Friday night there was a stabbing and shooting in my
alma mater, UC Santa Barbara. I heard the news via facebook mere
minutes after a young man drove through the center of Isla Vista in a
black BMW shooting.
For those unfamiliar with the community, UC Santa
Barbara (UCSB) is adjacent to an area call Isla Vista which has just shy
of 2 square miles of unincorporated county land with no clear
governance. In this small beachside community 23 thousand students live –
most are UCSB students but there are also community college students
from Santa Barbara and other youth also live in the area. As an area
with almost entirely student residents and extremely high real-estate
prices most houses have 6-8 residents. Isla Vista is known for it’s
party life as students have much more freedom there than other
universities where there are more individuals living in dorms.
But returning to Friday night – as I sat watching
facebook and more facts emerged it was clear this wasn’t just random
carnage – yet the media has been slow to name this attack as what I see
it as: a hate crime against all women.
In a disturbing video that was on You Tube and since taken down the killer, Elliot Rodger, states his intent clearly:
“If I can’t have you girls, I will destroy you.
[laughs] You denied me a happy life and in turn I will deny all of you
life, it’s only fair. I hate all of you.
—All you girls who rejected me, looked down upon me,
you know, treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men.
And all of you men for living a better life than me, all of you sexually
active men. I hate you. I hate all of you. I can’t wait to give you
exactly what you deserve, annihilation.”
This is not a standard crime. This clearly wasn’t
just about one girl – it was about every member of the community. It was
meant to instill fear in all. A hate crime is a usually violent,
prejudice motivated crime and this fits the bill.
As the killer’s sexism was called out, online Men’s
Rights Activists rushed to say #NotAllMen are like this. However this
took the focus away from the fact that even if not all men are killers,
all women have experienced sexism, gendered bias and violent attacks
like this are common, and the hashtag #YesAllWomen began to trend.
#YesAllWomen bc every single woman I know has a story about a man feeling entitled to access to her body. Every. Single. One.
#YesAllWomen bc “Text me and let me know you got home safe” is standard, necessary and normal.
#YesAllWomen “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” – Margaret Atwood
As a national and international media jumped into
the coverage, as an alumni, I instead watched Facebook. I graduated from
the Film & Media Studies program and the annual Reel Loud Film
Festival meant I could expect many alumni friends were visiting for the
weekend. And while there was a gut wrenching shock and fear to think of
bullets flying through my community combined with the fear that perhaps I
knew a victim – I can’t say I was totally surprised that it could
As a student at UCSB, my first week was colored with
fear. Not of change or being in a new place, but of hate crimes. The
first time I picked up the campus newspaper I discovered there had been a
hate crime against gay male students. It wasn’t the last time I’d learn
of instances of hate on campus.
My first protest at UCSB in the aftermath of hate crimes in 2008 against gay students
As a student organizer I spent a lot of time
engaging with uncomfortable dialogs. Whether it was to address
homophobia, racism, sexism, sexual assaults, environmental issues or
more – UC Santa Barbara provided a space where students voices had many
outlets. While many did not engage as much in politics preferring to
enjoy the beaches, the party life, focus on academia or other pursuits…
those worlds often meshed in odd ways.
Local law enforcement at the “Deltopia” street party in Isla Vista
Students embracing the local party life
Election Day showcases the engagement many students have even though the community is unincorporated
Student organizers working to address racism on campus
While the community was generally friendly and
almost any individual was a beer away from being a casual friend, it
also wasn’t uncommon that I’d hear slurs like “faggot” directed at gays
or “slut” directed at women. When I walked home I’d often call friends
to “talk me home” if I didn’t have a friend to walk with.
During the Take Back the Night Protest in which
women marched to reclaim the night as safe – several male students
yelled rape threats. The very act proved our actions we needed and as
much as we craved safety it was by no means present already.
Take Back the Night Protest
Janelle Monae performing prior to the Take Back the Night Protest
In an article for the campus newspaper my senior year I wrote the following:
“The tragedy of the situation is that in I.V., we’ve
accepted the norms that allow our streets to be unsafe and our fellow
students to be targeted. Even during our celebrations within their
designated safe space, we are never fully safe. Often times the problems
of Isla Vista are brushed off as some excuse the hate speech as drunken
antics and taunts not meant to offend or be taken seriously. However,
the reality is the same slurs that are used by drunken folks in
aggressive outbursts are occasionally heard in classrooms and on campus,
and the oppression from ignoring the severity of the problem
contributes to the lack of safe spaces for the queer community attending
Whether spoken in ignorance or malice, hate speech
hits a nerve. It makes for unsafe spaces, and verbal harassment leads to
the same degradation that enables other types of harassment and
assault. In Isla Vista, I often observe the contrasting dichotomy of the
sun-soaked ideal paradise and the very real problems that constantly
plague the queer community and other minorities. As tempting as it is to
ignore reality and enjoy the beachside bubble, we have to address these
Although this was written specifically to address
the hate crime against LGBT students – those words feel far too fitting
an applicable for women today in Isla Vista.
As an alumni I have so many
fond memories, strong friendships, experiences that helped me learn and
grow. The streets the shooter drove down I’ve walked, biked, and
stumbled down many times. I’ve gone to parties at places where I’ve now
seen twitter photos of body bags resting. It’s shocking to see the
violence but the root cause isn’t shocking. There was always violence
against women. There was objectification. There were very real problems
regarding rape. The sense of entitlement to others bodies didn’t start
in Santa Barbara and is by no means limited to there.
But as the national debate goes on and CNN loops the killer’s video my heart is heavy as I think of the place that was my home.
Last time I visited UCSB was to celebrate the
graduation of some of the individuals I was lucky to mentor and share
time with. In the Student Resource Building while I was there someone
wrote on the wall of the women’s restroom a cry for help. And the
community responded with words of encouragement, resources they could go
to, reminders that the original writer was not alone. When I think of
UCSB I think back to that space often, and two years after graduating
the wall was even more crowded with messages of support. The community
has never been perfect, but there is support for those in need and a
community willing to work to improve itself. Let’s hope that helps the
families of the slain and injured in healing.
The notes on the wall of the girls bathroom in the Student Resource Building