Racial Tensions Surface at Pepperdine

As racial unrest brews at college campuses across the nation, notably at the University of Missouri, a group of about 100 Pepperdine University undergraduate students participated in a peaceful demonstration on Friday, Nov. 13, as a way to raise awareness over the racial unrest that spread to the Malibu campus in October.

The protest lasted from approximately 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., according to Pepperdine’s student newspaper, The Graphic, and was largely spurred by anonymous racist statements published on the Pepperdine page of popular college social site Yik Yak.

“The administration could be more responsive and address different social issues that are happening on campus — specifically the Yik Yak situation,” one of the protest’s organizers, Seaver College junior Anthony Sanford, told The Graphic on Friday. “We thought that the response was not adequate and that many students on campus still aren’t aware of what happened.”

On October 23, images from Yik Yak, a site that allows anonymous posts that can be read by anyone within a certain geographical distance, began to circulate on Pepperdine social media.

“The black lives matter movement is just an excuse for minorities to pull the race card and justify acting like thugs and attacking the brave men who keep US citizens safe #bluelivesmatter,” read the original post, which allegedly was sent in the geographical area of Pepperdine University.

“No way … black people not only kill eachother [sic] but they kill regular people too. They are animals,” read a response to the post.

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Both posts were sent to Pepperdine University President Andrew K. Benton’s Twitter account.

In response to what protesters saw as a lack of engagement on the part of university administration and staff, students gathered in the campus cafeteria, the Waves Cafe, before moving to the Thornton Administrative Center, holding signs and distributing a flyer with a list of demands, a photo of which was later released by The Graphic.

“We are calling on Pepperdine University Senior Administration to appropriately acknowledge the concerned sentiments of minority students at Seaver College,” the pamphlet read. “We deem appropriate acknowledgement constitutes in the form of Senior Administration implementing at least one of the following mandates.”

The flyer then provided a list of five directives: prohibit Yik Yak on University-provided Internet servers or WiFi connections; mandate all students, faculty and staff to complete cultural sensitivity and diversity training; permanent removal of a Christopher Columbus statue from campus; permanent removal of a mural located next to the Waves Cafe fireplace and the addition of a GedEd requirement for a course on diversity and inclusion.

In response to the sit-in, Benton delivered an address to the Pepperdine community on Monday evening, Nov. 16, during which he spoke about kicking off a more open dialogue about race and diversity on campus. 

Outside press was forbidden from the event, which drew a standing-room-only crowd to Pepperdine’s 449-seat Smothers Theatre, according to Laura Graziano, a Pepperdine Junior who spoke to The Malibu Times about the event.

“He did address the sit-in — kind of generally though — saying how he was really proud of how they all turned out, but he didn’t really address the specifics of what the students were hoping to get out of the sit-in,” Graziano recalled. Benton’s words did seem to calm the student body, Graziano said, describing that Benton said more work is to be done.

“I think that [discussion of changes] will come in the future, but he left it open-ended in the sense that he was hoping it would be the first of an ongoing discussion of these issues,” Graziano said.

“I think from now on it will be easier for these voices to be heard because that was his intent based on his statements last night,” Graziano added.

On Tuesday evening, Pepperdine staff released a recording of the address.

“Forgive me in advance if this initial message is not enough,” Benton told the students, adding, “but important to me is that next time, I will be listening to you.”

Pepperdine University, which has an undergraduate population of about 3,500, is affiliated with the Church of Christ. The school is comprised of 42.31 percent white students, with Hispanic/Latino students making up 15.49 percent of the student body and Asians coming in at 13.91 percent. Black or African American students make up 6.76 percent of students, according to Forbes.

This is more diverse than comparable private universities located nearby. California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks has a student body that is 52.22 percent white. Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles has a student body that is 48.69 percent white.

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