UC regents sorry for acts of hate on campuses

It’s taken a series of venomous events – among them a hanging noose, a swastika etched in a Jewish student’s door, and anti-gay slurs scribbled on walls – to shake University of California leaders into recognizing that the diversity problem on their campuses is serious.

But recognize it they did on Wednesday as regents, chancellors and UC President Mark Yudof spent the morning apologizing to students for allowing an atmosphere of hatred to fester on at least two campuses, San Diego and Davis. They acknowledged that racial tension undoubtedly exists on other UC campuses.

They laid out plans to make the largely white and Asian American schools more inclusive. And they decried the repeated, hateful incidents that began in February with a San Diego frat party mocking black students. A noose in the school’s library followed. Then there was a student’s closed-circuit TV rant using a racial slur for black people, and another student’s photo that had been darkened and circulated.

At UC Davis, someone defaced the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center with derogatory words. And no fewer than six swastikas have been found on campus, the latest just days ago.

“I want to extend a personal apology to every African American kid, every Latino student and Jewish kid, and to every student that became aware of this,” Eddie Island told fellow regents and dozens in the audience, from students to staff members. The regents are in San Francisco this week conducting their monthly meeting.

“We as a board failed to provide a nurturing environment,” Island said. “We didn’t intend to, but we have failed.”

Regents Sherry Lansing and Bonnie Reiss also apologized.

Yudof described the incidents as “quite simply the worst acts of racism and intolerance I’ve seen on college campuses in 20 years. We must – and will – deal with the causes of the offending behaviors.”

Just 3 percent of UC undergraduates are black, and 16 percent are Latino – a number small enough to foster an atmosphere of ignorance in some campus circles, he said.

The numbers are low in part because UC’s admissions system focuses so narrowly on test scores and grades that it often misses qualified students with a broader background of talents and interests, Yudof said.

He called for expanding the criteria to be “more in-depth and fair, without violating the (Proposition 209) ban on affirmative action approved by the voters of California.”

Yudof also called for “alumni, friends of the university, and for all concerned Californians” to raise scholarship funds for underrepresented minorities. He said many black and Latino students accepted by UC instead choose private schools because of their ability to offer more generous financial aid.

UC will also work with students to identify gaps in hate-crime laws, Yudof said. Civil rights expert Christopher Edley, dean of the UC Berkeley Law School, will advise him and UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox on racial issues, he said.

Fox then outlined similar measures for her campus, as did UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, who said she sought advice from rabbis and the Anti-Defamation League, and hopes to invite playwrights from the “Laramie Project,” about a gay man’s murder, for a campus residency.

Student leaders at the meeting expressed skepticism that administrators would carry out those ideas much less adhere to them over time.

Several students said they were angry that it took extremism to get the regents to pay attention.

David Ritcherson, co-chairman of the Black Student Union at UC San Diego, said black students have felt unwelcome at his school for years, not just weeks.

“People don’t feel safe in their dorms. There’s a lot of racial tension on campus. It’s really toxic,” he said.

He cited two solution-filled reports on diversity presented to the regents in 2003 and 2006 that are still gathering dust.

“Why haven’t they been implemented?” Ritcherson demanded.

Ignoring the reports was “intolerable,” said Regent Dick Blum. Regent Monica Lozano invited the students to “hold us accountable.”

At the same time, many students expressed support for the “Irvine Eleven” – 11 students arrested on Feb. 8 for repeatedly shouting down Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren as he tried to deliver a free public lecture on campus.

UC leaders included the incident with the others. Calling it an intolerable attack on free speech, Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake told the regents that “a great university depends on the free exchange of ideas. This is non-negotiable.”

Yet, one by one the students disagreed.

Victor Sánchez, president of the UC Students Association, called the attempt to silence Oren “a social justice issue.”

Intolerance on campus

Here is a partial list of recent incidents apparently motivated by hate on three UC campuses. Some students have been suspended pending further disciplinary action by UC officials. The FBI has also been brought in to try to identify other students involved.

UC San Diego

Feb. 13: A group of students hold a so-called “Compton Cookout” meant to mock black history month. Organizers post a party invitation to Facebook laden with racial slurs and belittling caricatures of black people.

Feb 19: A student appearing on the campus television station used a racial slur for black people to characterize students who complained about the Compton Cookout.

Feb 20: A second party invitation, dubbed “Compton Party Part Deux,” invites people to attend in the costume of their “favorite cultural stereotype.”

Feb. 25: A noose is found hanging from a light fixture on the 7th floor of the Geisel Library. A female student has been suspended.

UC Davis

Feb. 22: A swastika is carved into a Jewish student’s dorm door.

Feb. 27: The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center on campus is defaced with derogatory words.

March 24: Chancellor Linda Katehi reports to the UC regents that six swastikas have been found at various locations on campus.

UC Merced

March 16: Students complain that a cartoon video posted on Facebook criticizes and demeans students pushing for a Chicano/Chicana Studies minor. Students react by holding teach-ins.

E-mail Nanette Asimov at nasimov@sfchronicle.com.