Earlier in May, some graduate students of the Literature Department at UCSD wrote a collective statement regarding their concern over the high counts of cancer and medical complications that occur to students, staff and faculty in that building. Their campaign quickly drew support from graduate students, faculty and staff in their department, across the university and also across campuses. However, early in this outburst of support, the original document, posted to Google Docs, was also vandalized with anti-black, racist, homophobic, ableist and generally anti-humanities comments of which we were able to screen-capture a few [warning: offensive content]. These vitriolic comments simultaneously inspire our disdain, our revulsion and our deep sadness at the state of affairs today. However, our reactions cannot only be viewed individually but must be taken into account within the larger anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican chalkings earlier this year and within the shadow of the Compton Cookout. While the VC-EDI and other campus officials indicated that these earlier chalkings contained no “actionable” comments, or comments that would be legally constituted to be discriminatory, the anonymity of the internet has allowed for the “freedom” of hate speech.
These comments are triggering and include an image of Donald Duck as an SS officer reading Mein Kampf. This image is followed by comments that read, “THE EDITS ARE CANCER. ESPECIALLY THE ANONYMOUS KANT…Lit fags we wuz kangz n shieet n****. Go study a real f—– field. You f—- faggots.” Another screenshot includes the comments that “No really though for real, nobody gives a f— about your sh–. Liek for real. Hitler did nothing wrong.” In the culmination of these anti-black statements, a final screenshot reads “WE WUZ KANGZ N SHIEEET DOWN HERE IN DA BLACKEST AREA OF DA SKOOL.”
The use of the past tense implied in the posters’ statements “we wuz kangz” indicates a privileged sense of loss, one that is echoed in Pro-Trump, anti-affirmative action, anti-immigrant discourse that permeates this year’s presidential election regarding the disappearing middle class. The idea that whatever fill-in-the-blank group (Mexicans, African Americans, immigrants) are taking “American” jobs is nothing new. However, this idea reveals the fears underlying this group’s vandalism (both physically and virtually) to spaces that seek to support students of color, students of all genders and students of all abilities. The systemic oppressions represented by these attacks are intersectional, and indicative of the toxicity of the larger campus climate. The particular use of the meme referenced also seems meant to mock instances of resistance in which black people affirm the history of African kings before Western imperialist campaigns and colonialism (“We were kings”).
These statements also imply that there are valid and “invalid” areas of inquiry. Coupled with the University’s decision to shut down the University Art Gallery, the previous silence regarding the very real threats of a literature building plagued by threats of cancer, mold, and general disrepair affirm the university’s priorities to support scientific fields and insidiously allow arts, cultural and student-run spaces to slowly disappear (Che Café Collective, now saved due to a more than 4-month long direct action/occupation of the space by students and subsequent agreement by the University not to renew the eviction order, CLICS, the Craft Center, Porter’s Pub, the dissolving of the International Center).
These statements are representative too of not only the hateful election rhetoric that has crossed into campus life but of threatening hate language/ideology that has often accompanied and recently culminated in the tragic shootings of Orlando, Ferguson, St. Paul, and multiple places across the country. Thus we see such language as connected to a sequence of actions that often leave particular students more vulnerable to violence: underrepresented students of color, working class students, disabled students, and queer students. A refusal to attend to the threat vocalized in such hate language only supports the division of space that our statement has fundamentally emphasized as against the mission of the UC. That is, the division of spaces that are truly inclusive and those that are hostile, spaces that are life-affirming and those that are life-endangering, spaces that are intellectually engaging and those that devalue subjects historically inquiring into these very questions of ethics, politics, and justice.
UPDATE: As of June 2, perhaps due to the wonderful efforts of Collective Magpie, our friends in VisArts, with their petition and cultural/art actions, the University Art Gallery has been “removed […] from consideration for redevelopment at this time” by the Dean of Arts and Humanities. We hope that this support will continue for Humanities and Arts spaces and will be extended by the Dean and the University to support the demands of the Collective Statement on the Literature Building Cancer Cluster in a timely fashion as well. We are not “capital projects.”