Column: War on campus diversity

UC Davis’ campus diversity centers provide vital services that enrich the lives of students and faculty at our school. While some might argue that we should cut programs like the Women’s Resource and Research Center (WRRC), Cross-Cultural Center (CCC) or the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center (LGBTRC), I believe funding for them should be expanded.

In a recent column, Sam Hoel argued that diversity programs are “administrators’ weapons of choice,” a way of obtaining a greater portion of the budget. As evidence, he cited the salary of the Vice Dean in charge of the Office of Campus Community Relations (OCCR).

It’s true that too much money is spent on administration at UC Davis. However, it requires a verbal sleight of hand to conflate the administrators overseeing the OCCR with the programs it coordinates. The School of Medicine is served by a dean who made $803,247.68 in 2010. Should we cut that program, too?

These programs aren’t the product of a management “fad” or a scheme to funnel money to administrators. Instead, they represent a long history of gains won by the grassroots struggles of students. The CCC, for example, was founded in 1992 only after four students held a hunger strike demanding it.

Far from superfluous bureaucracies, these programs directly provide guidance and resources for students, faculty and staff while giving them a space to organize and empower themselves.

For example, the WRRC offers a confidential community counselor. With the center, women-identified students have a safe and supportive space where they can talk about personal and professional issues. The center also organizes peer education, workshops and scholarships, while maintaining an extensive library.

These services cannot be carried out by students and faculty on their own time. An informal student group that meets every week would be unable to provide the same level of consistent, campus-wide support. Effective cultural diversity programs require university funding, including paid staff and office space.

And the campus desperately needs them. Between 2008 and 2010, campus police reported 66 forcible sex offenses. Programs like the WRRC provide support for victims of sexual assault, education to raise awareness about the issue and advocacy when student needs are overlooked or ignored. If we cut those programs, students lose community, comfort and a powerful voice on campus.

The same could be said about the LGBTRC, whose queer mentorship program and social events allow students who are coming out or just new to UC Davis a chance to participate in a safe and welcoming campus community. If you drop by the center, you’ll also find Safe Zone training, queer leadership events and free, confidential HIV antibody testing.

Anyone who thinks the LGBT community in UC Davis can do without the center has a short memory. Less than two years ago, a vandal spray painted the center with homophobic slurs.

Meanwhile, more recent events such as the yellow ribbon noose incident and the Ku Klux Klan hood posted on the African American themed floor of Campbell Hall show that, yes, we still need programs like the Cross-Cultural Center.

But it’s true that we don’t need spectacular instances of hatred to realize that heterosexism, homophobia, sexism and racism are alive and well on our campus. From subtle forms of discrimination to the absence of unisex bathrooms in most campus buildings, we can see our campus has a long way to go.

Indeed, the fact that these issues are invisible to some on campus is part of the problem. While the majority of students condemn blatant forms of bigotry, most remain unaware of their own privilege.

For example, as a white, heterosexual male and a native speaker of English, I can be sure that my cultural heritage will be well represented in my department. Moreover, unlike female instructors, I don’t have to worry much about my classroom apparel and, unlike gay instructors, I do not have to think very hard about revealing my sexual orientation.

In fact, my privilege has allowed me to remain heretofore unaware of many of the services these centers provide on campus. (Nobody has ever needed to formally mentor a male heterosexual to put him in touch with other heterosexuals.)

But this is not the fault of UC Davis diversity programs, which expend a great deal of time and energy on outreach. Rather, the fault lies with the indifference of privileged members of the campus body. Clearly, we should provide greater material support and solidarity for cultural diversity on our campus.

JORDAN S. CARROLL is a PhD student in English at UC Davis and can be reached at jscarroll@ucdavis.edu.