Statement on Racist Comments on the Collective Statement


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.”

Medical Students for Justice’s (MS4J) Statement in Support of the Collective’s Demands

We, members of Medical Students for Justice – a UCSD School of Medicine student organization – support the demands of our fellow colleagues in the Literature Department to relocate the faculty, staff, and graduate students of the department in order to re-establish a healthy and safe community. As physicians in training, we recognize the importance of environmental and employment- related exposures in the development of human disease. There is a clear density of malignant, neoplastic diseases among individuals who have spent extensive time in the Literature Building. We support our colleagues’ demands to reinvestigate occupational health hazard exposures in relation to the increased incidence in cancer diagnoses within the department. We further support our colleagues’ demands to evaluate the psychological effects of working in the Literature Building and being apart of the Literature Department community, which has unfortunately experienced and witnessed morbidity and mortality over the last 20 years.

The 2008 Garland Report indicated a breast cancer incidence of 4 to 5 times the US national rate of breast cancer of those who worked in the department building. Since the Garland Report, two members of the department have been diagnosed with cancer and several members have passed from cancer. This history has weighed heavy on those closely connected to the Literature Building.

We, as future physicians, are concerned about the physical, psychological and emotional health of our colleagues. As future healers, we respect the importance of prevention of disease, for prevention is preferable to curing. Dr Garland recommended prudent avoidance of the exposures from the Literature Building as a precautionary principle when scientific evidence is suggestive of potential for harm. Measures to prevent possible harmful exposures should have been implemented 8 years ago. The uptrend cancer diagnoses found in the Garland Report calls for further evaluation of the building and move of the Literature Department to a new location to (1) elucidate the uncertain connection between the “cancer cluster” and the building (2) provide our colleagues a supportive environment for learning and community building.

As an academic institution, the University of California has a clear responsibility to acknowledge concerns of its’ community and implement measures that ensure the health and well-being of all students, faculty, and staff. The pledge we take as budding physicians to live by the Hippocratic Oath requires us to advocate fiercely for human life and its quality. We stand in solidarity with the UC San Diego Department of Literature.

Medical Students for Justice
UC San Diego School of Medicine

Press Release June 2, 2016

For Immediate Release: 6/2/2016

University of California San Diego, Literature Department Graduate Students

Press Contacts:

Alborz Ghandehari


Juan Carmona Zabala; 619-930-1186

UCSD Students, Staff, Faculty Mourn Colleagues, Demand Investigation of Notorious “Cancer Cluster” on Campus

San Diego, CA: A collective of UCSD students, faculty, and staff have redoubled efforts this week to protest the UCSD administration’s inaction on unsafe, cancer-inducing conditions in the UCSD Literature building. Since 2000, a high number of staff, students, and faculty in the Literature Department have been diagnosed with breast cancer at 4-5 times the rate of the California general population, forming an as-yet unexplained cancer cluster centered in the Literature building. At least two cases before this period, one in 1991 and another of ovarian cancer in 1997, have also been reported. This year, at least two more diagnoses – one of a graduate student and another of a faculty member – have added to the growing list of people diagnosed with cancer after working in the building.

Protests occurred in early 2009, following a report on the building issued by a UCSD epidemiologist which, in addition to finding the higher than average rate of cancer incidence, also concluded that the median age of those affected is younger than the median age of diagnosis for breast cancer in the U.S. population as a whole. The most recent breast cancer diagnosis was of a 34-year-old graduate student. The report found that close range exposure to high electric current configurations is one possible reason for the high rate of cancer. At least 11 students, faculty and staff have developed breast cancer since 2000. Several people exposed to the building have been diagnosed with a variety of other cancers. At least three others have had to treat large benign tumors, calcifications and fibroids. Three people have died.

“We need a new building in order to safely continue our work, something that the administration has failed to act upon. It’s extremely painful to see colleagues and friends deal with such a life-threatening disease as a result of unsafe building conditions. To deal with one diagnosis after another of a colleague every few years, you can imagine the sense of loss the department feels as a whole and our fears of occupying a toxic work environment.” — Gina di Grazia, PhD Candidate, Literature, UCSD

In response to the latest cancer diagnoses, literature department students, faculty and staff have gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition describing the haunting history of the cancer cluster and demanding renewed attention to this health risk and matter of student safety.

“This history has changed the building and fractured our community. We cannot walk the hallways without thinking of lost friends and mentors. We cannot be fully present in seminars or office hours without thinking about the dangers we might be exposed to on a daily basis.” — “Collective Statement on the Literature Building Cancer Cluster”

Demands outlined in the petition include immediate reassignment of the department to a new building; reinvestigation of the building, which would include testing for dangerous compounds in electrical equipment known as PCBs; development of a Safety Training on the cancer cluster for all incoming students, staff, faculty, and maintenance personnel made available to UCSD Health Services and the UCSD Moores Cancer Center system, and permanent graduate and faculty lounges and offices outside of the department. Last week, an emergency meeting of faculty, lecturers and graduate students was called by the Chair of Literature in response to the petition. The Department has contacted the Dean of Arts and Humanities in support of the demands. At the meeting, faculty and graduate students proposed to protest and boycott the Literature Building if further concrete action is not taken by the Administration. Campus groups supporting the Collective Statement include Medical Students for Justice, Lumumba-Zapata Collective (an anti-structural racism collective) and the Graduate Student Association, which passed a resolution in support of the Statement’s demands May 31, 2016.

“We are determined to create a new home. We honor the memory of our lost loved ones. As part of this, we are committed to removing ourselves from this cancer cluster and rebuilding our community.” — Mark Kelley, PhD Candidate, Literature, UCSD


Updated Petition Link for Collective Statement

As some of you may have heard, there were anti-black, racist, homophobic and general anti-humanities comments made on our original collective statement (with around 300 signatures) posted to google docs. In order to avoid this in the future, we’ve moved to—the link is below. Again, if you have time to support we would appreciate it.

Collective Statement on the Literature Building Cancer Cluster

We, the undersigned graduate students from the UCSD Literature Department and their allies, are writing to publicly voice our concerns about the building where the Literature program is currently housed.  In the past twenty-six years, many members of our departmental community have been diagnosed with cancer, forming an as-yet unexplained cancer cluster centered on the Literature Building.

Recently, one graduate student, 34, informed us of her breast cancer diagnosis. This brings the number to eleven women and non-binary colleagues in the Literature Department since 2000 to be afflicted with this cancer.  A faculty member recently informed us of his cancer diagnosis as well. Several other members of our community who worked in the building have been diagnosed with various forms of cancer, including ovarian, adrenal and salivary gland cancers; at least three others have faced large benign tumors, calcifications and fibrosis which impacted their mobility or otherwise demanded treatment.  Three have passed away.  According to the data noted in the Garland Report, a study conducted in 2008 by an epidemiologist, the median age of those affected is younger than the median age of diagnosis for breast cancer in the U.S. population, and the Department had an observed incidence of breast cancer  “about 4-5 times the expected incidence in the California general population.”  In addition, many of the breast cancers have been quick-spreading or aggressive, with two of the breast cancers diagnosed as a particularly rare and deadly form, inflammatory breast cancer, and others metastatic and/or invasive. Though all who were afflicted go unnamed here, we wish to acknowledge that they were and are our co-workers, mentors, and above all, our allies and family.  We keep them all in our thoughts and memory and write collectively now against succumbing to a purposeful forgetting, acknowledging that the cancer cluster is not a “closed” matter, but a present reality.

We write this letter now to affect physical and structural change, to affirm our sense of community, and to finally eliminate the constant worry and fear that haunts us all. Our building’s cancerous history remains a continuous presence in our lives, but we stand united in the hope of building a better future. Our departmental community calls on the university administration to stand with us as we seek to overcome the structural and physical challenges that impede our efforts to teach, learn and collaborate. We acknowledge all the hard work that has been done by faculty, staff and graduate students to address the building health concerns in the past, particularly the Building Committee‘s efforts.  In response to the higher incidence of breast cancer in the building the administration sponsored studies in 2009 and 2010 to research and address the possible material causes of the cancer. Though the 2010 study, conducted by the contractor Field Management Services Corp, concluded that the AC magnetic field measurements of the ground floor of the Literature Building were only “modestly” higher than the surrounding area, new cases of cancer have continued to be diagnosed.

Though many necessary fixes have been made, there is still a real concern that we wish to acknowledge: Many of us continue to feel the very real psychological effects left behind by the cancer cluster, and these immeasurable mental and emotional fallout, as well as the still unknown physical effects, cannot be brushed aside. The psychological impact has not been addressed by the administration; perhaps part of the reason for this, is that we have not fully articulated those concerns. We wish to articulate them here:

The building is marred.  It holds a cancerous history that continues to undermine our work as students, educators and community members, despite pages upon pages of scientific proof that our bodies are no longer in danger. This history has changed the building and fractured our community.  We cannot walk the hallways without thinking of lost friends and mentors. We cannot be fully present in seminars or office hours without thinking about the dangers we might be exposed to on daily basis. Many of us just stay away from the building.

We live with this cancerous history, and we’ve been made to keep silent. We cannot remain silent, not anymore. Continue reading Collective Statement on the Literature Building Cancer Cluster