After "Compton Cookout" scandal, UC San Diego seeks positive connection with Compton high schools
Los Angeles Times
May 3, 2010
High school students in Compton were upset in February when they heard that a group of UC San Diego students had mocked their hometown by holding a "Compton Cookout" party and inviting guests to come as "ghetto chicks" and gangsters.
"We weren't going to let them have the power to use our name. We weren't going to let it slide," recalled Compton High School senior Ernesto Villasenor, who will attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York in the fall.
Villasenor and other Compton High students sent an impassioned letter expressing their anger about the incident to UC San Diego, where it was read aloud by a Compton graduate at a campus protest. "This causes us to question how the attitudes of racism and mockery are perpetuated and condoned by a public university," the students wrote.
The letter launched a dialogue between very different worlds: the prestigious beachside university where blacks and Latinos make up about 15% of the student body, and the urban high school where last year 74% of students were Latino and 25% were black, and more than two-thirds were eligible for subsidized lunches.
From this tension, an academic alliance — and a measure of understanding — are emerging.
UC officials say they are trying to arrange scholarship funds to bring as many as 20 Compton High students to San Diego to attend the university's three-week summer program for teenagers. In addition, UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography plans to work with Compton High science teachers to develop special classes for subsequent summers and the regular school year, with UC faculty expected to visit Compton and Compton students expected to tour Scripps labs. Both sides hope to create a pipeline of Compton students to UC San Diego.
"The names of Compton and UCSD have been linked by this horrible issue. So we've been given an opportunity to take a negative and make a positive," said Scripps Director Tony Haymet. Some financial and planning details remain to be worked out, but he said he is optimistic those will be solved.
An Australian-born physical chemist, Haymet has driven up to Compton twice in recent weeks to meet with students and faculty at the high school, once bringing along Subway sandwiches for the teachers. At first the Compton participants were wary, concerned that Haymet and UC were looking only to ease the bad publicity sparked by the Feb. 15 party and subsequent racially-charged incidents. But students say he is now seen as genuinely interested in boosting the number of minority students in the sciences at UC San Diego.