Through my involvement with the Community Programs Office through the SPACE project, the campaign for the diversity requirement has become increasingly significant for me. I am thankful to be a part of a strong community, Samahang Pilipino and the Community Programs Office, that supports as well as understands the need for relevant education. This community is not only full of passionate individuals driven for social change, but also compassionate people with a deep love for the community. This was evident both in preparation and during the actual execution of the Ethnic Studies Symposium. This quarter was truly instrumental in my own personal growth and development in my understanding and appreciation of what it means to be part of the greater community of people of underrepresented communities and communities of color. This class as a whole was an empowering, uplifting space, and the Ethnic Studies Symposium was the crowning event.
My first exposure to the diversity requirement was through the diversity rally that occurred last year. I remember the rallying cries of the students and one of the speakers, the late Professor John Deloro. I remember the call for simple understanding of other communities in order to stop perpetuating the discrimination and hate towards people who are different from you. It resonated with me as it did for many because of the intense climate on campus last year. Last year was a difficult year for me, as I’m sure it was for the majority of our community. Each year is hard for students in terms of the pervasive issues that effect us as students. Unfortunately, budget cuts are not new. Stories of racism and hate crimes are not new. However, last year was particularly painful. It was the year in which I participated in more rallies than I ever had. It was the year I first considered myself truly passionately and deeply involved with the political climate on campus. The year before I had only gained a superficial understanding of what it meant to be an activist. That year I had it branded inside of me when I was tased during the Budget Cuts Rally on November 19. I know I wasn’t directly meant to be tased. I know it was only because I was linking arms with my friend who was an African American male, that I experienced that sharp pain in my arm that at once struck me with confusion and disbelief. There is nothing that can refute my understanding that it was a real act of racism. No one can convince me that it wasn’t because he was black that he got tased. That was the moment when the word oppression in terms of privilege and violence towards any attempt to change it was as real as it can get.
That event comes to my mind vividly now as I reflect upon the Ethnic Studies Symposium because the skit I helped create along with Tlaloc Vasquez and Haidar Anwar ignited those feelings that rose up from that event. The skit was more powerful than we could have ever hoped. Even as we were planning it and practicing it, it didn’t quite hit home until we did it on stage. Tequila Sunrise and other ignorant, blatantly racist mockeries of ethnic groups feigning as parties, African American males being victims of police brutality, Muslim women having their Hijabs ripped off, queer couples having to hide their sexuality lest they be attacked, violence of all kinds towards women, and the misunderstanding, fear, and isolation undocumented immigrants have to face—these are all realities that are heartbreaking and uncomfortable. The song choice of Creep by Radiohead for the whole skit was instantaneous. As soon as the idea occurred, it struck us how perfect it was to depict the alienation and rawness of these realities. The words, “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here,” continue to resonate.
It is because too many people don’t feel like they belong in the larger society or at institutions like UCLA that it is important to have the diversity requirement. Although the diversity requirement is definitely not the end all solution and it hurts the campaign to claim it as such, the diversity requirement can help. And any form of help is worth advocating for. At the very least, it can make an individual feel a little more like they actually belong somewhere, and in reality that is worth so much. Every person and their experience is special. To not acknowledge or validate the histories and experiences of entire communities is a travesty. To institutionalize an understanding of diversity is to honor those diverse histories and experiences. The diversity requirement is important because it is a concrete and effective way to legitimize discussions of race, religion, gender, and sexuality that too often get ignored.