broader point he was trying to make, about his status as someone who has few workplace rights and can easily be fired,” writes Schmidt.

Tyler Waldman reports [14] for The Towerlight, “an independent student newspaper serving the Towson University community,” on March 1 that the Zaruba told him

“‘I am not a racist. I never have been. I’ve been raised overseas and in other cultures. It just absolutely kills me,’ he said, later adding that he serves in the prison ministry, teaches Sunday school and that his stepfather was a black man and he ‘loved him dearly.’”

Suspended for “hate crimes.”

Two Navy ROTC students at the University of Missouri [15] were arrested on Tuesday, March 2, and charged with “tampering in the second degree” after cotton balls were scattered in front of the University’s Black Culture Center, reports [16] The Missourian on March 3. “The incident was classified as a hate crime, which carries harsher penalties.”

“Both students have been temporarily suspended pending the result of the university conduct process, according to a statement [17] released Wednesday morning and emailed to students from the MU Chancellor.”

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia [18].