Campus Confidential

Adventures in higher learning

A Little Less Invisible

Undocumented students rally after El Centro is vandalized.

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The offending message at El Centro on the UCSB campus. (Pedro Leon)

There is something special about Building 406, or El Centro Arnulfo Casillas, the two-story, withered building behind Davidson Library on the UC Santa Barbara campus. If you’re not looking for it, it’s easy to miss. El Centro’s entrance sinks a couple of feet below ground level, so the top of the structure peaks over its grassy surroundings like a timid creature in a green sea.

For most students at UCSB, El Centro is almost invisible: They don’t know what it’s for or why it’s here. Many of the undocumented students on campus feel similarly overlooked or misunderstood by the larger student body. That is why El Centro, the central gathering place for undocumented students and campus headquarters for IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success), a student-run organization supporting undocumented students and promoting immigrant rights, is such a valued place. It’s become a safe haven for those whose status often leaves them feeling relegated to the margins of campus life.

As has been reported, that safe haven was violated on Sunday morning, August 4, when fourth-year psychology major and black studies minor Pedro Leon found the following message scrawled on the glass-door entrance to El Centro: Deportation = Justice. Deport Illegals NOW!

For an undocumented student like Leon, a former co-chair of IDEAS (an organization to which I belong), the message was a slap in the face. Leon snapped a picture of the scrawl and quickly uploaded it to IDEAS’ closed-group Facebook page.

Is this what this campus has to offer?” his caption read. “How can people say that racism on campus does not exist? We need to do something about this.” Leon then wiped the glass door clean of the offending message.

The vandalizing of El Centro spurred IDEAS’ leaders to push for more inclusivity on campus and within the larger UC system. Over the summer, the organization worked on “A Resolution in Support of Undocumented Students and Immigrant Communities,” intended to raise awareness of undocumented students’ legal presence on the 10-campus system and facilitate their integration into student life. The group also endorsed the “No Confidence” movement spreading to various UC campuses, which declares no confidence in new UC President Janet Napolitano’s ability to fulfill the University of California’s mission statement.

That statement promises “to serve society as a center of higher learning, providing long-term societal benefits through transmitting advanced knowledge…[through] education, research, and other kinds of public service.” Napolitano’s role in the record number of federal deportations during her tenure as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security had some questioning her commitment to those ideals.

Damn. That’s all I thought. Just, damn.

Immigration rights groups have criticized the Secure Communities program initiated by Napolitano when she ran the department. Opponents say Secure Communities, which relies on local jurisdictions providing information to the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, encourages racial profiling and ignores probable cause and equal-protection rights.

On October 1, IDEAS co-chair Gloria Campos and nine other students from different UC campuses met with Napolitano in her Oakland, Calif. office to discuss IDEAS’ resolution. The students called for Napolitano to hold mandatory trainings for University of California police on the rights of undocumented students, train UC staff on undocumented student issues—difficulties in navigating the system, assimilation into American culture, accepting their status, among others—and to implement a for-credit course on those issues. They also called on Napolitano to improve outreach to undocumented high school students and to support the Trust Act. The Trust Act was recently signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown and limits California’s cooperation with Secure Communities.

According to Campos, Napolitano listened and promised to “review the demands.” The students hope to meet with the UC president again before the fall quarter ends in early December.

At UCSB, the resolution was presented to the Associated Students Senate, which deliberated the matter for two consecutive meetings. The senate finally rejected the amendment on October 9. Twelve members voted in its favor and only nine opposed it, but a two-thirds majority is required for it to be adopted by the senate.

One student senator said the resolution represented too few students—116 undocumented students on a campus of 20,000. Another argued that the demands were not part of Napolitano’s job description. Other senate members did not oppose the resolution entirely and suggested several modifications. Had it been approved, UCSB would have joined student senates at UC Berkeley and UC Irvine in declaring no confidence in Napolitano unless she met the resolution’s demands.

The mixed reaction was not surprising. Since the day of the attack at El Centro, IDEAS has received positive and negative attention. Hours after Leon uploaded pictures of the anti-immigrant message, IDEAS released a statement decrying discrimination—citing an alleged verbal attack on an undocumented student by a student senator, reminding students that El Centro is a “safe haven,” and protesting the appointment of Napolitano as UC President.

While several campus organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine, El Congreso (both users of El Centro), Student Coalition for Justice, the Human Rights Board, UCSB’s Equal Opportunity Program, professor of Chicano/Chicana Studies Ralph Armbruster and even students from UCLA and UC Berkeley supported IDEAS’ statements, others disagreed. Several students took to Facebook, where the statement was published, and to the Daily Nexus website in support of the pro-deportation message left by the vandal. One Daily Nexus commenter said the tagging was “a clean message attacking undocumented freeloaders. One person’s hate speech is another’s free speech.”

Another questioned the authenticity of the attack itself, pointing out that Leon was the only one who actually saw the message before he snapped a photo and wiped the glass door clean. “I suspect the culprit was themselves [sic] a Chicano Studies major attempting to drum up sympathy for their cause,” the person wrote. “Who else would even know about this building?

A

s Leon explains it, he went to El Centro at 9 a.m. on that August morning to study, but was distracted by what he saw on the sliding-glass door. Initially, he thought someone who frequents El Centro might have left a message saying something like, “Stop Deportation.” But then he read it.

“Damn. That’s all I thought,” Leon recalls. “Just, damn.”

Leon says the words, things he’d heard growing up, in the media and even from teachers, were particularly jarring to read at El Centro, the last place he expected to confront that sort of harassment.

When asked why he didn’t leave the tag intact for police to investigate, Leon says his reaction was instinctual and protective, similar to how one might feel if one’s home was violated. Mission and State compared photos of the message to Leon’s own handwriting, and while certainly not scientific, the samples don’t appear at all similar.

University police declined to classify the incident as a hate crime explaining that “illegal” is not a derogatory term. This surprised me, but I was even more surprised that someone would attack our organization. But maybe I shouldn’t have been. Students who disapprove of our advocacy work for immigrant rights or question undocumented students’ rights to even attend UCSB have approached IDEAS members in the past. And most undocumented students know what it’s like to go to the billing office, or financial aid, or the registrar and to awkwardly explain to a suspicious staff member that no, they do not have a social security number, and no, they do not qualify for student loans.

Acts like these only strengthen our solidarity and remind us that there is much work to be done.

But this was different. It was an attack on IDEAS’ home.

Chancellor Henry Yang and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young sent a campus-wide email on August 6, two days after the incident. The message condemned “acts of intolerance directed toward any member of our community” and went on to praise diversity on campus and encourage mutual respect.

A week after the vandalism, IDEAS leaders—including Leon, Campos and fellow co-chair Linda Gonzalez, as well as student leaders from organizations including El Congreso and Mujer met with Yang, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor Marc Fisher, and Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Academic Policy Maria Herrera-Sobek.

Yang said an investigation was underway and promised more frequent police patrols in the area, better lighting and to “include El Centro in the route of my own daily campus walks, mostly in the morning, late at night and during the daytime on weekends.”

I caught up with Gonzalez after the meeting. “[Chancellor Yang] seemed genuinely concerned about the situation,” she said. Then she started laughing and raised her right foot. “You know what he did? He put his leg over the table and showed us his tennis shoes. They were muddy. He actually patrols around campus!”

So far, the investigation hasn’t led anywhere. Sergeant David Millard of the UCSB Police Department says that while “the investigation is still pending,” there is not much that could be done unless another attack took place and further evidence was made available since there was none left at the scene of this incident.

As far as Gonzalez is concerned, “It’s not about catching this one person that put the writing on the door anymore. To me, it’s about addressing the way in which undocumented students are rendered invisible by our campus.”

The unintended outcome of the attack on El Centro, though, is that we’re a little less invisible since those mean-spirited words were written on our door. Acts like these only strengthen our solidarity and remind us that there is much work to be done. This act was not a setback—it was an encouragement.

36 comments on “A Little Less Invisible

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    Workbench tops with power strips also come in handy. Cabinets come on castors so you can take your tools to your project for easy access. It includes flooring, and plenty of cabinets of different configurations for storing your tools. The Automotive package will make you feel like you have a professional shop.

    It can be absolutely frustrating to need a place to set something down, only to find that every square inch is covered with stuff. They make workbenches that are spacious and heavy-duty. Plus, they are designed to be able to put Gladiator modules underneath for even more storage. Gladiator Garageworks helps do both. These benches can support up to 1,000 pounds because the frames are made out of steel. The solution is to either organize things, or to get more space. Having the right work surfaces and places to do projects in the garage is obviously one of the main concerns of anyone with a garage. The solid maple tops are both durable as well as attractive. Using workbenches is great because, by doing so, you create dedicated space for your project and repair needs.

    Well, those days are no more. You might remember from years gone by the old plywood cabinets that used to be so common in garages and sheds. Another Gladiator Garageworks product line that I think is particularly useful is their cabinets. These days people are more interested in steel and durability. They have tread plate doors. The cabinets put out by Gladiator Garageworks have fixed and adjustable shelves. They are designed to support hundreds of pounds and come in various widths, heights, and depths. Some even have heavy duty casters.

    Now that’s smart thinking. These are basically storage gear boxes on wheels that have drawers and/or shelves, and are under three feet tall. This means that these can be rolled in and out from under their workbenches. 24″ and 30″ wide sizes are available and are also constructed of heavy-duty steel and tread plate. To complement these cabinets, Gladiator has come up with what they call their “modular” boxes. If a smaller box on the wall is more your style, Gladiator GarageWorks makes those too.

    One of the nice things about Garagemaid products is that they are made out of a high density polyethylene so it is virtually impervious to problems that often arise from wood products when they get wet. It is an easily cleanable product that doesn’t have to be painted to look good. With high density polyethylene, things like rot, rust, or cracking are avoided all together.

    Any super organized system is going to cost some money; granted, some are very affordable and others are more expensive. But let’s face it, some people just don’t want to go to all that trouble! Let’s face it, not everybody has the desire, time or energy to set up a real nice and organized garage storage system in their garage or shop. I had a neighbor once who had his own garage storage solutions, I studied it a bit, asked him some questions to help me solve some of the mystery behind his thinking, and came up with some basic guidelines to what he does. And they all allow you to put everything you have in it’s own special little place. I call his system The Lazy Man’s Guide to Garage Storage, and here are some basics in a nutshell.

    Garages incline to being grimey, hot spaces so you have to retain that in your head before you set anything in that location. Any leftover paint and other chemical substances cannot be stacked away above or below a certain temperature. It is likewise crucial not to stack away any items in your garage which would become destroyed by being too hot or too cold. While storing lawn and garden equipment at that place is fine, you probably do not wish to store good linens or any items of sentimental value in that location. Recognizing what you ought not put in a garage is just as essential as recognizing what you should stack away in one. It will most probably get grimey and creatures might get into it and destroy it. Sustain that in your brain with your garage storage ideas.%

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  31. Dan says:

    Justice for what exactly?? Anybody ever hear of an unjust law? Just because somebody is convicted of breaking a criminal statute does not mean any type of justice has necessarily been served.

    And what about vandalism? Destruction of property? Where is the justice for that?

    People should think through their political protests a little first before making them public.

  32. BORIS C VERA says:

    Good article , is good to know whats happen in the US Universities Campus , Congrats !!!!

  33. BORIS C VERA says:

    Excellente article , its good to know whats happen in US Universities Campus , Congrats !!!

  34. Jenny says:

    Extraordinary!! You did a great job, congratulations….

  35. Ish says:

    First and foremost, thank you Nathalie for addressing & reporting such an unfortunate event. The article is very informative and educational. It not only addresses the often overlooked institutional racism that is prevalent within the UC system, especially in the Santa Barbara campus, but also serves as an incentive to organize and mobilize against such a system.

  36. Ariana says:

    This is amazing ! You really are good at what you do, I almost shed a tear

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