UC Davis students protest racially insensitive party

05/02/2014 2:11 PM

05/02/2014 7:36 PM

A Mexican-themed drinking party promoted by employees of the student-run Coffee House at UC Davis has roiled the campus, threatening to ignite racial tensions even as the university ramps up admission for minorities and international students.

Clad in red T-shirts and chanting slogans, about 100 UC Davis students participated Friday in a sit-in at the Coffee House, urging a boycott of the cafeteria. The protest came after some Coffee House employees promoted an off-campus party at a local park Saturday that they dubbed “Cinco de Drinko,” a name university leaders said had strong connotations of racism.

The Facebook event page for Cinco de Drinko included a picture of four male students, wearing sombreros, trying to hop a chain-link fence while two female students in Border Patrol attire smile.

UC Davis officials and student leaders quickly condemned the planned party, which has since been canceled. During an impromptu meeting at the Coffee House, protesters told Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi they felt unsafe on campus.

“What kind of message are you trying to send?” asked Edwin Roque, a fourth-year transfer student.

Katehi vowed to use education to prevent similar controversies in the future, suggesting that instructional requirements could be changed to mandate a diversity course.

“There’s no way we can change them,” she said, pointing to a few students standing around who were wearing sombreros. “It’s up to the rest of us to make sure we move forward.”

Jonathan Beatty, one of the students wearing a sombrero during the protest, said he doesn’t think a drinking-themed party for Cinco de Mayo is racist, likening the holiday to St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

“People were being overly sensitive,” Beatty said.

The Saturday party would have taken place on the last day of La Raza Cultural Days, a weeklong celebration of Chicano and Latino cultures organized by the UC Davis Cross Cultural Center. Cinco de Mayo, a traditional celebration of Mexican heritage, takes place Monday.

Cinco de Drinko would have been the second racially insensitive event hosted by Coffee House employees in less than a month. The other party, “Holy Land,” encouraged attendees to dress up as terrorists and religious deities, said Armando Figueroa, president of the Associated Students of UC Davis.

Coffee House is a unit of the student government, which in turn is a department of the university.

“This was a slap in the face for the association,” Figueroa said.

An online petition demanding that the university hold organizers of the party responsible had generated nearly 1,500 signatures as of Friday afternoon. Coffee House employees said they had been told not to talk to the media.

Adela de la Torre, vice chancellor of student affairs, said officials are still investigating the incident, adding those responsible have already undergone diversity training. She said administrators are looking into internal sanctions for these students.

Coffee House Director Darin Schluep said his employees already participate in diversity training, but that the program would be expanded. “We take this very seriously,” he said.

UC Davis isn’t a stranger to racially charged controversies. In 2011, student newspaper the California Aggie published a column by a girl about her attraction to African American men, saying she had been “hit by jungle fever.”

The latest episode follows a push by the University of California to expand enrollment of foreign students to help offset state budget cuts. UC Davis plans to add 5,000 undergraduates by 2020, many of them international students who pay $23,000 a year more in tuition than California residents.

California’s changing demographics also have been reflected in the UC system. This year, Latino students edged up to 28.8 percent of admitted students, surpassing whites to become the second largest ethnic group behind Asian Americans. At UC Davis, 21.2 percent of freshmen admitted for 2014 are classified as Latino, up from 17.8 percent in 2012.

“This was an unfortunate way to remind us that we have a lot of work to do,” Katehi said in an interview.

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