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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Students Complain of Disparate Treatment of Minorities At Campus Concert Events

Last Thursday, a performer, Dahlak Brathwaite, a UC Davis student and a hip-hop performer was forced to shut down his own concert at the Coffee House under what is being claimed as discriminatory practices by the head of Cal Aggie Hosts, Chuck Coulton.

Chuck Coulton works under the UC Davis Police Department to provide safety, security, and hospitality to a number of events each year including concerts, sporting events, and major events such as Picnic Day and the Whole Earth Festival. He is official a dispatch, not a sworn officer but answering to the police chief, Annette Spiccuzza.

At a meeting at the Cross-Cultural Center, around 8 students met and charged that Coulton and the Cal Aggie Hosts engaged in discriminatory practices.

In an open letter from the performer, Dahlak Brathwaite, the Cal Aggie Host concluded that the show was at capacity and they were concerned that problems would arise if people got turned away after the show was at capacity. Mr. Brathwaite was given the option of a different venue or to ticket the event. While neither of these options were good, he chose to ticket the event (still for free).

It was at this point that problems began to arise. The university instituted a one ticket limit on tickets, which is according to the students at the meeting, was not a usual practice. They refused to allow people in without tickets or who appeared after 8:30. This despite the fact that this information was not printed on the tickets.

Former ASUCD Senator Christine Rogers questioned the policy, particularly of not allowing non-ticketed people in.
“You could look into the coffee house and see that it was less than half full and then there were about thirty people outside who couldn’t get into the concert. If you are not going to allow non-ticketed people to get into a free concert, why do you have a non-ticket line outside?”
Theresa Montemayor, assistant director for Campus Unions, admitted to the California Aggie that this was problematic.
"We shouldn't have created the expectation that students without tickets would be let in."
However, she defended the overall policy,
"If the room got too full there was some concern that the crowd would push into the performers. We were concerned for the performer's safety."
Furthermore, there were complaints of patdowns, which according to the students, is again not usual policy. Devon Lee, who organized the meeting on Monday, said the pat down at the door was superficial. He also described it as "needless," not necessary nor done before. They of course did not check every person who entered the coffeehouse but rather they only checked people with baggy pants or with hats.

As Ms. Rogers said,
“It was definitely selective because a lot of people going through the doors were not getting patted down.”
The deejay was told to slow down the beat, the crowd was too “hyphy.” Suggesting that if the beat were to fast, th crowd would be whipped into some sort of uncontrollable frenzy.

There was a large emphasis at the meeting of instituting uniform security procedures. However, the other complaint was really that many of the procedures seemed to be implemented on the fly, so that neither the performer nor the concert goers knew in advance what would be expected of them and how to proceed.

The most unfortunate aspect of this event is that family members and close friends of the performer were prevented from entry. All of these procedures seemed needless to the students who could clearly see that there was only a few people actually in the coffee house. At this point, the security should have been able to relax their procedures and allow people inside until the room was at capacity--which would not have been an issue at all.

The students are now complaining of discrimination and racism in the disparate treatment of some acts over others. Most concerts have very little security, even for events that are at capacity. Why was this one, which was nowhere near capacity and yet they had massive security. People were not let into the concert and people were turned away despite the room being less than half full.

As Ms. Rogers suggested,
“It was a simple problem and he did not handle it professionally as a university employee.”
Someone else said,
“Chuck himself is discriminatory of people of color, to the hip-hop element.”
Dahlak Brathwaite writes:
"I was fully conscious of the subtle discrimination that was happening but being desperate to throw my own show on MY campus, I played their game. I went along with their interrogation thinking that it would only effect me. After seeing people I knew and loved being harassed at the door or turned away while asking my crewmembers to perform to a near empty CoHo, I could no longer turn my face to the long tradition of discrimination against Hip-Hop occurring at my school. I decided to stand up then and I’m committed to standing up until change comes.

I demand a consistent and thorough protocol for all music events that occur on campus. This protocol should set guidelines according to venue, event size, and time but not music genre. This demand is simple, specific, and reasonable but change will not happen unless the people are united in this. I have no intentions nor desire to get anyone fired. My aim is to raise the consciousness of this discriminatory process that takes place on our campus as well as nightclubs and other venues in the Northern California region. This incident is a microcosm of macro problem and I can only hope that it will catalyze further action to address this issue elsewhere."
Does discrimination explain the disparate treatment by some performers and some audiences over others? Or is the university simply reacting to the perception of the need for security? Or is it a bit of both, that racial stereotypes are driving that perceived need for differential security?

It seems that the simple answer to this problem would be for the university to adopt a written protocol that specifies how the security arrangement will be handled for all concerts and then adheres to those rules. From the description that the students and the performer provided, this process broke down because the rules instituted on the concert at a late point in time were probably unnecessary and then the Cal Aggie Host decided to change these rules as he went along, leaving both the performer and the students frustrated because the rules seemed to keep changing.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting