UC Berkeley Students Protest Racial Issues in Silence

Photo: Essence Harden (left), Gabriel Cortez (middle), and Geoff Williams (right) protest in front of Sather Gate.
Kellen Freeman/Photo
Essence Harden (left), Gabriel Cortez (middle), and Geoff Williams (right) protest in front of Sather Gate.

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Blackout Protest

Students and supporters gathered in silence on Monday in a protest sparked by the racial issue that occurred in UCSD.

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Dressed in black with masks covering their mouths, students from the black community throughout the campus set out yesterday to address current racial tensions at UC Berkeley and throughout the UC system.

About 200 people participated in a silent demonstration at Sather Gate, which began at 11:30 a.m. At 2 p.m., the group moved to California Hall to deliver a letter to UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau-who was off campus-detailing incidents that occurred in the last 10 years in the campus community that they said are comparable to recent incidents at UC San Diego, where blacks have been targeted for mockery.

"The campus is not a safe space for all students," said senior Lajuanda Asemota, vice president of Phi Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority. "People are often marginalized. People are often silenced throughout the day."

A total of 3.2 percent of UC Berkeley students are black, according to the campus Web site. The passage of Proposition 209-which banned affirmative action at California's public universities-has led to this "frighteningly" low representation of the community on campus, the letter stated.

A Feb. 24 e-mail to the campus community, in which Birgeneau and other campus officials condemned the use of racial stereotypes and slurs at the UCSD incidents, was "dismissive and disappointing," according to the letter.

In the e-mail, the officials outlined campus efforts to combat intolerance.

"Inclusion and equity are core values of Berkeley-they lead naturally to excellence through diversity," the e-mail states. "We are the first campus in the UC system to have a Vice Chancellor for Equity & Inclusion."

George Breslauer, executive vice chancellor and provost, received the letter and said he would discuss the demonstrators' grievances with Birgeneau when the chancellor returned to campus.

"We're coming back until we see change," senior Jarvis Givens said to the crowd after the letter was delivered.

Gibor Basri, vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, said he and Birgeneau have worked to mitigate Prop. 209's effects on minority enrollment on campus.

"I am well aware of the fact that we have a number of students who don't feel entirely comfortable and included on campus," said Basri, who agreed to meet with the demonstrators Monday evening to further discuss the issue.

Contact Kim Bielak at [email protected]

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