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U.S. ends probe of racial bias at UC San Diego

The university will take steps to prevent harassment after several incidents, including a noose left in the library and an off-campus 'Compton Cookout' fraternity party during Black History Month.

April 14, 2012|By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

SAN DIEGO —UC San Diego officials have reached an agreement with the federal government to end an investigation into racial tensions on campus that began after white students held an event laced with racial stereotypes during Black History Month.

In a settlement announced Friday with the federal departments of Justice and Education, UC San Diego promised to maintain an Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination to receive, investigate and resolve complaints.

Among other things, administrators will offer training sessions for staff and students on the university's policy against harassment, and will make more efforts to interest low-income and minority students in attending UC San Diego, where about 2% of the undergraduate student body is African American.

Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for the Department of Education's office of civil rights, praised the university for the promises in the agreement. "We hope the entire school community learns from experience and works together to overcome ignorance and intolerance," Ali said.

UC San Diego spokesman Jeff Gattas said the voluntary agreement "is further illustration of our commitment to systematic change through enhanced training, outreach programs and ongoing communication."

But the director of the African American studies program in the history department said that although he is pleased that federal officials came to the campus to investigate, he is "cautiously pessimistic" that the agreement will change the sense of alienation and harassment felt by black students.

The agreement "falls short of something that is transformative of the institution," said Danny Widener, associate professor of history.

Widener, who also serves on a UC committee on admissions, said the agreement doesn't address the racial and social imbalances caused by the escalating cost of attending UC and by the system's trend of enrolling more out-of-state students, who pay higher fees.

"Ultimately, the problem is only going to get worse as long as the university is struggling fiscally," Widener said. "The underserved population is put into difficult straits because there will be some students who believe that they don't belong."

The two federal departments launched an investigation after fielding complaints about "multiple incidents of racial harassment," including a noose left in the campus library, students wearing KKK-style hoods and an off-campus "Compton Cookout" fraternity party in February 2010.

An invitation to the event, posted on Facebook, suggested that women dress as "ghetto chicks" who "usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama and wear cheap clothes." The invitation promised chicken and watermelon.

When news of the party became public, it was immediately denounced by student leaders, civil rights activists and Chancellor Marye Anne Fox. Compton High students sent a letter to university officials saying the party "causes us to question how the attitudes of racism and mockery are perpetuated and condoned by a public university."

African American students contended that the party was part of an overall attitude of harassment and exclusion at the La Jolla campus.

Four months after the Compton Cookout, UC San Diego invited 20 students from Compton High to a three-week program titled "Focus on the Future: The Compton-UCSD Connection." The agreement announced Friday commits the university to "offer this program or a comparable one involving local schools."

tony.perry@latimes.com

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