By: Wendy M. Hernandez
As of September 2013 the University of California Berkeley has once again been placed as the top ranked public University in the U.S. News Ranking. According to a campus release in April 2012 , “among the overall freshman admitted class, the percentage of underrepresented students (African American, American Indian and Chicano-Latino students) increased to approximately 19 percent of the 2012-13 admitted class, compared to 17 percent last year.” However, with the university being glorified as the top public university in the nation and as it claims efforts in diversifying the student population, it is easy for racial student conflict to remain under the rug at UC Berkeley.
Just last fall in October 2012, a UC Berkeley fraternity Theta Delta Chi held a haunted house that featured a hanging zombie decoration resembling a lynching, causing an abrupt response on behalf of the African American community on campus. This fall, on September 21, 2013, another Greek organization—Delta Chi—hosted a “Quinceañera” themed party, which led to a similar response in the Latino/a community at Cal and the creation of ASUC Senate Bill 16.
According to the Daily Californian SB 16 “calls for the ASUC to ‘condemn culturally appropriated theme parties,’ urges the university to implement a racial sensitivity curriculum for the Greek community and asks Delta Chi to write a public apology to the campus Latino community for appropriating its cultural traditions and reproducing cultural stereotypes for entertainment purposes.”
However as a member of CalGreek system and the Latino/a community at Cal, I can boldly state that a racial sensitive curriculum for CalGreeks and a written apology will not fix the issue students of color are facing on campus. Events like these shed light upon racial tension in universities across the nation, but tangible and reparative solutions have yet to be mentioned.
External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai stated to the Daily Californian, “Cultural appropriation is a problem across campus, not just the Greek community.” Do I have a solution to this madness? Maybe not, but I do have a well-thought suggestion: restoring peace in the university through restorative actions using a restorative justice approach.
Restorative Justice (RJ), also called reparative justice, is an alternative dispute resolution—proven successful in prisons like San Quentin State Penitentiary and schools in the East Bay like Castlemont High, Fremont High and Berkeley High—which attempts to dissuade from the deep-rooted punitive justice system. The implementation of RJ in high schools throughout the East Bay have pioneered the restorative justice movement by cutting down on suspension and expulsion rates to assist in the dismantling of the school-to-prison-pipeline. The purpose of RJ in prisons is to assist with the prisoner’s rehabilitation and reintegration into society, when applicable. Thus far, the proven methods of RJ is to allows victims to take an active role in the process and encourage offenders to take responsibility for their actions to repair the harm they have done, and this has worked in two extremes: in schools with children and in prison with adults. Therefore, it would not be completely absurd for the university system to adopt similar strategies.
As a university student—within the CalGreek system, the Latino/a community and the overall student population—I suggest taking restorative action for the communities involved in harmful acts on campus, both harm-doers and harm-receivers. The term restorative justice might be a little extremist to the type of student issues I am addressing (although everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion) because the acts that students, and evidently certain Greek organizations, have taken part in are not cruel injustices—but they are harmful acts that need repair.
Furthermore, demanding people to apologize for acts they might not yet see as harmful perpetuates the cycle of punitive justice because the “offenders” will not have the opportunity to thoroughly understand the impact of their actions. More importantly, the harm caused to communities on campus by hosting racially offensive parties, or to individuals on campus by using racially/sexually offensive language, can be approached as lessons to learn. A slap on the wrist is avoided if we begin taking restorative actions.
It is time to use UC Berkeley’s global reputation as the top public university in the United States and increasingly diverse campus to our—students of color—advantage; to not just shed light on why we are offended with certain individuals’ acts but to propose solutions and take the appropriate steps in repairing the harm done unto us.