Illustration by Joe Lai.
Illustration by Joe Lai.

Racism is wrong. We all know this.

But the events of the past weeks, which culminated in the discovery of a noose in UC San Diego’s library, have reminded us that not all acts of hatred stick out like white hoods and color-coded seating.

You’ve probably already formed an opinion about the students from UCSD hosting a “Compton Cookout” and revelers at UC Santa Barbara throwing a “Gangsta Party,” calling them wrong, ignorant, backward, and straight-up stupid. But have you taken the time to ask yourself: How can we take action to prevent behavior like this from happening again? How can we create a university that is more diverse, more open, and more welcoming to minorities?

According to the Census Bureau, California is home to the largest numbers of the fastest-growing racial groups, in the country, Latinos and Asians. Fifty-seven percent of the state’s population identifies as a minority.

Looking at UC Santa Cruz, you wouldn’t know this. We remain one of the least diverse campuses in the UC system, with an undergraduate ethnic makeup of 51 percent white, 16.6 percent Asian-American, 4.7 percent Latino/a (the largest minority in the state), and the now infamous figure of 2.6 percent black.

At Berkeley, 4 percent of the undergraduate population is black, and 12 percent is Latino/a. And because it is a larger campus, that 4 percent and 12 percent accounts for many more people. At UCSD, where students threw a party that poked fun at Black History Month, the total fall 2009 undergraduate population was just 2 percent black — the lowest figure of any UC campus.

Look at our own Latin American and Latino studies department: hacked to pieces, its most talented and dedicated professors handed pink slips. Look at the fact that we lack an ethnic studies department, and the picture of UCSC as an all-inclusive, colorblind institute of higher learning begins to deteriorate. Look on the bus, and you’ll see a campus severely lacking in ethnic diversity. Look into yourself at what prejudices and stereotypes you hold about your fellow students, regardless of the color of your own skin.

There are institutional and economic factors that play heavily into the racial realities at the UC, and now, in a very public way, students’ social activities have turned on their classmates and peers.

But students have not remained silent. Anger and pain has erupted at just about every campus, a likely unanticipated reaction to some thick-skulled partiers’ twisted sense of humor. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came out Monday and condemned the “intolerable acts of racism and incivility” at the state’s sites of higher learning.

What he did not do, and what no chancellor or regent has done, is ask: why? Why did this happen at schools that host Nobel laureates, schools that graduate lawyers and teachers and reputable members of society, and for the most part, house the brightest minds in the country?

The University of California should be the last place racism occurs. We are better than this. We are smarter and kinder than to even allow an under-the-breath crack at a person of an ethnicity other than ours to slip by unchided. Racism is wrong, but standing by and doing nothing is all that is needed for evil to triumph on our campus. And no one, no matter what their ethnic makeup, wants that at our schools.