‘It feels vile’: 5 KALX student managers resign over anti-Asian song, highlight inequality

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Caroline Lobel/Staff
Five student directors and multiple volunteers resigned from their KALX positions after an anti-Asian song was broadcast in September 2021.

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Following the broadcast of an anti-Asian song called “Cats in the Kettle” in September 2021, UC Berkeley freeform radio station KALX 90.7 FM saw multiple student manager resignations.

Five student directors and multiple volunteers resigned from their KALX positions, according to former KALX director of special events Gavin Fure. The station received complaints from listeners after the song was played but did not release a public statement, although the DJ in question was suspended.

Many former KALX members have attributed the station’s slow and allegedly inadequate response to KALX General Manager Sandra Wasson. Fure also noted a lack of communication between management and other staff, alleging that many volunteers were left “completely in the dark.”

“The biggest issue with KALX’s response is complete lack of leadership,” Fure said in an email. “What little we were able to accomplish took months and months of waffling around.”

Fure alleged Wasson is the only person with decision-making power at the station. He added trying to accomplish things at management meetings felt like “talking to a brick wall” since student efforts to address the situation were met with months of inaction.

However, Wasson said KALX investigates policy violations and takes “appropriate action,” such as suspension or termination, in serious cases. She added that KALX will also explore staff training to foster respect and inclusivity at the station, such as implicit bias training for new volunteers.

“In response to this incident and in accordance with our policy, the programmer was removed from the air, and all volunteers were reminded about current policy regarding content and staff behavior,” Wasson said in an email.

Fure alleged that while the DJ was suspended from the air, he was not given a plan to learn from his mistakes. Furthermore, Fure said the incident occurred in September and internal action was not taken until December.

Actions taken included a revision of the KALX content policy, which now prohibits the use of “ageist, sexist, racist, or abusive language,” according to Wasson. The policy also prohibits playing songs with offensive intent and is currently in the process of being implemented.

KALX Publicity Director Lauren Anastasia, speaking for herself and not on behalf of KALX, said she was shocked when first hearing of the song being played, as she was unaware of the incident until someone outside of KALX informed her.

Although campus was contacted about the situation, Anastasia alleged the incident is likely on campus’s “backburner,” since KALX operates as an extension of UC Berkeley.

When Anastasia became aware of the song being played, she made the issue public in a KALX-wide email. Fure remembered seeing the email and ensuing thread, which he said included both inspiring statements and strong words.

“The chain of replies that followed (Anastasia’s email) was disgusting and infuriating. By the end of it, it was bordering on harassment,” Fure said in his email. “Our general manager failed to comment.”

Fure added the email chain also included a plan, created by former KALX publicity director Kat Mai Cone, to hold the DJ in question accountable. The plan, which has not been implemented, also included mandatory anti-racism training for all current and future DJs and asked that KALX donate to an Asian-led organization.

Longtime KALX community volunteer William Smith said he is appreciative of Wasson’s efforts to keep the station alive.

“I’m grateful to her because KALX is still here,” Smith said. “USF lost their station. Lots of stations have suffered, but she’s managed to keep KALX vital to the University of California without it being a thorn or any kind of burden.”

Smith added, however, that people might perceive Wasson as too controlling, ultimately leading to a less adventurous and “stale” culture.

Cone also alleged KALX prioritizes reputation and tradition over progress, which can have both positive and negative impacts.

“Sometimes that means that we get to do cool things like play physical music rather than digital and DJ the old fashioned way with vinyl records and turntables,” Cone said in an email. “But it also means that all of the toxic parts of the world of independent music — the dominance of white males in the scene, predatory behavior towards young women and non-men, sentiments of elitism and gatekeeping — are preserved as well.”

Many of those who resigned called for Wasson to step down and alleged a turnover in leadership would be good for the station. Samy Long, former KALX music director, noted Wasson has been the general manager at KALX since the late ’80s.

Long, who came out as nonbinary at KALX in summer 2021, alleged their coming out was “not received easily” by Wasson, who misgendered them for multiple weeks, referring to Long by she/her pronouns.

“I don’t see how anything could change at KALX if she’s the one in charge and letting people get by with a slap on the wrist,” Long said.

Long and multiple other students at the station reported facing alleged microaggressions from some older white community volunteers. Older community volunteers allegedly made fun of Long’s pronouns and made them feel as if they were too young and not worthy to be elected music director at KALX.

Cone recalled interacting with a middle-aged white DJ who has been at the station for decades.

“For a long time he repeatedly called me anti-Asian slurs, his favorite one being ‘oriental,’ ” Cone alleged in their email. “He would say things like, ‘you know I have a Buddhist lady friend and she’s oriental just like you.’ ”

Cone noted the DJ never called them “oriental” to their face after they reported the DJ to Wasson. However, Cone noted the DJ was not suspended and continued to say racially insensitive things to other KALX members.

Campus alumna Anjali Narayanan, who volunteered at KALX for three years, alleged an older white male volunteer would constantly talk to her about his “oriental girlfriend” and “love for curry.” He allegedly also commented on the shorts she wore, a fact made especially uncomfortable for Narayanan as these encounters were typically late at night.

Former KALX news director Bryanna Paz added that, as a person of color, the station often felt “isolating” and alleged that some groups of white volunteers would not speak to her, instead pausing their conversation when she entered the station’s common room.

Fure also alleged a non-Black volunteer used a racial slur in a department meeting and called one of Fure’s friends another racial slur.

“It feels vile to even type that,” Fure said in his email. “Apparently they just didn’t know it was offensive.”

Fure added that moments such as these contribute to KALX’s inability to retain students of color after recruitment, causing the station to maintain a mostly white demographic.

According to Wasson, KALX is committed to following campus’s Principles of Community and aims to ensure diversity in all aspects of the station’s operations.

Cone and other student volunteers attempted to form a KALX student committee intended to create a safe space for new members, especially those of marginalized identities, but were allegedly met with resistance from Wasson and older community volunteers.

“I have never seen any instance where someone is asked to take accountability to help undo harm that was caused or action taken at the community level to make KALX a safer space for folks of all marginalized identities,” Cone alleged in their email.

Cone said they also found themselves in opposition to Wasson over KALX’s stance on publicly supporting the Black Lives Matter, or BLM, movement.

Cone, who wanted to use KALX’s platform to uplift local Black-led organizations, alleged their ideas were repeatedly shot down by Wassan.

“I had to show her examples of how other UC stations had already released statements in solidarity in order for her to see just how behind we were,” Cone alleged in their email.

In a staff meeting during the BLM movement, student directors shared statements of solidarity with BLM and volunteers of color and acknowledged systemic issues at the station, according to former DJ-training co-director and campus alumna Sarah Miller.

Miller added the staff meeting was held as a private Zoom call due to the pandemic, and while Wasson allegedly said she would send the recording to all KALX volunteers, the email was never sent.

Additionally, Narayanan noted KALX has had further issues with inclusivity in the past, alleging that genres typically influenced by people of color, such as rap, R&B and hip-hop were “lumped together,” and that Native American music was grouped into a small “International” section.

“Back in my day, we punk rockers, we’d come here and be misfits together, but KALX should also be a safe place for the disenfranchised,” Smith said. “For the POC, for people of different sexual orientations and identity, it should also be a safe place for them too.”

Contact Anishi Patel at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @anishipatel.

A previous version of this article failed to note Smith identifies as a Black man. In fact, he wished to be identified as Black.

A previous version of this article stated Wasson said she would send the recording to all KALX volunteers. In fact, Wasson allegedly refused to send the student directors’ statements of solidarity to all KALX volunteers along with the rest of the staff meeting recording.