Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Message Rebuffed.Hate Mail Incidents at Berkeley's Boalt Hall School Single out Minority Students

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Message Rebuffed.Hate Mail Incidents at Berkeley's Boalt Hall School Single out Minority Students

Article excerpt

Message Rebuffed...Hate Mail Incidents at Berkeley's Boalt Hall. School Single Out Minority Students

by Anita M. Seline

Hate mail stuffed into the mailboxes of minority law students at Boalt Hall, the law school of the University of California at Berkeley, has, ironically, prompted calls for more diversity and a more aggressive defense of affirmative action on campus.

Twice within three months, over two dozen students received leaflets that bashed the school's affirmative-action policies and used epithets to describe African American, Latino and Asian students.

One flier read: "When I see you in class, it bugs the hell out of me because your [sic] taking the seat of someone qualified." Another, "You belong at Coolie High Law don't you forget." The "messages" were unsigned.

The first incident involved unsigned fliers that said, "Affirmative Action sucks."

The fliers, students said, are another indication of the growing tension at the school -- which has few tenured professors of color. Duane Valz, a second-year law student, said the hate mail reminded minority students "of the need" to defend affirmative action against "racist forces." He cited passage of Proposition 187 -- a ballot initiative that was approved by Californians last November to cut off social services to illegal immigrants -- and the drafting of a ballot initiative that could end all state affirmative-action programs.

The initiative, proposed by Glynn Custred, a California State University anthropologist, and Thomas Wood, executive director of the conservative group California Association of Scholars, is called the "California Civil Rights Initiative." It will be placed on the ballot in 1996, and calls for an amendment of the state's constitution to prohibit state and local governments from giving preference to women and minorities in jobs, promotions, contracts and college admissions.

Affirmative Action Assault

Affirmative action is one of a number of cutting-edge national issues shaping up a hot debate in the 1996 general elections. It is seen as "reverse discrimination" on white men. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX), who recently announced his bid for the presidency, has as part of his platform antiaffirmative action proposals. Aware of increasing Republican attacks on the 30-year-old remedy to redress past discrimination against women and minorities, Democrats are being forced to talk about compromise.

The backlash against affirmative action has become a preoccupation on Capital Hill and even in the White House. Led by Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, many Republicans are calling for a "colorblind" approach in hiring. Even President Clinton has called for a "top to bottom" review of affirmative action programs.

"This series of events has been very timely," Valz said. "It's been a wake-up call for us . . . in reacting to the second round of mail. . . . [It] drove home the point that the struggle isn't over."

After the second set of flies was discovered in February, students met with the administration and demanded the law school hire a more diverse faculty and create a new faculty position for an assistant dean for multicultural affairs.

But students fear that initial progress with the administration has appeared to have disintegrated. "The administration has reacted very administratively," said Dirk Tillotson, a third-year student at Boalt Hall.

Tillotson said the administration faltered after students found out about the December incident on the first day of finals. A school-wide meeting was called to discuss the incident, but attendance was not mandatory, he said. …

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