For My Students

The title of my last blog post horrifies me today, as I contemplate the shootings and injuries of so many UC Santa Barbara students last night in Isla Vista, CA.  Still I ask my students and my university to face this nightmare rather than soften or obscure it.  Isla Vista needs our attention.  It has been preyed upon by slumlords for decades, and now has one of the highest population concentrations in the world.  That population consists largely of exploited, neglected students abandoned to the tender mercies of “market forces,” and even more exploited and neglected Mexican-American families, many of them recent immigrants, all “living” anywhere from 3-5+ people to a single bedroom.  For that matter, it’s not hard to find 4 or more people renting one leaky garage, or people living in closets and paying hundreds of dollars a month for the privilege.  The violence of the recent police response to the vast party known as Deltopia suggests that the situation in IV has been misdiagnosed, and for a long time.  Our students need to feel that the larger community cares about their welfare.  They have been stranded in Santa Barbara’s out-of-control housing market, with very few beds available in UCSB dormitories, at the mercy of vendors selling the worst possible crazy-making food, with more liquor stores than salad bars. It is, in short, a ghetto.  And people nobody cares about tend not to care about other people.  The older families living in IV are beleaguered by and suffer from open conflict with the party houses that are taking over.  No one is helping them either.  I hope the community will treat IV not as an unruly world in need of crackdown but as an unruly world in need of the kind of attention that encourages a return of respect and concern.  Sheriff Bill Brown has made clear to the press that he regards this (so far) as the work of a “madman,” and he is right in a way.  But Elliot Rodgers, who appears to have been the murderer, was a young man in very deep trouble.  Probably nothing and no one could have stopped this violent acting-out against women–Rodgers posted a video on YouTube (now removed) that excoriated women, especially sorority girls, for refusing his sexual advances, and vowed to avenge himself, and then killed six people (we don’t yet know how many were women) and critically injured seven more.  But how different is he from the frat boys who put date-rape drugs in women’s drinks and then violate them sexually?  Not as much as said frat boys and their parents and the society that nearly always lets them off the hook would like to think.  But everytime a symptom “breaks out” in Isla Vista, there are flurries and posturings, and then once again nothing is done to address the context that imperils the lives of young women, and sometimes young men, thus perpetuating the cycle of carelessness and dehumanization.  What Isla Vista needs is serious rent control, housing codes, and enforcement thereof.  It needs medical and mental health clinics. It needs a town government.  It needs a little care.  

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