African American caucus calls for investigation of UC and CSU treatment of underrepresented students

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A caucus of the California Democratic Party called on state and higher education officials Wednesday to initiate an investigation of the treatment of underrepresented students within the University of California and California State University systems, a request stemming from alleged hate crimes reported in October at San Jose State University.

The California Democratic Party African American Caucus, which advocates statewide participation in the Democratic Party, issued a press release requesting that Gov. Jerry Brown, along with state and university officials, investigate the treatment of students who are statistically underenrolled in California’s higher education systems.

The demands follow what the caucus called a serious mishandling of alleged hate-based crimes committed by three San Jose State students against a black suitemate beginning in August.

Only after the crimes were reported Oct. 14 did the months of alleged abuse come to light, which included claims that the suspects displayed a Confederate flag in the housing common area, collared the victim with a U-shaped bike lock and used racial slurs such as “three-fifths” and “fraction,” according to police reports.

San Jose State issued suspensions of the three students in late November, weeks after they were implicated by campus police.

“The alleged failure of campus staff and administration to stop the abuse as soon as they learned of the abuse was shameful,” the African American caucus said in a press release. “The inaction of campus staff and administration are indicative of a larger problem (within colleges and universities across the state).”

In the release, the caucus also highlighted significant racial disparities at UC Berkeley, referencing a  controversial article published last month in the East Bay Express that examined a lack of black enrollment at UC Berkeley.

The article singled out data from the 2008-12 UC Office of the President campus climate trends survey that showed only 52 percent of African American students at UC Berkeley agreed with the statement that “students of my (affinity group) are respected on this campus.” The Chicano/Latino constituency recorded the next lowest rate of perceived respect, at 75 percent.

Additionally, campus enrollment data from fall 2012 revealed that African Americans made up only 3.4 percent of the student body, even though state census data show that they comprise about 6.6 percent of the state of California.

Mister Phillips, a regional director of the caucus, said the complaint was submitted to the CSU Board of Trustees and the UC Regents in late November.

Spokespeople from the CSU and UC systems, however, said they have received no formal notification of an investigation of policies or procedures and were unable to comment on any investigation involving their respective systems.

“In general, we always investigate alleged incidents of discrimination on our campuses,” said UC spokesperson Shelly Meron in an email. Meron also cited the university’s commitment to enforcing policies that ensure diversity and nondiscrimination among students, faculty and staff members.

Sabrina Robleh, co-chair of political affairs for UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union, said she believes the San Jose State incident is indicative of a larger campus climate problem within the UC and CSU systems. She said the BSU supports the caucus’s request for an investigation.

“We fully support that this is the least we can do to critically analyze the situations black students face in these institutions that are supposed to support and matriculate us,” Robleh said. “If anything, the lack of response has shown the degree of unimportance black students have on (administrators’) list of priorities.”

UC Berkeley’s ASUC Senate introduced a bill this week supporting black student activists at San Jose State and asking the ASUC president to write a letter to Brown.

In response to the incident at his campus, San Jose State President Mohammad Qayoumi emailed a statement to students, faculty and staff members Monday acknowledging personal accountability for a lack of due diligence in responding to the claims and admitting that he “failed” the unnamed victim by not intervening before harassment escalated to the level of criminal misconduct.

The campus plans to employ a task force to evaluate the alleged crimes and how administrators handled them, according to San Jose State spokesperson Pat Harris.

“There are likely a lot of parties who will share the blame,” Phillips said.

Contact Jeff Landa at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JeffLanda.