By Ashley Obrey
The characteristically warm Malibu weather was in no way indicative of the undercover storm that would erupt later on the night of Jan. 21.
A curious sign found itself glaring at passersby from its home on the Freedom Wall in the hours of darkness, pulling people into the light.
“Join the White Student Union,” an inconspicuous 8-by-11-inch sign boldly proclaimed. “Students of all ethnicities welcome” was one of the bulleted phrases listed, followed by, “Come talk about tough issues facing students today,” and, “Future meeting date, time, and place to be announced.”
Despite the explanation toward the bottom, which clarified in smaller, red print that this was not a genuine advertisement for a real club, but merely raised the question, “What if it was,” to many viewers, it caused frenzy among students and faculty alike.
Senior Candace Lopez explained that her reaction to the sign was that it was discriminating.
“It didn’t surprise me that someone would do that on this campus. I was just ready with a pen to give my opinion on the matter,” she said.
Other people held the same sentiments and responded accordingly.
Written responses on the flier ranged from aversion to supportive agreement.
“How disgustingly and pathetically ignorant could you be,” one person wrote. “At a school where the Caucasian culture is vastly predominant, minorities find comfort in spending time with the people they have a bit more in common with. I pity you.”
“Amen,” another person on the opposite end of the spectrum commented, “We see scholarships for African-Americans, for Asians, for American Indians, yet if we were to make a scholarship for whites, it would be racist. Racism is separating race from the rest.”
The WSU sign undeniably created dialogue on campus that isn’t often present. This, however, was what its creator, a junior history major who spoke to the Graphic only on the condition of anonymity, intended.
“The purpose of my flier was to get people to question their assumptions,” he said in an e-mail interview. “I am not going to lie; I also wanted to stir up a bit of controversy. I feel that sometimes tough questions need to be asked, and this was one question that was due. Why is it fair to have all of these ethnic groups but not one for ‘white’ people or other ethnic groups.”
He said his hope was that students would view his words as an interesting point rarely brought up in the majority of social circles and that students would view the points as challenging social questions.
Lopez, unlike others who viewed the sign as discriminatory, took the extra step and e-mailed the creator at an address provided in the small print.
“After talking to the person who put up the flier, I understood that, though this isn’t one of those issues where you can put up a sign and say, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ He wasn’t trying to be insensitive or hurtful,” she said.
Through dialogue with the sign’s maker, Lopez said she now recognizes why there are students who agree with what this man had to say.
“I understand how it is considered to be a double standard and unfair that our culture clubs are allowed on campus,” she said. “The reality is that no one has ever tried to start a Caucasian club, so I don’t see why other people are so upset.”
Lopez does, however, maintain her support for the club of which she is former president, the Latino Student Association, addressing the fact that several students that don’t think “culture clubs” should be allowed on campus.
“Some students believe that these groups continue the segregation and discrimination,” she said. “But until we attend a campus where we no longer hear racist remarks and no longer feel that we are singled out, we will continue to meet, because we aren’t just going to forget where we come from.”
The student who made the sign agreed, telling the story of how his grandmother came over to America from England following World War II and explained that his family maintains many of the English traditions that she brought over, which might explain his emphasis on the idea that “white people have a culture too.”
“Am I racist for wanting to celebrate my Anglo culture? I would like to think that I am not,” he said. “But most (culture clubs) do not celebrate culture, they celebrate race. We need to draw the distinction between race and culture.”
Although the sign’s creator promises that his poster had less to do with anything about race as it had to do of questioning one’s assumptions, and though he had no intention of creating this club, the WSU sign definitely ignited a flame in the issue of diversity on the Malibu campus.
Lopez said that she thinks the flier was a gateway for the minorities and majority on campus to say how they really feel, and she was slightly disappointed in the fact that it took “a flier and a freedom wall” to allow those issues to surface.
“It is very important for students to be able to leave an institution and be culturally sound and educated, but this doesn’t seem to be one of the goals here,” she said. “We don’t talk about affirmative action or feminism or sexuality or any issues like these because they are ‘too controversial.’ This school needs to stop sugar coating everything, and start telling it like it is.”
The University made its first step at encouraging controversial expression on campus through the unveiling of the Freedom Wall in April 2003. It’s purpose (as stated in a press release announcing its establishment): “The Freedom Wall will be a positive arena for the dissemination of ideas in the form of poetry, prose, debate, and opinion. It is open to all departments and personnel of the University and will create a forum for the voices of students who do not feel their words heard in the voices in the Graphic or through normal student forums.”
February 19, 2004