May 6, 2014
Last week, about 100 University of California Davis students staged a sit-in at the university-affiliated, student-run Coffee House in which they protested the facility's promotion of a Mexican-themed Cinco de Mayo drinking party they deemed racist. The event has since been canceled, reported The Sacramento Bee, but not before stirring racial tensions on a campus just ramping up its efforts to recruit more minority and international students.
The Mexican-themed drinking party, dubbed "Cinco de Drinko," was not a university-sanctioned event but was promoted by student employees of the Coffee House. Promotional images for the party included men wearing sombreros trying to hop a chain-link fence while other students, dressed as Border Patrol officers, looked on. Many members of the UC Davis community denounced the event -- and its marketing -- alleging strong racist connotations.
"These images are hurtful to our community and only serve to create a hostile campus climate by sending a message of disregard and disrespect for the Chican@/Latin@ and Undocumented/Immigrant campus community," UC Davis alumna Michelle Villegas said in a column she penned for the school's student newspaper, The Aggie.
School leaders also objected to the party and its imagery: Chancellor Linda Katehi told NBC affiliate KCRA 3 that the party was "totally against the values of the institution," and that the school is "totally against any efforts to stereotype anyone on the basis of race, religion or gender." UC Davis student body President Armando Figueroa agreed, denouncing racial depictions he called "extremely insensitive."
Controversy piqued last Friday when dozens of chanting protesters convened at the Coffee House wearing red shirts, reported The Sacramento Bee. Counter-protesters attended, too, several of whom donned sombreros. The sit-in prompted Katehi to promise to use education to prevent similar controversies in the future while also acknowledging that it would not always be easy.
"There's no way we can change them," Katehi said, gesturing to the students in sombreros. "It's up to the rest of us to make sure we move forward."
UC Davis student and counter-protester Jonathan Beatty told The Sacramento Bee that he believed protesters were "being overly sensitive" and that there is nothing racist about a drinking-themed party. He likened Cinco de Mayo to St. Patrick's Day, another cultural holiday popularly linked to alcohol consumption.
But in her column for The Aggie, Villegas objected to popular attempts to link the holiday -- historically a celebration of Mexico's victory over France in the Battle of Puebla some 150 years ago -- with drinking.
"This holiday is often manipulated by individuals who use inaccurate images of Mexican culture and affiliate it strongly with alcoholic consumption, despite the fact that there is no real correlation between the two," wrote Villegas.
Adela de la Torre, vice chancellor of student affairs, told The Sacramento Bee officials are investigating the incident. She said that Coffee House employees involved in the incident have already undergone diversity training and may be subject to additional internal sanctions.
Compiled by Aimee Hosler
"Guest Opinion: Cinco de Drinko," theaggie.org, April 30, 2014, Michelle Villegas, http://www.theaggie.org/2014/04/30/guest-opinion-cinco-de-drink/
"Students rally against perceived racism at UC Davis," kcra.com, May 2, 2014, Mike Luery, http://www.kcra.com/news/Students-rally-against-perceived-racism-at-UC-Davis/25784262#ixzz30kwK13ry
"UC Davis students protest racially insensitive party," sacbee.com, May 2, 2014, Richard Chang, http://www.sacbee.com/2014/05/02/6374182/uc-davis-students-protest-racially.html