In Battling Racism, UC San Diego Must Not Follow the University of Delaware’s Example

March 10, 2010

While much of the University of California, San Diego’s (UCSD’s) campus media remains under the deep freeze imposed by Associated Students of UCSD President Utsav Gupta nearly three weeks ago in the wake of racially-tinged incidents there, news is being made at UCSD on other fronts.

A recent letter to the campus from UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox announces that she and Black Student Union co-chairs David Ritcherson and Fnann Keflezighi have "signed a mutual agreement that demonstrates our joint commitment to improve the overall campus climate for everyone." While Fox’s letter gives little indication about what forthcoming improvements might look like, UCSD’s "Battle the Hate" website, which contains a "Resources" link to the website of Wellesley Centers for Women Associate Director Peggy McIntosh, may offer a glimpse.

McIntosh is the founder and co-director of the National SEED (Seeking Education Equity & Diversity) Project on Inclusive Curriculum, which "helps teachers create their own year-long, school-based seminars on making school climates, K-12 curricula, and teaching methods more gender fair and multi-culturally equitable." Her text entitled "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" was employed by the University of Delaware, which recommended it to students in its Residence Life program (before it was removed from ResLife’s website in late 2007). The portion excerpted by ResLife was part of an exercise aimed at getting white students to think about what they take for granted as part of their "majority" culture, such as being able "to go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented."

As followers of FIRE know, using materials like McIntosh’s, Delaware’s program went to appalling lengths to force its viewpoints on the 7,000 students in the university’s residence hall system, publicly shaming students who didn’t hold what the ResLife program deemed to be appropriate viewpoints – even on such entirely private matters as relationships and sexuality.

We hope UCSD is not planning something similar.

To be sure, McIntosh’s program can be used by universities in both constitutional and unconstitutional ways. UCSD must ensure that, in its work to address the racial climate on campus, it does not inadvertently take a page from Delaware’s disgraced playbook by forcing its students into adopting pre-approved viewpoints as a condition of attending class or living in university housing. To do so would violate the First Amendment right to freedom of conscience that UCSD, as a public institution, must guarantee its students.

Schools:  University of California, San Diego

Cases:  University of California at San Diego: First Amendment Violations at UCSD