Dr. David Yoo, director of the Asian American Studies Center, and Dr. Lane Hirabayashi, department chairman of Asian American studies, issued a joint statement this week observing that, “We still have much work to do before we can claim to live in a ‘post-racial’ society.”
A three-minute video originally posted on YouTube dubbed “Asians in the Library” has caused an uproar at the campus. In it, UCLA student Alexandra Wallace, who is White, complains that her Asian American peers talking on their cell phones in the library, interrupts her studies with language she characterized as “ching chong ling long ting tong.”
The phrase “ching chong” is considered an ethnic slur that historically mocked Chinese speaking patterns but sometimes has been aimed at other Asians. Asian Americans comprise the largest racial group among 26,000 UCLA undergraduates at 37 percent; Whites make up 32 percent.
Both UCLA scholars called on the administration “to respond institutionally since the video addresses larger issues of campus climate and culture.” They called the video rant “a travesty representing an attack on Asian and Asian American students and their families and undermining UCLA as a global university. This type of prejudice and use of derogatory words cannot be tolerated.” They urged the administration to implement a diversity requirement for students.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block released a statement on Monday afternoon saying he was “appalled” by Wallace’s comments and that her opinions do not reflect nor represent UCLA.
“I recoil when someone invokes the right of free expression to demean other individuals or groups. Speech that expresses intolerance is indefensible,” Block said.
Through the Daily Bruin student newspaper, Wallace issued an apology this week calling her video “inappropriate. If I could undo it, I would.”
Despite final exams this week at UCLA, which is ending its winter quarter, Yoo says he has yet to encounter any student or colleague who did not see the video and some of its Internet spinoffs, re-mixes and responses.
The Asian Pacific Coalition student organization released a statement calling for the UCLA community to refrain from “throwing out divisive words which only perpetuate a culture of racism and sexism.” The group also condemned the video as “ignorant and hateful.”
Colleges around the country have steadily added academic courses with a diversity component or global cultures aspect, requiring undergraduates to complete a certain number of credit hours as a graduation prerequisite.
In an interview with Diverse, Yoo says he was surprised to learn of the absence of this curriculum when he joined UCLA last year. “It’s somewhat odd,” he says. “I don’t believe you should make decisions based solely on what others are doing, but lots of schools are wrestling with similar issues. A diversity requirement isn’t a solution but a step in the right direction. It would at least signal a commitment to diversity.”
UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton confirmed that the school does not require its students to study diversity awareness.
Meanwhile, Hampton said UCLA administrators have been in contact with Wallace and are trying to determine whether her remarks violated the student conduct code, and if so, how to discipline her. He also said campus police are investigating multiple e-mail and phone messages that Wallace has since received to determine whether any of them “could be considered threats and therefore crimes.”