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To many marginalized students across the globe, attending college in California sounds like a dream come true. In California, it’s presumed that students study under sunny palm trees in a progressive, utopian paradise, where the sun is always shining and ignorance is no more.
When I got accepted to Stanford University a few months ago, I talked to other prospective students from across the nation about why they applied to the school. A few high school seniors from rural regions in the United States told me how they could not wait to move to liberal California and escape the constant Confederate flags and displays of racism they encountered in their conservative towns.
These comments made little sense to me. Where I live in San Diego County, you can certainly find Confederate flags, not to mention KKK hoods. During the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020, a local business tried to put up a sign in support of the movement, only to then get shot at by a man with a BB gun. Racism is not confined to rural areas or the south. It is certainly abundant in my affluent, beach-side town in Southern California.
But beyond these incidents local to me, it seems that California has a larger issue with racism within its colleges and universities across the state — the same colleges and universities that marginalized students hope will provide them with not only education but also tolerance and diversity.
At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a university-owned house displayed a Confederate flag, a noose, and a “No n**gers” sign, along with a homophobic slur. At Stanford, a woman pushed an Asian student off of her bicycle before yelling racist remarks at her. At UC Davis, neo-Nazi and white supremacy posters were found posted on campus. On social media, an Instagram account posted white supremacy propaganda while claiming ties to UCSD.
These are just the incidents formally documented. After the uprising of Black Lives Matter protests beginning in May 2020, Instagram accounts like @dearpwi emerged to document the racism students of color experience at predominantly white universities. The account @blackatucdavis documented a noose along with a note with “KKK” written on it on the Black students floor at UC Davis. The page @black_at_usc has over 500 posts of racist incidents from the University of Southern California.
At California’s universities, students of color are expected to learn while surrounded by people who despise their very existence on the basis of their race. Encountering racist incidents at college strains the mental health of students of color who deserve to learn in an inclusive environment.
Universities post performative statements claiming to stand against hatred and racism but fail to follow through with their actions. Colleges must hold students accountable for racist actions with restorative justice policies implemented in a school setting to repair the harm created by discrimination. Schools should also hire diverse employees in all school departments, including administrators, professors and mental health counselors.
This commitment to combating racism on school campuses should also be sustained, rather than just implemented when current events encourage it. Universities should reflect upon and evaluate the success of their anti-discrimination reforms and adjust accordingly to ensure their effectiveness.
The accepting paradise that many marginalized high school students dream of when imagining attending college in California can one day be a reality, but it won’t happen without active work on the parts of school administrators to combat discrimination.
With these efforts, California universities can work towards a world where moving to attend college in California really does just mean studying under sunny palm trees in a progressive, utopian paradise, where the sun is always shining and ignorance is no more.