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March 02, 2010 6:28 PM UC San Diego: Racism and Absentmindedness

By Daniel Luzer

Noose.jpg

The racial tensions over at University of California, San Diego just got, well, odd.

Last week the College Guide reported that on Feb 24 students walked out of a teach-in on racial issues that followed a controversy about a “life in the ghetto”-themed party students held off campus on Feb 15. The students said the teach-in was a token gesture that failed to address real racial issues on campus.

On the evening of Feb 25 UCSD police reported that there was a noose hanging from a light fixture in the UCSD library.

The UCSD community was, quite understandably, very concerned about this development and on Feb 26 students occupied the office of the school’s chancellor, Marye Anne Fox, for more than six hours. Students insisted that administrators should shut down the school and respond to 32 demands issued by the Black Student Union.

One of the demands was a “change of Admissions Policy from a Comprehensive to a Holistic Review beginning for the Fall 2011 applicant pool.” The University of California system is prohibited from considering race in admissions decisions. Less than 2 percent of students at UC San Diego are black.

While Fox did not shut down the university, and students apparently left her office without incident that evening, Fox said that “This is truly a dark day in the history of this university. It’s abhorrent and untenable.”

It was also, however, accidental.

On March 1 the UCSD paper, the Guardian ran a letter from the student responsible for the noose. The student said:

This is what happened.
I found a small piece of rope on the ground earlier in the day. While I was hanging out with my friends a bit later, we tried jump-roping with it and making it into a lasso. My friend then took the rope and tied it into a noose. I left soon after with one of my friends for Geisel to study, still carrying the rope. After a bit of studying I picked up the rope to play with, and ended up hanging it by my desk. It was a mindless act and stupid mistake. When I got up to leave, a couple hours later, I simply forgot about it.
As a minority student who sympathizes with the students that have been affected by the recent issues on campus, I am distraught to know that I have unintentionally added to their pain.

“I forgot my noose” may well be one of the most unconventional explanations for a racist incident.

Hanging a noose in a public place in California is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

UCSD has suspended the student.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer