The epidemic of racial transgression has yet to depart from our campus. Last week, the ASUC Senate passed a bill condemning the hanging zombie decoration that Theta Delta Chi — a fraternity at the corner of College and Durant avenues — placed over its lawn. Though the ASUC did bring crucial awareness to the issue of racial ignorance, it should also take the lead in creating programs to deter racial intolerance rather than react to events after the fact.
If the senate passed a bill every time a community was negatively affected by racial insensitivity, it would never get to the root of the problem. The ASUC would become the tolerance police, and countless hours would be spent reviewing the actions of individual organizations, a process that could be subjective and laborious. This reactionary attitude must be replaced with a more long-term solution.
While the fraternity had no negative intention in putting up the figure — which it intended to be a hanging zombie — black students poured into the senate meeting last Wednesday night to express their outrage at what reminded them of a lynching. At the senate meeting, Black Student Union Co-Chair of External Affairs Marcel Jones said that “lynching was a symbol of terror” and that “any visual representation of this affects the very core, the very soul and the very being of black students on the campus.”
The entire Greek system should not be blamed for the ignorance of a single fraternity. Not only did this action offend students whose ancestors were plagued by lynching but also those who still face it today. UC Berkeley student Zelina Gaytan representing Casa Magdalena Mora — a Hispanic-oriented theme program — broke out in tears and said that she saw a lynching two years ago in Tijuana and that “lynching was not dead, and oppression wasn’t dead.” The pain of these students cannot simply be shrugged off.
An estimated 3 percent of our campus is black, and the problem of racial discrimination must be faced so that we can in good conscience tell prospective black students that UC Berkeley is safe for them.
Unfortunately, black students on campus regularly face discrimination. A student at the meeting described a time when students called her and a friend “black dirty ratchets” on the way to the Foothill Residence Hall. Yet another student mentioned an instance when she and her sister had alcohol thrown on them while they were walking in Berkeley. Without a black senator on the ASUC Senate, it is commendable that the body took such a stance against racial discrimination. Multiple senators in the Greek system — including TDX member Mihir Deo — put their loyalties aside and voted in favor of the bill.
Before the meeting, TDX President Hamed Hosseini issued a public response on the fraternity website apologizing for the fraternity’s actions and also acknowledged the concerns of campus communities. Though this apology is welcomed, Hosseini should have sent an executive to speak at the meeting or had his statement read instead of allowing the pledge who made the decoration to speak on his own. By not taking initiative, Hosseini offended the pledge, the Greek system and the black students at UC Berkeley. Presidents are the face of fraternities in times of trouble, and pushing the burden onto a pledge demeans Hosseini’s position as president.
TDX pledge Noel Duarte came to the senate meeting and publicly apologized for making the decoration. Duarte should be commended for taking responsibility for his actions. However, just as he explained in his apology, Duarte’s words will not quell the pain of black students. While the pain will not go away anytime soon, the blame on Duarte as an individual and TDX as a house should not be permanent. Duarte said that as a gay, Hispanic student, TDX had expressed acceptance of his identity. Just because TDX is accepting of its members does not mean it is immune to its transgressions. However, it does paint the picture of a well-intentioned fraternity that simply made an uneducated albeit hurtful mistake.
In order to combat future instances of racial intolerance, the bill recommends the creation of a “mandatory racial sensitivity curriculum” for campus Greek organizations. This addresses the broader issue at hand of discouraging racial discrimination rather than punishing it ex post facto. This curriculum should be mandatory not just for members of the Greek system but for all UC Berkeley students.
At the meeting, freshman Mikela Topey advised that a program similar to AlcoholEDU be prescribed for all incoming freshmen in order to teach tolerance and raise awareness of the hardships campus communities face. ASUC-sponsored dialogues like Bears Breaking Bread and educational programs could prevent another hanging zombie.
The ASUC has the power to make students think twice before they take actions that negatively affect other communities. Although the body should not strip student groups of their right to free speech, it can at least help them to understand the potential consequences of their actions.