By Claire Walla
Alette Kendrick is not an icon.
Put simply, she is a third-year history major at UC Santa Cruz. But over the past six months, her name has undergone a complex transformation.
Despite pleading “no contest” to two misdemeanor accounts for her actions at the Regents protest last October, her name has been a rallying cry for students who feel that university charges speak more of institutionalized racism than due process.
Kendrick declined numerous requests for an interview, but In a personal narrative she drafted last month, Kendrick wrote that race is an integral part of why she was arrested and consequently charged with such a harsh university sentence.
“This university has shown time and time again that supporting and sustaining communities of color on this campus is NOT a priority concern for them; and that in fact, the university creates and perpetuates a hostile environment towards these communities,” she wrote.
The case is not easy to make sense of (see story, pg. 18), but the cold hard facts are layered with rhetoric.
Three students were arrested at the Oct. 18 Regents protest. Two students were white, and the maximum punishment between them was one quarter of academic probation. The third student, Alette Kendrick, was African-American. She received a three-year UC suspension.
At a rally held May 24, hundreds of people gathered in the courtyard outside of Kerr Hall — where the chancellor keeps his office — to oppose Kendrick’s suspension.
Associate Professor of Community Studies Paul Ortiz was among the protestors.
“What a three-year suspension means in an era of constantly rising university fees is that your educational career is in dire straits,” he said later, in an interview with City on a Hill Press (CHP). “A three-year suspension is the same as expulsion.”
Ortiz, who arrived at the Humanities Lecture Hall in October after Kendrick was arrested, firmly believes that her arrest is tied to institutionalized racism.
“As a historian, I live in a fact-based world. I can’t get up and say this incident is racist unless I believe in it and can back that up,” he said. According to Ortiz, the facts are clear.
“I’m waiting for the other side to tell me why there isn’t a case for racism except for the fact that we won’t talk about race,” he said. “If they can present me with facts, that would be great.”
Ortiz continued to say that the notion that race is not involved in this case is “absurd,” because the case speaks to issues that extend far beyond Kendrick herself and the details of what she did at the protest.
Fourth-year student Matt Jones, who chaired the Student Union Assembly in 2002, attended the rally in solidarity with Alette; as an African-American student, he takes issue with the administration’s lack of communication with the community of students of color.
He recognizes the importance of Alette as a symbol, but said, “It sucks that we have to use our own bodies to sacrifice for [promoting the lack of diversity on campus].”
Students of color at the university are far out-numbered by white students on campus, a demographic that makes up about 52 percent of the undergraduate student p. This figure puts UCSC ahead of all other UC campuses in terms of the white student population.
In addition, African Americans make up only 2.6 percent of all undergraduates, while the American Indian population bottoms out at only 0.7 percent. And while the state projects that Chicano/Latino high school graduates will surpass the number of white high school graduates by the 2007/2008 academic year, the population at UCSC is only 15.6 percent.
As a student of color, Jones said that he has received very little support from the university, which has forced him and other students of color to create their own communities within the university. This has been empowering, Jones said, but the lack of administrative support is frustrating.
Despite the fact that Jones only needs a few more classes in order to graduate, he has seriously considered transferring because he would rather receive his degree from another school. “There is nothing here that I want to be a part of anymore,” Jones said.
He continued, “It’s true, I could have done more to ask for assistance, but at the same time the aid that I needed from the faculty wasn’t there. It’s great [for students] to create on our own, but I felt like I was almost being told that I should take time off, that I should leave.”
On the other hand, Jones said that Acting Chancellor George Blumenthal has been very supportive of diversity on campus.
In an interview with CHP, Blumenthal said that there isn’t enough diversity on campus.
Blumenthal added that this is in part due to the quality of the state’s K-12 schools, the university admissions process, “and yes, probably to the environment on our campus, in terms of our ability to provide services to the breadth of students that we have; and in some cases [there is] perhaps a feeling [among students] of [not] finding a place where there’s a supportive environment.”
However, the chancellor is not aware of any UC policy that is inherently racist.
“If there’s a policy that we’re following that’s fundamentally racist, I’d want to know about it,” he said. “I’d work to stop that policy.”
But Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a former student of Blumenthal’s, is outraged that the administration has failed to recognize the racist implications in Kendrick’s arrest and sentencing.
In a statement she sent to the chancellor and well as Doug Zuidema (director of judicial affairs), Prescod-Weinstein wrote that she was “embarrassed” for the university, for proceeding with a process that highlights racism.
Prescod-Weinstein noticed that institutionalized racism was a problem on campus. She came to UCSC after studying as an undergraduate student at Harvard. “UCSC made Harvard look like Africa,” she said.
She left the university last year after two years of study—for reasons unrelated to issues of race—but said that she was excited to enter a more diverse community.
Prescod-Weinstein was also an organizer during her time at UCSC and knew Alette Kendrick well, and knew how outspoken she was as an activist. She admitted that she will never know for sure whether or not Kendrick’s arrest was race-based, but she believes it’s very probable.
“The message it sends is, should you make any mistakes, you will be rendered incapable of contributing to the university,” she said. “I don’t think that would have happened if she was a white male.”
With cuts to outreach further crippling the effort to attract and retain students of color at UCSC, students interested in these efforts have clung to the efforts of Engaging Education (E-squared), an organization founded and run entirely by students. The purpose of the organization is to put effort into outreach and retention for students of color.
Since its founding, the chancellor has offered matching funds to support the organization each year.
But with limited administrative support, E-squared Co-Chair Patrick Fernandez believes that student-initiated outreach is necessary for making the campus more welcoming for students of color.
Fernandez said that UCSC can be a culture shock for some because of the disproportion between the amount of white students and students of color.
“Sometimes [when I’m on the bus] I’ll take a look at the demographic of the people around me and I won’t see a single student of color,” he said.
This is why activism is necessary, he continued. “It all boils down to that struggle for equality. We’re not doing this to rag on the administration, we do this because we believe that as students of color we have gone though a history of struggle that needs to be remedied through activism, education, and empowerment of our community.”
Faculty have also felt marginalized at UCSC.
Both Jones and Fernandez point to the American Studies Department, which saw the departure of two prominent professors last year: George Lipsitz and Tricia Rose, both of whom taught ethnic studies courses.
According to Fernandez, “These faculty of color were very strong allies to our students and organizing communities and there was a lack of effort to retain them on this campus. Faculty like that retain students of color and that’s a very big issue in itself.”
Jeremy Karafin, a UCSC alumnus (’05) who now works for the university, recalls witnessing race problems within faculty when he was a student. Though he didn’t feel comfortable listing several names, Karafin said that he knew faculty members of color who were very uncomfortable at the university for issues alluding to racism. “In Theatre Arts, specifically,” he said. “There were big issues with the attempt to fire Alma Martinez, because it made students of color feel like they didn’t have a place.”
These actions have created a rift between students, faculty and administration.
You see that in department after department, Karafin said, and those messages—whether intentional or not—are not doing anything to make students of color feel accepted.
“It hurts the students on another level; it’s hard for students to recognize honest attempts by the university to reach out when there’s no trust between the two,” Karafin said.
As far as Kendrick goes, Karafin said that it almost no longer matters whether she is guilty or not.
“If there was a mutual trust and respect, this wouldn’t be an issue; it’s pointing to a larger issue. It’s the perception that students have of the university and the structure because there’s no trust.”
To Karafin, a good starting place for mending this rift might be the proposed Ethnic Studies Department.
The absence of an ethnic studies major on campus has been a point of contention for communities of color since the university was founded. A student-led hunger strike in 1981 led to the promise of this major but, 26 years later, that promise has never been fultilled.
Lilia Reynoso, third-year student and a member of the Ethnic Studies Committee, believes that the major is an integral part of the community of color on campus.
As a student of color, Reynoso spoke to City on a Hill Press of feeling ostracized by the administration.
“I have been dealing with racism my whole life, but I have never faced it as blatant and obvious as when I came to this university,” she said.
Reynoso was initially very excited to come to UCSC because she had heard from friends that it was “such a progressive school.” But she has yet to see this manifest.
“It’s really difficult to maintain being here, knowing that,” she said.
Last year, Reynoso said, “I did go through a pretty big depression; I was so hurt [by the lack of diversity on campus]. Last year my grades were terrible and now I have to stay a quarter longer to make up for that.”
She is making efforts to improve issues of race on campus, but she said it is very difficult to do.
“The rally last week really showed a lot of unity among workers, faculty and graduate students. But there are still so many students on campus who weren’t at the rallyâ€¦ there are still a lot of students who hear Alette’s case and wonder why it’s racist.
“How do you expose people to all of this?”
The frustration Reynoso and many students of color at UCSC have with voicing their concerns alludes to much larger problems than they see existing on campus.
After a list of scheduled speakers presented their arguments in front of the crowd of students and faculty on May 24, Katie Davalos addressed the crowd.
The second-year UC Davis student had been released from jail just 20 hours before she spoke at the rally; she and a group of students sat down in the lobby of the Chancellor’s office to demand that all food service workers on the campus be given UC jobs, because they are currently mistreated by Sodexho, the company for which they currently work.
Davalos wanted to tell the crowd at UCSC that they are not alone; issues of inequality span the UC system.
“It’s completely ridiculous to think that we’re all alone, and for school’s to think that it’s just one person [like Alette Kendrick], or even one city,” she said in an interview with City on a Hill Press. “They’re wrong,” she concluded. “And we want to see change.”
After reflecting on her experience as a graduate student at UCSC, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein related the case surrounding Alette Kendrick to a larger, cultural problem.
With the absence of Affirmative Action, there has been a motion to view race and ethnicity through “colorblind” eyes.
This is where the problem begins.
“If you don’t see color, then you don’t see me,” she said. “Because my skin has color.”
_Additional reporting done by Will Norton-Mosher and Jose San Mateo_