Ana Karen Manjarrez shook as she stood in front of a crowd of about 50 people and recalled waking up at 2 a.m. one night last year to what she thought were gunshots. She was responsible for 12 high school students visiting the campus during their overnight stay at the Crown apartments. It took her a couple minutes to realize the sound wasn’t gunshots, but firecrackers thrown into the room through a peephole.
This experience occurred when Manjarrez chaperoned for Oportunidades Rumbo A La Educación (O.R.A.L.E.), a three-day outreach program aimed at Chican@/Latin@ students. This recollection was only the beginning of her personal account of the campus climate at UCSC that opened Engaging Education’s annual Speaker Blowout on Tuesday. The idea of a post-racial society, Manjarrez said, follows her everyday.
“In reality, once I leave the classroom, I’m still living and negotiating this notion of a post-racial society outside of academia, while other students can leave the classroom and not worry about the conversation and how it affects them,” Manjarrez said to the audience.
Engaging Education (E²), a center for student initiated outreach and retention in higher education, hosts a variety of programs including student-directed seminars, yield programs aimed at students from underrepresented communities and mentorship programs. Speaker Blowout is an annual event by E², inviting scholars, artists, activists and performers to address a topic that affects students at UCSC, especially students of color.
Dr. Sumi Cho, professor of law at DePaul University College of Law, spoke about the myth of the post-racial society and how it affects people of color. Cho looked at areas such as wealth, housing, education, incarceration and for college students specifically, the job market. She said even Santa Cruz — the “touchy-feely, environmentally friendly, liberal environment” — can make it more difficult to identify racism.
Dr. Cho writes and teaches Critical Race Theory, Employment Discrimination, Racism and U.S. Law and speaks nationally about affirmative action, sexual harassment and racial profiling. Dr. Cho has a Ph.D. in ethnic studies and a JD from University of California, Berkeley.
“Post-racial reflects a belief that because significant racial progress has been made, the state no longer needs to engage in race-based decision making or adopt race-based remedies,” Dr. Cho said to the audience.
Entering a post-racial era has meant more implicit bias, or what she called “dogwhistle racism” — racism that cannot be easily detected, but reinforces stereotypes for a particular group of people who are tuned in. She said having this conversation on college campuses is important because the ideology of post-racialism is affecting younger people.
“I think post-racialism is aimed at the college generation,” Dr. Cho said in an interview after her speech. “Colorblindess was the ideology treaded out from my generation, but we largely rejected it, and so this is the attempt to get it right and do it better.”
As Engaging Education celebrates its 10th anniversary, program coordinators Victor Velasco and Monica Cordova said the Speaker Blowout opens up a dialogue usually held behind closed doors.
“Events like these are needed because it highlights the disparities students of color are facing in this university and I feel events like this challenge both students and administration,” Cordova said. “For students, it raises the question of what role are you taking to combat these issues. For administration, it challenges them because if we’re bringing up this topic then it’s something that is obviously a concern that hasn’t been addressed yet.”
Going forward, Velasco said post-racialism happens at several different levels, including conversations with faculty, staff and administration. He said organizing across various communities on campus would be more effective for students than trying to create change individually.
“I hope this dialogue continues,” Velasco said, “as well as students collaborating between different communities to continue these actions to make our voices and struggle more evident.”